Dec
02
2019
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New Amazon tool simplifies delivery of containerized machine learning models

As part of the flurry of announcements coming this week out of AWS re:Invent, Amazon announced the release of Amazon SageMaker Operators for Kubernetes, a way for data scientists and developers to simplify training, tuning and deploying containerized machine learning models.

Packaging machine learning models in containers can help put them to work inside organizations faster, but getting there often requires a lot of extra management to make it all work. Amazon SageMaker Operators for Kubernetes is supposed to make it easier to run and manage those containers, the underlying infrastructure needed to run the models and the workflows associated with all of it.

“While Kubernetes gives customers control and portability, running ML workloads on a Kubernetes cluster brings unique challenges. For example, the underlying infrastructure requires additional management such as optimizing for utilization, cost and performance; complying with appropriate security and regulatory requirements; and ensuring high availability and reliability,” AWS’ Aditya Bindal wrote in a blog post introducing the new feature.

When you combine that with the workflows associated with delivering a machine learning model inside an organization at scale, it becomes part of a much bigger delivery pipeline, one that is challenging to manage across departments and a variety of resource requirements.

This is precisely what Amazon SageMaker Operators for Kubernetes has been designed to help DevOps teams do. “Amazon SageMaker Operators for Kubernetes bridges this gap, and customers are now spared all the heavy lifting of integrating their Amazon SageMaker and Kubernetes workflows. Starting today, customers using Kubernetes can make a simple call to Amazon SageMaker, a modular and fully-managed service that makes it easier to build, train, and deploy machine learning (ML) models at scale,” Bindal wrote.

The promise of Kubernetes is that it can orchestrate the delivery of containers at the right moment, but if you haven’t automated delivery of the underlying infrastructure, you can over (or under) provision and not provide the correct amount of resources required to run the job. That’s where this new tool, combined with SageMaker, can help.

“With workflows in Amazon SageMaker, compute resources are pre-configured and optimized, only provisioned when requested, scaled as needed, and shut down automatically when jobs complete, offering near 100% utilization,” Bindal wrote.

Amazon SageMaker Operators for Kubernetes are available today in select AWS regions.

Nov
26
2019
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New Amazon capabilities put machine learning in reach of more developers

Today, Amazon announced a new approach that it says will put machine learning technology in reach of more developers and line of business users. Amazon has been making a flurry of announcements ahead of its re:Invent customer conference next week in Las Vegas.

While the company offers plenty of tools for data scientists to build machine learning models and to process, store and visualize data, it wants to put that capability directly in the hands of developers with the help of the popular database query language, SQL.

By taking advantage of tools like Amazon QuickSight, Aurora and Athena in combination with SQL queries, developers can have much more direct access to machine learning models and underlying data without any additional coding, says VP of artificial intelligence at AWS, Matt Wood.

“This announcement is all about making it easier for developers to add machine learning predictions to their products and their processes by integrating those predictions directly with their databases,” Wood told TechCrunch.

For starters, Wood says developers can take advantage of Aurora, the company’s MySQL (and Postgres)-compatible database to build a simple SQL query into an application, which will automatically pull the data into the application and run whatever machine learning model the developer associates with it.

The second piece involves Athena, the company’s serverless query service. As with Aurora, developers can write a SQL query — in this case, against any data store — and based on a machine learning model they choose, return a set of data for use in an application.

The final piece is QuickSight, which is Amazon’s data visualization tool. Using one of the other tools to return some set of data, developers can use that data to create visualizations based on it inside whatever application they are creating.

“By making sophisticated ML predictions more easily available through SQL queries and dashboards, the changes we’re announcing today help to make ML more usable and accessible to database developers and business analysts. Now anyone who can write SQL can make — and importantly use — predictions in their applications without any custom code,” Amazon’s Matt Asay wrote in a blog post announcing these new capabilities.

Asay added that this approach is far easier than what developers had to do in the past to achieve this. “There is often a large amount of fiddly, manual work required to take these predictions and make them part of a broader application, process or analytics dashboard,” he wrote.

As an example, Wood offers a lead-scoring model you might use to pick the most likely sales targets to convert. “Today, in order to do lead scoring you have to go off and wire up all these pieces together in order to be able to get the predictions into the application,” he said. With this new capability, you can get there much faster.

“Now, as a developer I can just say that I have this lead scoring model which is deployed in SageMaker, and all I have to do is write literally one SQL statement that I do all day long into Aurora, and I can start getting back that lead scoring information. And then I just display it in my application and away I go,” Wood explained.

As for the machine learning models, these can come pre-built from Amazon, be developed by an in-house data science team or purchased in a machine learning model marketplace on Amazon, says Wood.

Today’s announcements from Amazon are designed to simplify machine learning and data access, and reduce the amount of coding to get from query to answer faster.

Nov
14
2019
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AWS confirms reports it will challenge JEDI contract award to Microsoft

Surely just about everyone was surprised when the Department of Defense last month named Microsoft as the winner of the decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract — none more so than Amazon, the company everyone assumed all along would be the winner. Today the company confirmed earlier reports that it was challenging the contract award in the Court of Federal Claims.

The Federal Times broke this story.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson suggested that there was possible bias and issues in the selection process. “AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology the U.S. military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts. We also believe it’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence.

“Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias — and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch.

It’s certainly worth noting that the president has not hidden his disdain for Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, who also is owner of The Washington Post newspaper. As I wrote in Even after Microsoft wins, JEDI saga could drag on:

Amazon, for instance, could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused, saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

Oracle also filed a number of protests throughout the process, including one with the Government Accountability Office that was later rejected. It also went to court and the case was dismissed. All of the protests claimed that the process favored Amazon. The end result proved it didn’t.

The president interjected himself in the decision process in August, asking the defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, to investigate once again if the procurement process somehow favored Amazon, and the week the contract was awarded, the White House canceled its subscription to The Washington Post.

In October, the decision finally came and the DOD chose Microsoft . Now Amazon is filing a challenge in federal Court, and the JEDI saga really ain’t over until it’s over.

 

Oct
28
2019
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Even after Microsoft wins, JEDI saga could drag on

The DoD JEDI contract saga came to a thrilling conclusion on Friday afternoon, appropriately enough, with one final plot twist. The presumptive favorite, Amazon, did not win, stunning many, including likely the company itself. In the end, Microsoft took home the $10 billion prize.

This contract was filled with drama from the beginning, given the amount of money involved, the length of the contract, the winner-take-all nature of the deal — and the politics. We can’t forget the politics. This was Washington after all, and Jeff Bezos does own The Washington Post.

Then there was Oracle’s fury throughout the procurement process. The president got involved in August. The current defense secretary recused himself on Wednesday, two days before the decision came down. It was all just so much drama, even the final decision itself, handed down late Friday afternoon — but it’s unclear if this is the end or just another twist in this ongoing tale.

Some perspective on $10 billion

Before we get too crazy about Microsoft getting a $10 billion, 10-year contract, consider that Amazon earned $9 billion last quarter alone in cloud revenue. Microsoft reported $33 billion last quarter in total revenue. It reported around $11 billion in cloud revenue. Synergy Research pegs the current cloud infrastructure market at well over $100 billion annually (and growing).

What we have here is a contract that’s worth a billion a year. What’s more, it’s possible it might not even be worth that much if the government uses one of its out clauses. The deal is actually initially guaranteed for just two years. Then there are a couple of three-year options, with a final two-year option at the end if it gets that far.

The DOD recognized that with the unique nature of this contract, going with a single vendor, it wanted to keep its options open should the tech world shift suddenly under its feet. It didn’t want to be inextricably tied to one company for a decade if that company was suddenly disrupted by someone else. Given the shifting sands of technology, that part of the strategy was a wise one.

Where the value lies

If the value of this deal was not the contract itself, it begs the question, why did everyone want it so badly? The $10 billion JEDI deal was simply a point of entree. If you could modernize the DoD’s infrastructure, the argument goes, chances are you could do the same for other areas of the government. It could open the door for Microsoft for a much more lucrative government cloud business.

But it’s not as though Microsoft didn’t already have a lucrative cloud business. In 2016, for example, the company signed a deal worth almost a billion dollars to help move the entire department to Windows 10. Amazon too, has had its share of government contracts, famously landing the $600 million to build the CIA’s private cloud.

But given all the attention to this deal, it always felt a little different from your standard government contract. Just the fact the DoD used a Star Wars reference for the project acronym drew more attention to the project from the start. Therefore, there was some prestige for the winner of this deal, and Microsoft gets bragging rights this morning, while Amazon is left to ponder what the heck happened. As for other companies like Oracle, who knows how they’re feeling about this outcome.

Hell hath no fury like Oracle scorned

Ah yes, Oracle; this tale would not be complete without discussing the rage of Oracle throughout the JEDI RFP process. Even before the RFP process started, they were complaining about the procurement process. Co-CEO Safra Catz had dinner with the president to complain that the contract process wasn’t fair (not fair!). Then it tried complaining to the Government Accountability Office. They found no issue with the process.

They went to court. The judge dismissed their claims that involved both the procurement process and that a former Amazon employee, who was hired by the DoD, was involved in the process of creating the RFP. They claimed that the former employee was proof that the deal was tilted toward Amazon. The judge disagreed and dismissed their complaints.

What Oracle could never admit was that it simply didn’t have the same cloud chops as Microsoft and Amazon, the two finalists. It couldn’t be that they were late to the cloud or had a fraction of the market share that Amazon and Microsoft had. It had to be the process or that someone was boxing them out.

What Microsoft brings to the table

Outside of the politics of this decision (which we will get to shortly), Microsoft brought to the table some experience and tooling that certainly gave it some advantage in the selection process. Until we see the reasons for the selections, it’s hard to know exactly why the DoD chose Microsoft, but we know a few things.

First of all there are the existing contracts with the DoD, including the aforementioned Windows 10 contract and a five-year $1.76 billion contract with DoD Intelligence to provide “innovative enterprise services” to the DoD.

Then there is Azure Stack, a portable private cloud stack that the military could stand up anywhere. It could have great utility for missions in the field when communicating with a cloud server could be problematic.

Fool if you think it’s over

So that’s that right? The decision has been made and it’s time to move on. Amazon will go home and lick its wounds. Microsoft gets bragging rights and we’re good. Actually, this might not be where it ends at all.

Amazon, for instance, could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused, saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post and the president isn’t exactly in love with that particular publication. In fact, this week, the White House canceled its subscription and encouraged other government agencies to do so as well.

Then there is the matter of current Defense Secretary Mark Espers suddenly recusing himself last Wednesday afternoon based on a minor point that one of his adult children works at IBM (in a non-cloud consulting job). He claimed he wanted to remove any hint of conflict of interest, but at this point in the process, it was down to Microsoft and Amazon. IBM wasn’t even involved.

If Amazon wanted to protest this decision, it seems it would have much more solid ground to do so than Oracle ever had. An Amazon spokesperson would only say that the company “was keeping its options open.”

The bottom line is a decision has been made, at least for now, but this process has been rife with controversy from the start, just by the design of the project, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon take some protest action of its own. It seems oddly appropriate.

Oct
22
2019
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In latest $10B JEDI contract twist, Defense Secretary recuses himself

The JEDI drama never stops. The $10 billion, decade long cloud contract has produced a series of twists and turns since the project was announced in 2018. These include everything from court challenges to the president getting involved to accusations of bias and conflict of interest. It has had all this and more. Today, in the latest plot twist, the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recused himself from the selection process because one of his kids works at a company that was involved earlier in the process.

Several reports name his son, Luke Esper, who has worked at IBM since February. The RFP closed in April and Esper is a Digital Strategy Consultant, according to his LinkedIn page, but given the persistent controversy around this deal, his dad apparently wanted to remove even a hint of impropriety in the selection and review process.

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman issued an official DoD Cloud update earlier today:

“As you all know, soon after becoming Secretary of Defense in July, Secretary Esper initiated a review of the Department’s cloud computing plans and to the JEDI procurement program. As part of this review process he attended informational briefings to ensure he had a full understanding of the JEDI program and the universe of options available to DoD to meet its cloud computing needs. Although not legally required to, he has removed himself from participating in any decision making following the information meetings, due to his adult son’s employment with one of the original contract applicants. Out of an abundance of caution to avoid any concerns regarding his impartiality, Secretary Esper has delegated decision making concerning the JEDI Cloud program to Deputy Secretary Norquist. The JEDI procurement will continue to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals.”

Perhaps the biggest beef around this contract, which was supposed to be decided in August, has been the winner-take-all nature of the deal. Only one company will eventually walk away a winner, and there was a persistent belief in some quarters that the deal was designed specifically with Amazon in mind. Oracle’s Co-CEO Safra Catz took that concern directly to the president in 2018.

The DoD has repeatedly denied there was any vendor in mind when it created the RFP, and internal Pentagon reviews, courts and a government watchdog agency repeatedly found the procurement process was fair, but the complaints continue. The president got involved in August when he named his then newly appointed defense secretary to look into the JEDI contract procurement process. Now Espers is withdrawing from leading that investigation, and it will be up to others including his Deputy Secretary to finally bring this project over the finish line.

Last April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists. It’s worth pointing out that both are leaders in Infrastructure as a Service marketshare with around 16% and 33% respectively.

It’s also worth noting that while $10 billion feels like a lot of money, it’s spread out over a 10-year period with lots of possible out clauses built into the deal. To put this deal size into perspective, a September report from Synergy Research found that worldwide combined infrastructure and software service spending in the cloud had already reached $150 billion, a number that is only expected to continue to rise over the next several years as more companies and government agencies like the DoD move more of their workloads to the cloud.

For complete TechCrunch JEDI coverage, see the Pentagon JEDI Contract.

Oct
15
2019
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Amazon migrates more than 100 consumer services from Oracle to AWS databases

AWS and Oracle love to take shots at each other, but as much as Amazon has knocked Oracle over the years, it was forced to admit that it was in fact a customer. Today in a company blog post, the company announced it was shedding Oracle for AWS databases, and had effectively turned off its final Oracle database.

The move involved 75 petabytes of internal data stored in nearly 7,500 Oracle databases, according to the company. “I am happy to report that this database migration effort is now complete. Amazon’s Consumer business just turned off its final Oracle database (some third-party applications are tightly bound to Oracle and were not migrated),” AWS’s Jeff Barr wrote in the company blog post announcing the migration.

Over the last several years, the company has been working to move off of Oracle databases, but it’s not an easy task to move projects on Amazon scale. Barr wrote there were lots of reasons the company wanted to make the move. “Over the years we realized that we were spending too much time managing and scaling thousands of legacy Oracle databases. Instead of focusing on high-value differentiated work, our database administrators (DBAs) spent a lot of time simply keeping the lights on while transaction rates climbed and the overall amount of stored data mounted,” he wrote.

More than 100 consumer services have been moved to AWS databases, including customer-facing tools like Alexa, Amazon Prime and Twitch, among others. It also moved internal tools like AdTech, its fulfillment system, external payments and ordering. These are not minor matters. They are the heart and soul of Amazon’s operations.

Each team moved the Oracle database to an AWS database service like Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Aurora, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) and Amazon Redshift. Each group was allowed to choose the service they wanted, based on its individual needs and requirements.

Oracle declined to comment on this story.

 

Sep
25
2019
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India’s Darwinbox raises $15M to bring its HR tech platform to more Asian markets

An Indian SaaS startup, which is increasingly courting clients from outside the country, just raised a significant amount of capital to expand its business.

Hyderabad-based Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, said on Thursday it has raised $15 million in a new financing round. The Series B round — which moves the firm’s total raise to $19.7 million — was led by Sequoia India and saw participation from existing investors Lightspeed India Partners, Endiya Partners and 3one4 Capital.

More than 200 firms — including giants such as adtech firm InMobi, fintech startup Paytm, drink conglomerate Bisleri, automobile maker Mahindra, Kotak group and delivery firms Swiggy and Milkbasket — use Darwinbox’s HR platform to serve half a million of their employees in 50 nations, Rohit Chennamaneni, co-founder of Darwinbox, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which competes with giants such as SAP and Oracle, said its platform enables a high level of configurability and ease of use, and understands the needs of modern employees. “The employees today who have grown accustomed to using consumer-focused services such as Uber and Amazon are left disappointed in their experience with their own firm’s HR offerings,” said Gowthami Kanumuru, VP Marketing at Darwinbox, in an interview.

Darwinbox’s HR platform offers a range of features, including the ability for firms to offer their employees insurance and early salary as loans. Its platform also features social networks for employees within a company to connect and talk, as well as an AI assistant that allows them to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phone.

“The AI system is not just looking for certain keywords. If an employee tells the system he or she is not feeling well today, it automatically applies a leave for them,” she said.

Darwinbox’s platform is built to handle onboarding new employees, keep a tab on their performance, monitor attrition rate and maintain an ongoing feedback loop. Or as Kanumuru puts it, the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle.

One of Darwinbox’s clients is L&T, which is tasked with setting up subways in many Indian cities. L&T is using Darwin’s geo-fencing feature to log the attendance of employees. “They are not using biometric punch machine that is typically used by other firms. Instead, they just require their 1,200 employees to check-in from the workplace using their phones,” said Kanumuru.

darwinbox event

Additionally, Darwinbox is largely focusing on serving companies based in Asia as it believes Western companies’ solutions are not a great fit for people here, said Kanumuru. The startup began courting clients in Southeast Asian markets last year.

“Our growth is a huge validation for our vision,” she said. “Within six months of operations, we had the delivery giant Delhivery with over 23,000 employees use our platform.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed Venture, said, “there is a new trend of SaaS companies targeting the India/SE Asia markets. This trend is gathering steam and is disproving the conventional wisdom that Asia-focused SaaS companies cannot get to be big companies. We firmly believe that Asia-focused SaaS companies can get to large impact value and become large and profitable. Darwinbox is one of these companies.”

Darwinbox’s Chennamaneni said the startup will use the fresh capital to expand its footprints in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian markets. Darwinbox also will expand its product offerings to address more of employees’ needs. The startup is also looking to make its platform enable tasks such as booking of flights and hotels.

Chennamaneni, an alum of Google and McKinsey, said Darwinbox aims to double the number of clients it has in the next six to nine months.

Sep
24
2019
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Amazon launches Amazon Care, a virtual and in-person healthcare offering for employees

Amazon has gone live with Amazon Care, a new pilot healthcare service offering that is initially available to its employees in and around the Seattle area. The Amazon Care offering includes both virtual and in-person care, with telemedicine via app, chat and remote video, as well as follow-up visits and prescription drug delivery in person directly at an employee’s home or office.

First reported by CNBC, Amazon Care grew out of an initiative announced in 2018 with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to make a big change in how they all collectively handle their employee healthcare needs. The companies announced at the time that they were eager to put together a solution that was “free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” which are of course at the heart of private insurance companies that serve corporate clients currently.

Other large companies, like Apple, offer their own on-premise and remotely accessible healthcare services as part of their employee compensation and benefits packages, so Amazon is hardly unique in seeking to scratch this itch. The difference, however, is that Amazon Care is much more external-facing than those offered by its peers in Silicon Valley, with a brand identity and presentation that strongly suggests the company is thinking about more than its own workforce when it comes to a future potential addressable market for Care.

Screen Shot 2019 09 24 at 4.02.46 PM

The Amazon Care logo.

Care’s website also provides a look at the app that Amazon developed for the telemedicine component, which shows the flow for choosing between text chat and video, as well as a summary of care provided through the service, with invoices, diagnosis and treatment plans all available for patient review.

Amazon lists Care as an option for a “first stop,” with the ability to handle things like colds, infections, minor injuries, preventative consultations, lab work, vaccinations, contraceptives and STI testing and general questions. Basically, it sounds like they cover a lot of what you’d handle at your general practitioner, before being recommended on for any more specialist or advanced medical treatment or expertise.

photo devicerendering.4x 9a453f4c420db36a6d32e73e7e344dec

Rendered screenshots of the Amazon Care app for Amazon employees.

Current eligibility is limited to Amazon’s employees who are enrolled in the company’s health insurance plan and who are located in the pilot service geographical area. The service is currently available between 8 AM and 9 PM local time, Monday through Friday, and between 8 AM and 6 PM Saturday and Sunday.

Amazon acquired PillPack last year, an online pharmacy startup, for around $753 million, and that appears to be part of their core value proposition with Amazon Care, too, which features couriered prescribed medications and remotely communicated treatment plans.

Amazon may be limiting this pilot to employees at launch, but the highly publicized nature of their approach, and the amount of product development that clearly went into developing the initial app, user experience and brand all indicate that it has the broader U.S. market in mind as a potential expansion opportunity down the line. Recent reports also suggest that it’s going to make a play in consumer health with new wearable fitness tracking devices, which could very nicely complement insurance and healthcare services offered at the enterprise and individual level. Perhaps not coincidentally, Walgreens, CVS and McKesson stock were all trading down today.

Aug
26
2019
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Oracle files new appeal over Pentagon’s $10B JEDI cloud contract RFP process

You really have to give Oracle a lot of points for persistence, especially where the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process is concerned. For more than a year, the company has been complaining  across every legal and government channel it can think of. In spite of every attempt to find some issue with the process, it has failed every time. That did not stop it today from filing a fresh appeal of last month’s federal court decision that found against the company.

Oracle refuses to go quietly into that good night, not when there are $10 billion federal dollars on the line, and today the company announced it was appealing Federal Claims Court Senior Judge Eric Bruggink’s decision. This time they are going back to that old chestnut that the single-award nature of the JEDI procurement process is illegal:

“The Court of Federal Claims opinion in the JEDI bid protest describes the JEDI procurement as unlawful, notwithstanding dismissal of the protest solely on the legal technicality of Oracle’s purported lack of standing. Federal procurement laws specifically bar single award procurements such as JEDI absent satisfying specific, mandatory requirements, and the Court in its opinion clearly found DoD did not satisfy these requirements. The opinion also acknowledges that the procurement suffers from many significant conflicts of interest. These conflicts violate the law and undermine the public trust. As a threshold matter, we believe that the determination of no standing is wrong as a matter of law, and the very analysis in the opinion compels a determination that the procurement was unlawful on several grounds,” Oracle’s General Counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement.

In December, Oracle sued the government for $10 billion, at the time focusing mostly on a perceived conflict of interest involving a former Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi. He worked for Amazon prior to joining the DOD, where he worked on a committee of people writing the RFP requirements, and then returned to Amazon later. The DOD investigated this issue twice, and found no evidence he violated federal conflict of interest of laws.

The court ultimately agreed with the DOD’s finding last month, ruling that Oracle had failed to provide evidence of a conflict, or that it had impact on the procurement process. Judge Bruggink wrote at the time:

We conclude as well that the contracting officer’s findings that an organizational conflict of interest does not exist and that individual conflicts of interest did not impact the procurement, were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the administrative record is therefore denied.

The company started complaining and cajoling even before the JEDI RFP process started. The Washington Post reported that Oracle’s Safra Catz met with the president in April, 2018 to complain that the process was unfairly stacked in favor of Amazon, which happens to be the cloud market share leader by a significant margin, with more than double that of its next closest rival, Microsoft.

Later, the company filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office, which found no issue with the RFP process. The DOD, which has insisted all along there was no conflict in the process, also did in an internal investigation and found no wrong-doing.

The president got involved last month when he ordered Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper to look into the idea that, once again, the process has favored Amazon. That investigation is ongoing. The DOD did name two finalists, Amazon and Microsoft, in April, but has yet to name the winner as the protests, court cases and investigations continue.

The controversy in part involves the nature of the contract itself. It is potentially a decade-long undertaking to build the cloud infrastructure for the DOD, involves the award of a single vendor (although there are several opt-out clauses throughout the term of the contract) and involves $10 billion and the potential for much more government work. That every tech company is salivating for that contract is hardly surprising, but Oracle alone continues to protest at every turn.

The winner was supposed to be announced this month, but with the Pentagon investigation in progress, and another court case underway, it could be some time before we hear who the winner is.

Aug
01
2019
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President throws latest wrench in $10B JEDI cloud contract selection process

The $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract drama continues. It’s a process that has been dogged by complaints, regulatory oversight and court cases. Throughout the months-long selection process, the Pentagon has repeatedly denied accusations that the contract was somehow written to make Amazon a favored vendor, but today The Washington Post reports President Trump has asked the newly appointed Defense Secretary, Mark T. Esper, to examine the process because of concerns over that very matter.

The Defense Department called for bids last year for a $10 billion, decade-long contract. From the beginning, Oracle in particular complained that the process favored Amazon. Even before the RFP process began Oracle executive Safra Catz took her concerns directly to the president, but at that time he did not intervene. Later, the company filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office, which ruled that the procurement process was fair.

Finally, the company took the case to court, alleging that a person involved in defining the selection process had a conflict of interest, due to being an employee at Amazon before joining the DoD. That case was dismissed last month.

In April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists, and the winner was finally expected to be named some time this month. It appeared that we were close to the finish line, but now that the president has intervened at the 11th hour, it’s impossible to know what the outcome will be.

What we do know is that this is a pivotal project for the DoD, which is aimed at modernizing the U.S. military for the next decade and beyond. The fact is that the two finalists made perfect sense. They are the two market leaders, and each has tools, technologies and experience working with sensitive government contracts.

Amazon is the market leader, with 33% market share. Microsoft is No. 2, with 16%. The No. 3 vendor, Google, dropped out before the RFP process began. It is unclear at this point whether the president’s intervention will have any influence on the final decision, but The Washington Post reports it is an unusual departure from government procurement procedures.

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