Amazon, Microsoft Battle for JEDI Contract in D.C. Metro Ad War

May 16, 2018 Sam Skolnik

Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are waging an advertising war inside Washington-area Metro stations as the tech giants prepare to bid for the Defense Department’s multibillion-dollar cloud computing contract known as JEDI.

The battle lines for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract have been drawn most clearly inside the Pentagon subway station.

From April 16 through May 15, Amazon Web Service (AWS) advertisements blanketed the Pentagon station with messages that included how the AWS cloud can benefit warfighters.

“1 cloud > 1,000 silos” reads one of the ads. “Time to launch: months minutes” states another (strikethrough in original).

A full slate of ads for the Microsoft Azure Government cloud replaced the AWS messages, and they will run through June 10, according to a Metro spokeswoman.

“This cloud gets actionable insight while the action is still unfolding,” reads one of several vividly colored Microsoft messages, which feature silhouettes of soldiers framed over military-themed montages.

From mid-April through Monday, Microsoft’s cloud ads took up all the ad space in the Metro Center subway station, the second-busiest of Metro’s 91 stations in terms of average weekday ridership numbers for 2017, Sherri Ly, media relations manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, told Bloomberg Government in a written statement.

In both stations, the ads have appeared as posters, banners, and large digital displays.

Longstanding Relationship

On their face, the AWS cloud ads, part of its “Build on” campaign, are designed to raise awareness about its upcoming public sector conference in Washington. Some but not all of the ads discuss defense-related themes.

An AWS spokeswoman declined comment. A Microsoft spokesman likewise wasn’t eager to discuss the company’s media strategies or its Metro ad campaign. He did note that Microsoft’s cloud operation has advertised on a local news radio station, and plans to do so again in the coming weeks.

“We conduct business with every cabinet level federal agency, including our long-standing relationship with The Department of Defense,” the Microsoft spokesman told Bloomberg Government in a written statement. “Each agency has a special mission to serve the American people and we have developed campaigns designed to reach these customers in their ongoing effort to better serve the public.”

“We will keep expanding our trusted government cloud offerings to deliver the latest emerging commercial technology innovation to empower the public sector to achieve its mission,” the spokesman said.

Questions About Cost

Microsoft also will be touting its Azure Government cloud in downtown Washington’s Federal Triangle Metro station for the next four weeks, according to Ly.

At the same time, AWS will continue its promotions on Metro’s digital platform network—including 50 digital screens on platforms across 44 stations—and on its mezzanine networks, which includes 10 digital screens on mezzanines across 8 stations, through June 10, said Ly.

Ly deferred questions about the cost of the ads to a company called Outfront Media. Outfront General Manager Dan Langdon said in a statement that his company doesn’t release client expenditures, “as this information is proprietary.”

‘A Lot of Noise’

A lot is at stake for both companies, widely seen to be among the leading JEDI contenders. The contract is estimated to be worth anywhere from about $3 billion to $10 billion over the next 10 years. The final request for proposal is set be issued by the Pentagon later this month.

“We are really deeply committed to the government business,” AWS CEO Andy Jassy said on CNBC May 9. “We will bid on the JEDI RFP when it comes out. It will be a very competitive bid. I think every major technology provider will be interested in that business.”

Jassy said there has been “a lot of noise” from some old guard tech companies. Several, with Oracle Corp. at the lead, have repeatedly expressed concerns that the Defense Department is planning to issue just one main JEDI contract, even though the agency says there will be space for other companies to participate through joint ventures and other types of partnership arrangements.

At least two factors point in Amazon’s favor—and to a lesser extent, Microsoft’s—as JEDI frontrunners. Amazon already runs cloud services for the U.S. intelligence community to positive reviews from CIA officials. Amazon also has met two top cloud security classifications called “information impact levels” that most other IT companies have not.

Microsoft Azure Government is covered by one of those levels, and is close to achieving the highest security status, a source close to Microsoft recently told Bloomberg Government.

A spokeswoman for Oracle didn’t respond to questions. A spokeswoman for International Business Machines Corp., another likely JEDI bidder, declined to comment.