This article is part of our Conference Coverage: A complete guide to AWS re:Invent 2019

AWS CEO Andy Jassy blames 'significant political interference' for Amazon losing $10bn JEDI deal

AWS CEO Andy Jassy claims White House meddling led to it losing out to Microsoft on the US Department of Defense JEDI contract, despite its cloud platform being demonstrably superior

Amazon Web Services (AWS) CEO Andy Jassy claims “significant political interference” is the reason why the company lost out to Microsoft on securing a decade-long cloud contract with the US Department of Defense (DoD).

During a closed Q&A session at the cloud giant’s annual Re:Invent user and developer conference in Las Vegas, Jassy was quizzed on comments he made in the US press this week about the cloud giant’s abortive attempt to secure the $10bn DoD cloud contract.

The Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, as it is known, was awarded to Microsoft in October 2019, meaning the Redmond-based software giant would be solely responsible for providing the DoD with a general purpose cloud environment to underpin its decade-long IT modernisation plans.

The contract award notice was subject to numerous delays. And – from beginning to end – the procurement process took more than two years to play out, with AWS widely considered to be the frontrunner for the contract all the way through, until Microsoft was announced as the victor.

In mid-November 2019, AWS confirmed it would be appealing the decision to award the contract to Microsoft at the US Court of Federal Appeals on the basis that, in its opinion, “numerous aspects” of the procurement process were blighted by “deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias”.

Speaking to US business news site CNBC, Jassy expanded on these earlier comments this week to claim the contract award process for the JEDI contract had not been adjudicated correctly

During the Re:Invent Q&A, Jassy was asked to share details of what the company is basing these misgivings on, and what it hopes the outcome of its litigation will be, prompting him to claim the company’s failure to secure the contract was down to “significant political interference”.

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“We’re in the middle of an active litigation, so there is a limited amount I can say, but [it’s] fairly obvious we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said.

“If you do a truly objective and detailed apples for apples comparison of the platforms… most of our customers tell us we’re a couple of years ahead in functionality and maturity, and I think that you ended up with a situation where there [was] significant political interference.”

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, President Donald Trump intervened in the latter stages of the contract award process for the JEDI contract, claiming he had received numerous complaints about the handling of it, which – in turn – led to the procurement undergoing a Pentagon-led review.

It is also well-documented that there is no love lost between Trump and Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, which Jassy alluded to elsewhere during his response to the JEDI question.

“We have a sitting president who is willing to share openly his disdain for a company and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD to make objective decisions without fear of reprisals,” he said.

“We’re talking about the national security of our country, and modernising their technology platform, and the foundation on which all of those applications that are used to protect our country, you have to make sure those decisions are made truly objectively.”

Speculation rife

Speculations has been rife at Re:Invent that the fallout from the JEDI contract award announcement might be why Jassy decided to single out Microsoft for criticism during his day two keynote over its decision to tweak the licensing terms of its Windows and SQL Server products to allegedly discourage users from running the software in non-Azure based clouds.

Jassy revisited this topic during the Q&A when asked if he foresaw a time when a universal application programming interface (API) is created to improve interoperability between the various cloud provider platforms.

At the moment, it’s hard to imagine, he said, given how “radically different” the providers’ platforms are, from a capability and functionality perspective.

“Most people aren’t going to want to give up the capabilities of providers with a lot more capability to dumb down the usage to the most common denominator, but I do see a future where cloud providers, collaborate, [and] cooperate more over time, but we’ve got to get some of the fundamentals right first,” he said.

As an example, he raised the aforementioned Microsoft licensing tweaks. “If you can’t get those fundamentals right, it’s really hard to work [out] much more complicated things.”

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