The Pentagon's JEDI contract may never return.
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The last JEDI?

Protocol Enterprise

Welcome to Protocol | Enterprise, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This Thursday: why the Pentagon's multiyear effort to pick a cloud vendor might be back to square one, VMware's new CEO and Cloudflare's decentralization edge.

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The Big Story

It was a trap

No one will emerge unscathed from the multiyear battle for Pentagon's JEDI cloud contract, which has now lasted almost half as long as the original deal was supposed to run.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Biden administration is considering scrapping the whole affair known as JEDI, or Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative, a name that must have seemed super clever at one point. The original idea was to select a vendor to build the military's version of what AWS built for the CIA several years ago; a modern cloud-inspired infrastructure strategy that would replace the aging technology that runs the most powerful military force in the history of the planet.

But the project has been in limbo for years, beset by all manner of protests and objections that leave parts of the military still running on outdated tech. While starting from scratch might seem like a good idea, it's hard to see how such a prominent contract would play out differently the second time around.

  • AWS and Microsoft have only strengthened their position as the two most prominent cloud vendors since the deal began in 2017, yet Oracle and IBM — which did as much as anyone to hold up this deal — are even more desperate.
  • Under Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud is unlikely to remove itself from consideration this time around, and it also has a much stronger story to tell.
  • Unable to wait for the JEDI contract to resolve itself, parts of the military IT effort, perhaps most notably the U.S. Air Force, have moved ahead with their own modernization strategies.
  • And given that since 2017 hybrid cloud has been endorsed by nearly all industry players as a viable option for organizations the size and age of the Pentagon, officials will have to consider if moving military applications wholesale to the cloud as JEDI proposed doing still makes any sense.

So the DOD is likely considering a do-over. Given that, it's hard to see the U.S. military putting all its eggs in one basket again.

  • Contrary to what tech vendors said when it looked like AWS was going to run away with the JEDI contract, betting everything on a single cloud vendor is a defensible strategy: Just ask Spotify.
  • Managing multiple vendors is an expensive challenge, as this lengthy review of the initial JEDI process released by the DOD last year concluded.
  • But making the JEDI contract a zero-sum game clearly had a negative impact on the speed of the process, and not solely because of the multiple objections raised by the losers.
  • "One of the important things for every enterprise is to have experimentation, and not spend in big checks but be able to try [ideas] and when something works, really scale it," said Teresa Carlson, the former AWS executive who ran its public sector group during the JEDI bidding process and just joined Splunk as president and chief growth officer.

The JEDI saga is yet another example of how government technology procurement is still quite broken after years of trying to work more efficiently with the tech industry. It's also a bad look for some of the biggest tech companies on the planet, who seemed determined to make sure that if they weren't the ones chosen to help improve national defense, no one should be.

  • Starting over with an openness to multiple tech vendors would allow the military to pick and choose the best services for its people, rather than being forced to use the worst parts of a cloud vendor's arsenal just to get the best parts.
  • It would also allow for the experimentation that Carlson hopes government agencies around the world embrace.
  • Enterprise computing has actually changed a lot since 2017, when containers were just starting to gain traction and modern data powerhouses like Snowflake and Databricks were much smaller companies.

The Biden administration has a lot on its plate in 2021. But the JEDI contract was originally supposed to be up and running years ago, and its need to modernize technology infrastructure has not gone away.

—Tom Krazit


"Companies need to 'own' their data in every sense of the word. They need to know where it came from, who touched it, how reliable it is, who can see it. Then they can confidently explore the endless possibilities their data can unleash," says Talend CEO Christal Bemont.

Learn more

This Week On Protocol

Meet the new boss: VMware named Raghu Raghuram as CEO Wednesday, several months after Pat Gelsinger left to take the top spot at Intel. Protocol's Hirsh Chitkara spoke to Raghuram about one thing he doesn't plan on doing in his new role: "to not disrupt for disruption's sake, but rather to build on the needs of our customer."

More than just data: Every company says it wants to be a data-driven company, but what does that actually require? Protocol's Joe Williams hosted a panel of experts this week who discussed how they think companies should embrace data to drive real changes to their business.

Business is Boomi-ng: Like VMware, Boomi is striking out on its own after years in which it was part of the Dell Technologies conglomerate. We talked with CEO Chris McNabb about life after Dell and why connecting the hundreds of applications running inside a typical enterprise is far from a solved problem.

Five Questions For...

Fleming Shi, CTO, Barracuda Networks

What was your first tech job?

My first tech job was working at a computer shop in Sunnyvale, California, during my junior and senior years of high school. This job completely changed the way I thought about computers. Because IBM PC compatibles were highly customizable, I was able to get more creative and built different models of the computer from a variety of parts. It taught me many lessons on what customers were after, from the features to performance and even the quality of the products.

What was the first computer that got you excited about technology?

My first computer was a VIC20 that I borrowed from my school friend. However, the first computer that got me really excited about technology was an IBM PC XT compatible system that I built with parts I sourced off MicroTimes magazine. It had 384KB of memory and 10MB MFM hard drive and a floppy drive; the system had four colors (CGA).

How can enterprise tech improve its current status around diversity, equity and inclusion?

Technology companies should reinvent how we source talent and get the best out of everyone based on their strengths. We are lucky that most of us are exposed to technology in this digital-first world. Because of this, we have the opportunity to develop the skills needed to be a part of this digital society earlier on and can witness the evolution right in front of our eyes. I believe digital-first is a culture that everyone can embrace and it can be a great equalizer to bring us together. Working from that thesis, it's clear that tech companies will have to evolve to be successful. Most importantly, we must provide opportunities to everyone and look beyond just technical skills. Once we do this, we'll be able to see firsthand how people consume these products and will ultimately open the door to new ideas and possibilities for all.

Which enterprise tech legend motivates you the most?

John Warnock, who we know started Adobe, is the top enterprise tech legend that motivates me the most. His company has sustained continuous growth from the beginning to what it is today. The success is driven by forward-looking innovation and the continuous growth of their leadership teams.

What will be the greatest challenge for enterprise tech over the coming decade?

In my eyes, cybersecurity will continue to be the greatest challenge we face.

Around the Enterprise


"Companies need to 'own' their data in every sense of the word. They need to know where it came from, who touched it, how reliable it is, who can see it. Then they can confidently explore the endless possibilities their data can unleash," says Talend CEO Christal Bemont.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you Monday.

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