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Microsoft-AWS Fight Over JEDI Now Moot as DoD Kills Project

The 10-year, $10 billion government cloud contract at the center of a heated fight between Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) is over before it even started.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it is canceling the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. "The Department has determined that, due to evolving requirements, increased cloud conversancy, and industry advances, the JEDI Cloud contract no longer meets its needs," the DoD said in a statement.

Instead, the DoD announced that it is seeking proposals for a new project, the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC), which will be a "multi-cloud/multi-vendor Indefinite Delivery-Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract."

The JEDI contract was meant to provide the Pentagon with "enterprise level, commercial Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) to support Department of Defense business and mission operations," according to the DoD's description. In late 2019, after fielding bids from major cloud players, the DoD awarded the contract to Microsoft -- a surprise to many industry watchers, who considered Microsoft's Azure platform to be a dark horse compared to AWS.

Amazon filed a legal challenge to Microsoft's win almost immediately, citing technical differences between the storage solution that Microsoft proposed and the storage requirements described in the procurement process. The DoD "should have found [Microsoft's] technical approach unfeasible, assigned a deficiency, and eliminated Microsoft from the competition," according to Amazon.

Amazon also alleged that the DoD was inappropriately pressured by former U.S. president Donald Trump to snub AWS because of his long-running personal feud with Amazon founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. According to Amazon's complaint, Trump "launched repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks to steer the JEDI Contract away from AWS to harm his perceived political enemy-Jeffrey P. Bezos."

In February 2020, a judge ordered an injunction preventing work on the JEDI contract while the case wound through the court. The following month, the DoD asked for a 120-day grace period -- which was later extended -- to "reconsider" its process for judging the proposals from AWS and Microsoft.

A separate internal investigation eventually determined that the DoD's contract award process was sound and, in September 2020, the DoD "reaffirmed" Microsoft to be the proper winner. However, the time spent navigating JEDI's legal challenges have made its technical goals outdated, the DoD seemed to argue in its announcement Tuesday.

"JEDI was developed at a time when the Department's needs were different and both the CSPs [cloud service providers] technology and our cloud conversancy was less mature," said John Sherman, acting DoD Chief Information Officer. "In light of new initiatives...the evolution of the cloud ecosystem within DoD, and changes in user requirements to leverage multiple cloud environments to execute mission, our landscape has advanced and a new way-ahead is warranted to achieve dominance in both traditional and non-traditional warfighting domains."

Microsoft said in a statement that it "respect[s] and accept[s] DoD's decision to move forward on a different path to secure mission-critical technology," putting the blame on Amazon for delaying work on JEDI:

The 20 months since DoD selected Microsoft as its JEDI partner highlights issues that warrant the attention of policymakers: when one company can delay, for years, critical technology upgrades for those who defend our nation, the protest process needs reform. Amazon filed its protest in November 2019 and its case was expected to take at least another year to litigate and yield a decision, with potential appeals afterward.

Update, 7/7: In an e-mailed statement, an AWS spokesperson said Amazon agrees with the DoD's decision

"Unfortunately, the contract award was not based on the merits of the proposals and instead was the result of outside influence that has no place in government procurement," the AWS spokesperson said. "Our commitment to supporting our nation's military and ensuring that our warfighters and defense partners have access to the best technology at the best price is stronger than ever."

The new JWCC contract announced Tuesday will aim to plug the DoD's "cloud capability gaps" more effectively. Whether the bidding process for the JWCC will be any less contentious remains to be seen, however. The DoD said it is specifically seeking proposals from Microsoft and AWS because they are "the only Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) capable of meeting the Department's requirements."

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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