UPDATED 21:02 EST / OCTOBER 08 2018

us-army-379036_960_720 CLOUD

Google pulls out of the race to land Pentagon’s $10B cloud computing contract

Google LLC said today it no longer wants to compete for a massive cloud computing contract for the Department of Defense that could be worth as much as $10 billion for the winning bidder.

The company, which is in a pitched battle to catch up to cloud leaders Amazon Web Services Inc. and Microsoft Azure, said it’s dropping out of the race for the contract because of a conflict with its principles on the ethical use of artificial intelligence.

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract is a massive undertaking that aims to transform the U.S. military’s information technology infrastructure by moving vast amounts of its data to a cloud computing platform. The contract would also see the DOD make extensive use of the winning company’s computing technologies, which include various AI systems.

Google’s decision not to make a bid comes months after it faced severe backlash from its employees thanks to its participation in another military program called Project Maven, which involved using AI to identify targets for drone strikes. More than 3,000 of Google’s employees signed a letter asking Chief Executive Sundar Pichai to end the company’s involvement in the project. Following that, it announced it would not be renewing that contract when it expires.

The unrest also prompted Google to release a set of guidelines about how it would use its AI technology going forward, ruling out most military applications.

A Google spokesman said in a statement obtained by Bloomberg that the company is “not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles.”

“And second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications,” the spokesman added.

The bidding process for the JEDI contract has come under scrutiny because of its large size and the fact that the Pentagon wants to award it to a single bidder rather than share it among several providers. It’s widely believed that AWS is the favored candidate to land the contract, though rival firms Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. are all expected to tender bids.

Oracle actually kicked up a fuss earlier this year, filing a formal complaint in July that challenged the Pentagon’s decision to award the contract to a single bidder. The company argued that sharing workloads among cloud companies is a common practice that “promotes constant competition, foster innovation and lowers prices.”

The Government Accountability Office is expected to make a decision regarding Oracle’s complaint by Nov. 14.

For its part, Google told Bloomberg that it also supports the idea of splitting the JEDI contract between multiple providers, and that it would have submitted a bid on those terms.

The Pentagon’s decision makers could well come to regret Google’s decision to drop out, as its AI technologies are considered by many to be probably the best in the world at the moment, said Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president of Constellation Research Inc. He told SiliconANGLE that Google’s decision was interesting in light of other companies’ threats to sue the government over a lack of inclusion.

“AI is becoming weaponized quickly and the fact that the company with the most advanced AI platform isn’t in the bidding could become a national security concern,” Mueller said.

Still, Google’s decision to pull out was probably a smart one given that its chances of landing the contract were pretty slim, a second analyst said. Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, told SiliconANGLE that although Google seems to be listening to its employees, it would have been a big ask to obtain the necessary security certification it needs to win the contract, especially in light of the latest breach around its Google+ service.

“So they were wise to walk away from this,” he said, “There is lots of internal drama and they out of compliance anyway, making the odds bad on all fronts.”

The deadline for cloud providers to submit their bids for the JEDI contract expires next week.

Image: Skeeze/Pixabay

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