Microsoft's Azure cloud business almost doubled last quarter, thanks in part to automakers turning to enhanced machine learning technology to improve driver safety.
BMW, Renault-Nissan, Toyota and Ford are all using Microsoft's cloud technology to help with services like driver assist, predictive maintenance and voice-controlled media. There are also alerts in case bad weather is ahead or if an accident has caused a traffic jam and perhaps the driver should take a detour.
"The car is like a rolling computer, capturing all kinds of data," said Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Microsoft's worldwide commercial business, in an interview on Friday at CNBC's San Francisco bureau. "All that data is coming back to Azure, where we apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to help auto manufacturers make cars better and safer."
Microsoft said on Thursday that revenue at Azure, which competes with Amazon Web Services, surged 93 percent in the fiscal second quarter, driving 8 percent growth in the intelligent cloud unit to $6.9 billion. Microsoft shares rose 2.1 percent as of mid-day on Friday to $65.62 after earnings topped analysts' estimates.
But under the leadership of Satya Nadella, who celebrates his three-year anniversary as CEO next week, Microsoft has transformed from a maker of desktop software and computer operating systems to a powerful player in cloud computing.
By investing not only in massive data centers to host clients' data but also in advanced machine learning technology, Microsoft has become a popular platform on which businesses do their most sophisticated work.
The auto sector has been a particularly bright spot for Microsoft. Since the beginning of last year, Azure has announced partnerships with carmakers including BMW, Nissan and Volvo to use various tools the cloud offers. In September, Microsoft said that Uber is using a service for drivers to take selfies so the ride-sharing company can check their identity before letting them accept rides.
—CNBC's Josh Lipton contributed to this report
Correction: A previous version of this story said Nadella has been CEO for two years.