The New Reality: Growing Defense Cloud Use in the COVID-19 Era

Published: May 07, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCloud ComputingCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicDEFENSEInformation Technology

The pandemic could significantly increase Defense spending on cloud computing.

Key Takeaways

  • Defense spending on cloud computing reached $1.8B in fiscal year 2019.
  • DISA rapidly ramped up the use of a cloud-based security prototype in response to COVID-19 driven telework increases.
  • Persistence of the pandemic through 2020 could significantly increase Defense spending on cloud-based solutions.

Readers may have noticed a recent article at FCW detailing how the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) ramped up the use of its Cloud-Based Internet Isolation (CBII) solution in response to the novel coronavirus epidemic. With millions of Department of Defense employees suddenly forced to work from home, networks faced a significant jump in cyber vulnerabilities caused by teleworking. The CBII, explains DISA in an information sheet on the project, “transfers Internet browsing sessions from traditional desktop browsers to a secure, isolated cloud-platform [that] isolates potentially malicious code and content within the cloud platform, separating the threat from direct connections to DOD networks.” Given how it functions, CBII clearly became a critical capability for improving the online security posture of the 100,000 users for whom the prototype was originally scaled. As DOD officials reported to FCW, use of the CBII pilot grew 327% in March and April, although that growth came at a cost with network bandwidth limitations reducing some data streams by 25% or, in the case of video services, as much as 40%.

Ironically perhaps the pandemic may have a silver technology lining for DOD as the success of the CBII project fully revealed the benefit of using cloud-based services. The department faced a sudden emergency situation and was forced to alter how it operates. A prototype cloud capability already being tested provided a rapidly scalable solution that helped work continue, much like the Microsoft Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) environment, which also provided cloud-based collaboration capabilities at a critical time.

The writing is on the wall. It is not a matter of when the DOD moves more fully into the cloud, but how quickly. A quick look at the data below illustrates how the adoption process was already underway with the Fourth Estate and every military branch except Army growing its spending on cloud solutions in fiscal 2019.   

Assuming the pandemic remains with us for a while, the DOD’s spending on cloud should grow even faster. Deltek’s Federal Market Analysis team forecast last summer that Defense cloud spending in fiscal 2021 would rise to $1.7B, but given the new circumstances and the growth in spending that DOD experienced in fiscal 2019 we will probably need to raise that estimate by several hundred million dollars.

Finally, one of the contracts that will result from the new reality of a post-COVID-19 world is expansion of the CBII prototype contract into a full production effort. DISA’s Emerging Technology Directorate wants to scale up the CBII this summer to more than 3 million users across the DOD. Few precedents exist for the multiplication of so large an effort. The one that may come the closest is the Defense Innovation Unit’s award of a follow-on OTA production contract worth $750M to World Wide Technology back in fiscal 2017 for rolling out Tanium’s endpoint security management product to roughly 1.2 million Army network endpoints. The value of the original OTA award for the prototype was $12.7M. Applying the same growth percentage to the CBII, on which DISA had spent $5.6M as of December 2019, yields a follow-on production contract value of at least $32.5M.

All of this regarding CBII is speculative, but thinking through it shows the potential for the effort and it illustrates how the pandemic could light a fire under DOD’s use of the cloud.