AWS and Microsoft Continue Race for The JEDI Contract

While this is not a battle between the light and dark sides of the force, the effort to win the US Defense Department’s coveted Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract is intense.

Unitas Global VP of Cloud Architecture, Chris Smith, explains here about the contract and illuminates the differences between Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.

What is the JEDI contract? 

The Department of Defense’s multi-year $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract will grant either Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft with the responsibility of transitioning sensitive military data to the cloud. The winner will be positioned to secure similar deals around the globe while the other provider may find it nearly impossible to regain market share. Both hyperscalers are attempting to prove to the government and the world that they have the best science and technology.

 Originally set to be awarded in September 2018, the date has been postponed for a variety of reasons. However, the process has begun to speed up amidst mounting pressures to reach a decision. What began as a tense competition between two of the country’s largest cloud companies has instead transitioned into a race between countries.


What other players are in the competition? 

The Chinese government is in the process of developing its own military cloud computing system, making the Department of Defense increasingly eager to expedite its own bidding process. The President even weighed in on the JEDI contract for the first time this summer, indicating his plans to look at the deal more closely. The race is now political, and reaching the finish line first has eclipsed other priorities.


Could the US also build a proprietary cloud system like China is doing?

The differing digital landscapes in the two countries means that while a self-built system may make sense in China, it doesn’t in the US. In addition to catalyzing government job growth, the Chinese government likely has turned to a self-governed data center out of a desire to protect data. Because there is political tension between China and other parts of the world, China is likely reticent to have a third-party global company – especially an American company like Amazon or Microsoft – housing their military secrets.

With US-based companies at our fingertips and without the same security threats here in the US, it is much more intuitive for our government to seek a partnership with one of these organizations. While building our own system would create a massive influx of government jobs, it would also be incredibly costly and take more time. The economics of this deal also tie into why the DoD will be selecting a single cloud provider instead of spreading data across multiple platforms.


Why is the US choosing just one cloud provider? Can’t they, like other organizations, benefit from a multi-cloud approach? 

The government, like the majority of private companies, is “buying in bulk” by choosing to reward a single company with the contract. Most cloud providers will offer incentives based on the length and amount of an agreement, meaning the Pentagon will be able to use the massive size of the contract to get a better deal.

There are some risks with choosing one platform: namely, it means missing out on the unique capabilities of other providers. For example, Microsoft is known for its strengths around artificial intelligence (AI) and disaster recovery solutions; AWS offers different benefits like serverless coding. Other companies already eliminated from the running have their unique selling points that the government will not be able to leverage.


Should the Pentagon speed up their decision?

Whether you’re a grocery store chain or a big box store, the risk with moving too quickly with digital transformation is a failure to notice mistakes before it’s too late. Major oversights can cause a business to entirely abandon a project down the line.

The difference between the DoD and a grocery chain is that in this case, the stakes are much higher, of course, in the event the contract goes awry. Security is vital, and it is important that the government not miss steps in the process because of political pressures driving the acceleration of the project. If security isn’t the top priority, the door to key pieces of intelligence will be left wide open for bad actors.


When will a decision be made on the contract?

It’s likely that we’ll see a decision for the JEDI contract in the next few months, if not sooner. Of course, fast-tracking the decision doesn’t necessarily mean fast-tracking the project. Inevitably, even after a provider is chosen, there will be many speed bumps and curves in the road that will lead to a long implementation process. So the jury is still out on who will win the high-stakes cloud race.


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