- - Monday, June 18, 2018


Before D-Day, Gen. George Patton commanded an army that didn’t exist. His First U.S. Army Group was supposedly training around East Anglia. It featured phony tanks so German spy planes could report on them. It kept up a steady stream of radio traffic so German spies could track the movements of troops. And it featured divisions that seemed to be preparing to invade Calais.

It was all a ruse, a diversionary tactic to keep the Germans from realizing the actual invasion would happen at Normandy. And it worked. When the real invasion started, the Germans reacted more slowly than they could have to shift troops to Normandy. They were still waiting for Patton’s strike that would never come. By the time they realized they’d been duped, the Allies had an unassailable beachhead and began sweeping across Europe.

Anyone in the military understands the value of diversionary tactics. Make everyone think one thing is going to happen in one place. Then go in a different direction entirely. By the time they react, you’ve already won the day. Is there a diversion happening, right now, with the future of cloud computing?

Let’s review some key developments. For most of this year, the Pentagon has been taking heat over its plan to choose a single cloud computing provider and give that company a long contract. The winner would control all military cloud computing for as long as 10 years. This is a bad idea for many reasons.

It would put all Defense Department data in the hands of one company, where it might be vulnerable to hacking. Russian and Chinese agents are always trying to hack into databases. All too often, they succeed. So if all Defense Department information was in one place, they might be able to access important military secrets through a single breach.

It would reduce competition in the cloud competing space. Why would any other companies bother trying to develop a better product if they understand they won’t be able to sell it for a decade?

Oh, and the single provider model doesn’t work. Just a few years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency had signed a contract with a single cloud provider, Amazon Web Services (AWS). It recently decided to add a second cloud provider. “It’s kind of an awakening as far as the intelligence community is concerned that you can’t be a one-cloud community,” notes Dana Barnes of Microsoft.

For what it’s worth, the Pentagon seems to be slowing down its race to a single cloud company. But this is where we should remain vigilant. This may simply be a diversionary tactic.

“We are still working on” when to accept final proposals for the cloud project, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White says. However, and this is the key point, Ms. White adds that the military still wants a winner-take-all deal. A single provider with a two year contract that could be extended for eight years or more. And that’s the real long-term problem. She says the military hopes to move forward by September. That might just be long enough for the spotlight to move on and allow the Pentagon to do what it clearly wants to do anyway: Hand its cloud services over to a single company — presumably Amazon Web Services.

This entire process is too important to allow ourselves to be diverted. As much as $1.6 billion could be at stake, as well as irreplaceable military secrets. Lawmakers shouldn’t fall for the head fake. They should keep the heat on the Pentagon, and demand a cloud computing plan that involves several providers in direct competition to provide the best service.

• Richard Topping, a lawyer, is the chief executive officer of Shao Inc. He is a former U.S. Army Infantry and JAG officer.

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