Last October, Microsoft won the $10 billion U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. The 10-year agreement is part of a larger Pentagon initiative to modernize and unify its IT infrastructure, most of which still exists on technology from the 1980s and 1990s.
The Microsoft decision came as a massive shock since many considered Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the likely winner, the reason being in part because of its $600 million cloud services implementation for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2013 and in part due to its globally dominant market share in the cloud infrastructure space. At the moment, AWS is the only company with a fully authorized Impact Level 6 (i.e., clearance on its capabilities for handling secret documents), though Azure is quickly catching up after receiving a 90-day provisional authorization for Level 6 just this past December.
The Azure Win May Be More Than Political Bias
Currently, AWS is disputing the decision by claiming interference and bias due to President Donald Trump’s public hostility toward Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, an outspoken critic of the President. While the cloud giant has a solid argument to stand on, the decision to go with Microsoft didn’t come out of thin air. In the years leading up to the decision, Microsoft had made several key moves to make a convincing case for JEDI.
- Oracle partnership. What appeared as a move to protect established market share, despite its direct JEDI competition (note that Oracle also competed for JEDI and currently has its own lawsuit), was actually an ingenious forward-thinking strike. The main argument of JEDI’s single-vendor approach is that it would cost millions to redesign legacy on-premises databases, many of which were built using Oracle software. In partnering with Oracle, Microsoft was able to establish a direct link between the two environments and provide users with greater flexibility to run applications in a hybrid environment, on-prem with Oracle or in the cloud with Azure. For instance, the DoD could continue to use Oracle Database on-prem while running related applications and web components on Azure in the cloud, thereby easing the migration process.
- Aggressive military partnership. In December 2016, the company won a $927 million, five-year contract for a tech support relationship and a promise to migrate all 4 million DoD employees to Windows 10, in addition to supplying Windows laptops and desktops. In 2018, its mixed reality headset, the HoloLens, was used in a $480 million contract with the U.S. Army. That same year, the company also won a $34 million managed services contract to oversee a portion of the U.S. Air Force computer networks.
- Azure build-out acceleration. The technology giant aggressively invested in its infrastructure and capabilities to compete with AWS. For example, it claims dominance among enterprise cloud providers with a global data center footprint of 54 regions, added Azure Sphere for securing and managing internet-of-things devices and solutions, and attempted to democratize AI with Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning, and Azure Cosmos DB.
- Edge as an extension. Since 2018, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been pushing “intelligent cloud plus intelligent edge” as a natural extension to the company’s single-architecture strategy. Microsoft prioritizes playing the role as the hyperscale cloud provider that spans across identity, data, application development, security, and management to the edge. It further bolstered this statement with a $2 billion partnership with AT&T to develop and deploy portable data centers connected to AT&T’s 5G network and added Azure Stack for hybrid environments. Edge computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are key Pentagon goals to apply modern computing techniques.
What It Means
With JEDI, Microsoft has positioned itself to earn the potentially $40 billion that the U.S. federal government expects to spend in the next several years on cloud. Losing the bid has also put the race between AWS and Azure a little closer to neck-and-neck rather than the previously distant first and second. For cloud management vendors, building out capabilities that support the migration and flexibility between Oracle’s on-prem and Azure’s cloud will be key. For more on the future of public cloud, see the Forrester report: “The Public Cloud Market Outlook, 2019 To 2022” by my colleagues Andrew Bartels, Dave Bartoletti, and John R. Rymer.