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AWS Fires Back At Microsoft As JEDI Cloud Battle Rages: ‘We Won’t Back Down’

The war of words is heating up between Microsoft and AWS as the Pentagon is rejigging the JEDI cloud RFP behind closed doors.

After a Microsoft executive urged Amazon Web Services to “stand down” on its JEDI protests, his Amazon counterpart pledged Friday to keep contesting the award of the military’s lucrative cloud transformation contract to its hyperscale rival.

“We won’t back down on this front regardless of whether Microsoft chooses to try to bully its way to an unjust victory,” wrote Drew Herdener, Amazon’s vice president, WW communications, in an AWS blog post.

AWS will keep doing what it believes is “right, fair, and just,” Herdener said, which is not standing for “blatant political interference or inferior technology to become an acceptable standard.”

[Related: Here’s Where The Pentagon’s JEDI Cloud Program Stands]

Herdener’s retort came a day after Microsoft corporate vice president for communications, Frank Shaw, wrote on a Microsoft blog that the military stands to benefit from the latest enterprise cloud advances, “but only if Amazon gets out of the way.”

On Monday, AWS filed a protest directly with the Department of Defense that the company said only intended to seek clarity as to the process by which military officials are amending an RFP that a federal judge found deficient on at least one factor by which source-selection was evaluated for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure initiative—a massive transformation of military IT with a commercial cloud vendor. AWS was considered a favorite, but Microsoft won the prestigious award in October after Trump said he “will look closely” at JEDI.

Amazon sued in November in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, arguing President Donald Trump’s animosity against founder and CEO Jeff Bezos created an evaluation process riddled with errors that should be interpreted as evidence of political interference.

The case cites multiple instances in which Trump, first as a candidate and then as the occupant of the White House, openly expressed anger at Amazon stemming from Bezos ownership of the Washington Post, a newspaper that critically covered the president. Bezos became Trump's "perceived political enemy," the complaint reads.

Two months ago, Amazon’s legal team convinced Judge Patricia E Campbell-Smith to order Microsoft not to move forward with task orders and implementation of the massive cloud transformation initiative. Campbell-Smith cited a single deficiency in Microsoft’s nearline storage capabilities.

But in winning the restraining order, Amazon set in motion a chain events that have left its lawsuit, which seeks a court-ordered deposition of President Trump, as well as current Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former Secretary James Mattis, in limbo.

Campbell-Smith remanded the procurement for 120 days back to the military for corrective action. Since then, Pentagon leaders have amended their RFP—changes, as is the rule for such protests, not revealed to the public.

As to that process, “we asked multiple times for clarification, to which the DoD was unresponsive. It left us no option but to appeal to the agency to clarify it,” Herdener said. “We simply sought clarity on the requirement—nothing more.”

AWS insists the decision to award the potentially $10 billion contract to Microsoft was not adjudicated fairly.

“We think political interference blatantly impacted the award decision, and we’re committed to ensuring the evaluation receives a fair, objective, and impartial review,” Herdener said. Microsoft’s “multiple self-righteous and pontificating blog posts” of late “amount to nothing more than misleading noise intended to distract those following the protest.”

AWS contends that just on the deficiency regarding Factor 5, Price Scenario 6 of the RFP, a matter related to nearline storage—a hybrid between online and archival storage—Microsoft’s bid should have been disqualified.

But the public cloud market leader notes that Campbell-Smith’s analysis didn’t even touch upon other “problems” flagged in its lawsuit—in all, Microsoft’s bid, based on Microsoft Azure capabilities, failed to meet the military’s requirements for six of nine factors weighed during source-selection, according to Amazon’s complaint.

Campbell-Smith remanded the case for 120 days back to the Pentagon before evaluating those five additional “fatally flawed” factors—and just before she could rule on the depositions of the president and the nation’s top civilian defense officials.

Microsoft is “doing an awful lot of posturing,” Herdener said, and he called attention to “spotty operational performance” of Microsoft’s cloud brought on by ramping demand during the coronavirus crisis.

Among the other deficiencies cited by Amazon, Microsoft Azure still doesn’t have the proper security accreditations, the AWS lawsuit argued.

It’s impossible to know exactly what the requirements are for handling highly classified data as the relevant security sections of the JEDI RFP were only made accessible to bidders who signed non-disclosure agreements.

But JEDI does demand the winning cloud vendor operate data centers deemed secure enough to host Top Secret data—an accreditation that, at least for the moment, AWS is the only public cloud to possess.

Microsoft has said it’s developing cloud regions with Top Secret capabilities for JEDI and other Defense and Intelligence Community workloads. Azure will meet those highest-classification requirements in time for JEDI implementation work, Microsoft said, without further elaborating on the timeline.

Microsoft, for its part, has called attention to a recently completed U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General recently that found no direct evidence that Trump’s repeated expressions of animosity toward Amazon improperly influenced military leaders in awarding JEDI to Microsoft.

But the Pentagon’s watchdog noted that the cooperation of military officials was limited because of White House resistance. The auditors, criminal and administrative investigators, defense acquisition professionals and attorneys on the team completed their review without White House participation as the Trump administration tried to impose conditions that were too impractical and likely would result in incomplete information, the IG report said.

An assertion of presidential privilege made it so “we could not review this matter fully,” the IG concluded. And that claim of presidential privilege resulted in several witnesses being instructed by the DoD Office of General Counsel to not answer the investigator’s questions about communications with the White House.

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