In March of 2018, the United States Department Of Justice announced the JEDI Program – a billion-dollar winner-take-all initiative to “increase the lethality of the justice department and provide the best resources to our men and women in uniform.” The outcome they had in mind with this program was to modernize their computer infrastructure by moving data to the cloud and integrate their data with other valuable data stores, such as the NSA’s massive data collection (among other intelligence agencies including the CIA.)
The DOJ declared Amazon to be the winner very early on – only to be sharply rebuked by Oracle, Google, Microsoft, and virtually every other cloud vendor. Oracle fought particularly hard, filing lawsuits and accusing the government of playing favorites. They accused the government of selecting a small consultancy belonging to someone close to the deal—an AWS partner—and demanded that the RFP be extended and opened up to more competition.
Every cloud vendor wanted a piece of the pie, and many analysts were skeptical about relying on a single vendor to provide all of the Pentagon’s infrastructure. The RFP called for a winner-take-all solution, but most industry experts agreed that one vendor determining the infrastructure of the government for the next decade is not ideal. The project has since expanded to include the potential for a hybrid or multi-cloud architecture, and pieces like AI and machine learning, which were not initially part of the scope, have been tacked on. Oh, and the size of the contract has expanded to $10B.
The competition heated up around June of 2018, as Microsoft, Oracle, and Google presented their offerings. The government continued to hold a preference for Amazon, but in the process of exploring alternate vendors, they came to the same conclusion as everyone else: this was not a contract that could be easily fulfilled by a single enterprise, even by the likes of the tech titans in play. The contract began to fracture, as the competitors laid out offerings that checked some boxes but left much to be desired in other areas. The winner-take-all nature of the RFP was exposing compromises in each vendor’s offering. Google, for example, could not compete with Amazon on price, but their AI and Machine Learning offerings were much stronger. A single vendor solution would require compromise and sacrifice.
In October 2018, the competition rages on. Seven months after the battle to be the official cloud of the DoJ began, Google dropped out of the race, citing conflicts with their company values. This is likely related to the drama at Google earlier this year: employees revolted and went on strike after it was found that they were determining AI facial recognition software to aid in drone strikes. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see Google pull out of future defense-related contracts to avoid such ethical dilemmas in the future.
But, that wasn’t the only development in early October, less than a week after Google pulled out, IBM entered a last-minute proposal and filed a lawsuit to extend the RFP once more. This is surprising, to say the least, IBM competed with Amazon for a very similar project with the CIA in 2013 and was handily defeated. IBM’s cloud offerings have expanded significantly since then, but Amazon is already the DoJ’s preferred vendor, and IBM’s entry to the competition is exceedingly late. The remaining competitors, including Microsoft and Oracle, have had time to work with the DoJ’s internal stakeholders and develop comprehensive solutions, while IBM is starting fresh. It’s a long shot, but you have to shoot to score, and a $10B contract is always worth a shot.
The JEDI Program and its massive prize pool will have an interesting effect on the cloud computing industry in general. The contract itself makes up a significant percentage of the existing market cap, and analysts like Gartner and Forrester predict that the cloud will only grow larger from here. Government is typically a late adopter of technologies like these (looking at you, California DMV) and the U.S. Department of Justice taking an all-in approach to the cloud paints an overwhelmingly positive picture of the future of the cloud. As the cloud market grows to include government, banks, healthcare, and other industries where data security is top of mind, the market cap will skyrocket, and auxiliary industries like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), virtualization, analytics, IoT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and dev ops will reap the benefits as well.
Whether it’s Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, or IBM left standing on top of the pile at the end of the DoJ’s cloud battle royale, this competition is a big win for the cloud.
Think you know who the winner will be? Let me know what you think in the comments.