Google goes to the dark side on JEDI

Every time I read an article on the U.S. Department of Defense large Cloud project known as JEDI I find myself suppressing an urge to comment.  Google dropping out of the bidding finally made that urge difficult to suppress.

It is almost certainly true that only Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft have the current breadth of offering to meet much of the JEDI requirements.  It is equally true that neither of them have all the pieces needed for this contract, they are going to have to build new capabilities as well.  Most articles I’ve read focus on certifications as a differentiator, and while those may represent a minimum bar for selling into this market and a demonstration of a Cloud’s maturity, they seem neither a significant differentiator nor a significant hinderance to a vendor’s ability to compete for the RFP.  Put another way, if the rest of the RFP response showed overwhelming leadership then a roadmap for achieving the needed certifications would be sufficient to overcome the AWS and Microsoft existing certification leads.

The problem for every potential bidder is that they either need to partner to meet the full RFP requirements and/or commit to significant developments that could negatively impact (e.g., in opportunity cost) their commercial offering roadmaps.  The whining about JEDI being a single source contract says more to me about  tech industry disdain for partnering amongst major players than it does about the nature of the contract.  DOD is used to many, if not most, major contracts involving partnerships amongst the top suppliers (aka, competitors).  Boeing/Lockheed, Lockheed/Boeing, Lockheed/Northrop Grumman, Boeing/Saab, etc.  The right bid from a lead/prime with a lot of DOD experience would have a strong chance to challenge AWS and Microsoft.  For example, IBM has lots of the pieces for a bid and decades of experience being a Prime contractor for DOD.  It is the latter, not their fragmented commercial cloud offerings, that make them a serious contender to win JEDI.

The real question about JEDI, and likely the real meaning behind Google’s using lack of certifications as an excuse to drop out, is how much a vendor is willing to let the JEDI requirements impact their commercial roadmap.  AWS’ Andy Jassy likes to say that there is no compression algorithm for experience.  While that sometimes sounds like a marketing sound-bite, there is a lot of truth to it.  When the cloud was new, and enterprise adoption was near non-existent, AWS aggressively went after a number of deals for the experience they would provide.  Those deals were key to getting AWS to its current leadership position, because they prepared an organization with only eCommerce DNA to address industries it otherwise couldn’t understand or relate to. One of those was the U.S. Intelligence Communities’ Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) contract, which many point to as one of AWS’ key strengths in the JEDI bid.  Certainly AWS wouldn’t be in a good position to win the JEDI deal without C2S, because it would face the “no compression algorithm for experience” dilemma.  And while others may not have the direct classified cloud experience C2S gave AWS, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle have decades of experience working with DOD and meeting their most demanding IT needs.

C2S is most important in the context of how much a young and small AWS was willing to impact its commercial roadmap to gain experience at working in the toughest public sector environments.  Both the learnings, and yes the optics, of being able to support the most demanding security environment have had a huge impact on AWS’ ability to attract large enterprises to its cloud.  This is where Amazon’s focus on the long-term comes into play.  C2S was a drop in the bucket on public sector IT spending.  JEDI is still just a toe in the water.  AWS will value JEDI not only for the business it brings, but for the things it forces them to do to meet DOD’s requirements.  Many of which it will bring back into its commercial offerings. Oracle will value it for giving their cloud a legitimacy they have yet to achieve. It could actually save their IaaS/PaaS offerings from oblivion.  IBM seem more likely to value the revenue than other benefits. Microsoft likely sees it as validation that the direction(s) they’ve taken with Azure (including Azure Stack) has them equal to or ahead of AWS (without having to fall back on winning because the customer is an Amazon-retail competitor, or buying the business with a “strategic investment”).  Sorry, I couldn’t resist taking a little dig at my Microsoft friends.

And Google?  Google’s primary marketing thrust  is you should use Google Cloud because everyone wants to do things just like Google does.  But if Google doesn’t want government to use AI like they do, and may in the future not want government to use some of their other technologies, and doesn’t want to disrupt their commercial roadmap to meet DOD requirements, then Google can’t bid on the deal.  The same applications that Google doesn’t want its AI technology to be used in could make use of technologies like BigQuery and Spanner, so how can Google offer those as part of JEDI?  And how much does Google want to focus its infrastructure work on being able to quickly standup a new region at a newly established military base vs continued development of its commercial regions?  How hungry are they for this business?  Apparently not very as they’ve decide to go dark on the bidding.

The company that wins this business is going to be a company that is hungry for it, and not just for the revenue it brings.  That is always important of course, and being able to make a profit at it is just as important.  But in the end the winner is going to be, or at least should be, someone with a passion for the DOD customer base and for applying the learnings from JEDI to moving the Cloud up another notch in addressing broader customer needs.  I obviously see that from AWS and Microsoft, and Google already made it clear that isn’t the case for them.

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