Does the U.S. Department of Defense's JEDI contract mean it's going into a Star Wars production? Sorry, no Stephen Spielberg this time. No Jedi knights, either, though the U.S. Military Academy uses the “Black Knights” as its team nickname. Guess that means confusion with Navy and Air Force academies about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
Anyway, in this instance, JEDI here stands for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. We need to break JEDI down from Defense Speak, word by word.
- Joint: Between all branches of the Defense Department, both combat and staff
- Enterprise: Looking at the Defense Department as a business. In this case, we are looking at a very valuable commodity—information
- Defense: We all think we know what Defense Department is
- Infrastructure: In this case, the computer network that ties Defense together
Historically, each Defense branch and many programs and weapons systems chose their own computer system for information. However, as central processing capability improved greatly, and need for timely, current information became critical, Defense logically looked for a way to tie most of the Department together in a much more efficient and speedier system. No wonder “put it on the cloud” became the rallying cry for information technology managers within Defense. True, there had been U.S. Government (USG) work on the cloud since 2013. Amazon’s win, against IBM in 2013, was upheld in court and the contract executed.
Defense started to get its cloud computing structure organized in early 2018. Defense had given REAN Cloud Computing a $950 million cloud contract. (REAN was then a joint venture between Amazon Web Services and Hitachi Data Systems, and became wholly Hitachi owned in October 2018). However, upon grant, companies such as Oracle protested both possible REAN conflict of interest and the provisions of an “OTA contract award” to fast track the cloud effort. Anyway, in light of potential legal squabbles, Defense reduced the REAN OTA award to $65 million, and limited the scope to the “United States Transportation Command.”
While the actual date of the Pentagon JEDI award announcement was March 7, 2018 (somewhat in parallel with the REAN award), the concept dates well before the current controversy. In 2016, Microsoft received a near-billion dollar contract to provide Windows 10 software and significant computer hardware to Defense through the Defense Information Service Agency (DISA).
Even before that, in 2013, Microsoft had provided Windows 8 software and computers to about three fourths of Defense.
Perhaps, they best way to condense the cloud computing squabble is to look at market shares from 4Q 2017, conducted by Synergy Research.
Table 1: Looking at the market share for cloud computing. (Source: techcrunch.com.)
So, as the JEDI bids were being prepared, what happened? Interestingly, Google employees revolted and demanded the company not to work with Department of Defense. IBM just dropped out. Oracle’s bid was disqualified in an ongoing dispute that its bid did not qualify. That left a two horse, winner-take-all JEDI bidders’ list—Amazon and Microsoft.
Now, drop the bomb of partisan politics on the JEDI Cloud Computing bid! It turns out that Jeff Bezos owns a huge chuck of Amazon as well as the Washington Post. And, the Washington Post had been a critic of the President Donald Trump administration. Some reports suggest that Oracle was the principal instigator of this “unfair bid” or “tailor made for Amazon” solicitation specification.
Certainly, some weeks before the October 2019 JEDI award, President Trump told reporters, “I will be asking them to look at it very closely to see what’s going on because I have had very few things where there’s been such complaining. Not only complaining from the media—or at least asking questions about it from the media—but complaining from different companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM. Great companies are complaining about it, having to do with Amazon and the Department of Defense, and I will be asking them to look at it very closely to see what’s going on.” 
And then, the announced winner of the JEDI contract—Microsoft. Of course, Amazon immediately protested presidential interference. In February 2020, Amazon backed up those verbal accusations with a lawsuit against Trump, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and his successor, Mark Esper. The suit calls out the long-standing hatred of Trump for Amazon president Bezos, dating back to the 2016 presidential race, when Trump was quoted, “Believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”
A federal judge issued an injunction against JEDI in February 2020, stopping work on the project.
Even in the face of the continuing Amazon protest, the Pentagon awarded JEDI to Microsoft a second time on Sept. 4, 2020, during the run-up to the presidential election in November. That second award was after correcting some of the procurement errors pointed out in the November 2019 original Amazon protest. So far, at least four legal protests have been filed and JEDI is now well over two years behind schedule.
So where does this leave JEDI? A federal judge has refused to dismiss the Amazon lawsuit, meaning the threat of “start over on JEDI” still hangs over the project. This has influenced Defense testimony to Congress about continued funding—implying that significant legal deposition and rulings could delay the project further, or be money spent on a “false start.” Just a month ago, the Wall Street Journal broke a story that the Pentagon was considering “cutting the losses” on the JEDI award and breaking a new contract into smaller parts and including more vendors.
In late May, Defense has filed information with the federal court that it intends to keep fighting for the award; of course, Microsoft says it continues to want to go forward with JEDI. So, the Star Wars battle at Defense is not over. Will it run to nine chapters as the original Star Wars scripts did?
- Amazon Web Services Wins Again In Battle To Build The CIA Cloud, Oct. 7, 2013, techcrunch.com
- Defense Speak Interpreted: Other Transaction Authority, and Defense Speak Interpreted: The Defense Innovation Unit.
- DOD scales back $950M cloud agreement, March 5, 2018, FCW.com.
- Microsoft wins $927M support contract from U.S. Defense Department, Dec. 20, 2016, GeekWire.com.
- Did Trump interfere with the $10 billion JEDI Pentagon cloud deal? “No question,” says Amazon, Feb. 11, 2020, diginomica.com.
- Pentagon Awares JEDI Cloud Contract to Microsoft for the Second Time, Sept. 4, 2020, Nextgov.com.
- Pentagon considers cancelling Microsoft project to move data and computing infrastructure to the cloud, May 13, 2021, Militaryaerospace.com.
Dennis Fritz was a 20-year direct employee of MacDermid Inc. and is retired after 12 years as a senior engineer at SAIC supporting the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. He was elected to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2012.