Google is pursuing a massive cloud computing contract with the Department of Defense, nearly three years after exiting a similar bidding process in the face of worker protests.
The head of Alphabet Inc.’s cloud division, Thomas Kurian, met with Pentagon officials this week to discuss the bidding process for a contract called the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, according to people familiar with the meeting.
The three-year contract is divided among several bidders. It replaces the 10-year $10 billion JEDI cloud computing contract that ended in July that was planned to consolidate the Pentagon’s patchwork of data systems to give defense personnel better access to real-time information and artificial intelligence capabilities.
The Pentagon said the contract was canceled due to changing needs. The project was embroiled in years of bickering between Microsoft Corp., which won the tender, and Amazon.com Inc., which claimed the trial was politically motivated under the Trump administration.
In conjunction with the cancellation of that contract, officials said they would create a new project that would better meet their needs. Officials expect cloud industry leaders Amazon and Microsoft to bid for the contract, as well as other qualified bidders such as Oracle Corp. and International Business Machines Corp.
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A Google spokesperson said the company supports the Pentagon’s plan to diversify the contract by dividing it across multiple cloud providers. He added: “We are committed to serving our public sector clients… and we will evaluate future bidding opportunities accordingly.”
A Defense Department spokesperson declined to comment on specific bidding interests. The department aims to award the contracts in April.
This week’s meeting and Google’s interest was previously reported by the New York Times.
Google’s bid will be an important test of Chief Executive Sundar Pichai’s success in taming what was an outspoken workforce. In 2018, the company came under fire from employee activists over a Pentagon contract to supply imaging tools used by drones. A number of outspoken employees stopped.
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The company later canceled the contract, promising not to allow its artificial intelligence products to be used in military weapons. It also fell out of the JEDI bidding process.
Mr Pichai later scaled back the company’s weekly all-hands meetings, known as TGIF. Google also fired some outspoken employees.
Hundreds of workers have since joined the Alphabet Workers Union. In the wake of news Wednesday that Google plans to bid for the new Pentagon contracts, the union posted on Twitter: “Workers will fight against this — and we will win again.”
Google is a latecomer to cloud computing, eager to gain market share in a market dominated by Amazon and Microsoft. The company has increased cloud computing sales to $13.67 billion in the first three quarters of the year, already eclipsing last year’s total revenue by more than $500 million.
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However, the 6% market share lags significantly behind Amazon and Microsoft, which represent 41% and 20% of the market respectively.
In contesting the JEDI award to Microsoft, Amazon argued in court that then-President Donald Trump put undue pressure on the Pentagon to prevent the contract from going to Amazon because it was headed by founder Jeff Bezos.
At the time, the Trump White House referred questions to the Pentagon, which denied that Mr. Trump or government officials had any influence on the selection process.