As Microsoft gains cloud share, competitors are changing their stance

Key Points
  • New data suggest Microsoft is posing more competition to the public cloud market leader, Amazon.
  • The findings come as Amazon and Alphabet's Google release products that address a key area that Microsoft embraced before they did: "hybrid cloud."
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks to participants during the Viva Technologie show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 24, 2018, in Paris.
Chesnot | Getty Images

Microsoft again gained more market share in the cloud business than top competitors in the second quarter, one technology research firm said.

The findings suggest Microsoft is posing more competition to the public cloud market leader, Amazon. They come as Amazon and Alphabet's Google release products that address a key area that Microsoft embraced before they did: "hybrid cloud," which means customers can use a mixture of cloud services and software they run in their own data centers, and manage both with a common set of tools.

In the second quarter, Microsoft Azure held 14 percent share in the cloud infrastructure market, Synergy Research said late on Thursday. Microsoft gained 3 percentage points of market share year over year, while Amazon was flat at 34 percent and Google was up 1 percentage point, coming in at 6 percent. Microsoft also had more share gains than Amazon and Microsoft in the fourth quarter and the first quarter, according to Synergy's calculations. (This market is distinct from software-as-a-service, and does not include hosted applications such as Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce, or Workday.)

While reporting second-quarter earnings on Thursday, Amazon reported its cloud generated $6.11 billion in revenue, up almost 49 percent. Microsoft didn't disclose quarterly revenue for its Azure cloud but said Azure revenue grew 89 percent. Google didn't provide cloud numbers or growth rates for the quarter.

On Microsoft's July 19 earnings call, Morgan Stanley analyst Keith Weiss asked CEO Satya Nadella about how customers are changing the way they use Azure. Nadella responded by saying that there haven't been drastic changes, but instead, a previously articulated approach, to provide the same tools to run applications in organizations' data centers and in the Microsoft cloud so that companies can move things to the cloud over time, is succeeding.

Microsoft was early

The approach of providing common tools for on-premises and cloud applications is broadly known as "hybrid cloud," and Microsoft's key product there is called Azure Stack, which Microsoft first announced in 2015.

"People use both Azure Stack plus Azure, so that continues to drive a lot of IaaS growth for us," Nadella said, referring to the particular category of infrastructure as a service.

Microsoft hits all-time high after strong earnings
Microsoft hits all-time high after strong earnings

A few analysts picked up on Nadella's comments.

"We are pleased to hear of continued early traction with Azure Stack as we think it offers Microsoft a unique hybrid-cloud play," Stifel analysts led by Brad Reback wrote the next day.

In the past few weeks, Amazon and Google have made announcements to more fully support customers that want to keep doing computing work on their own servers, rather than solely using public clouds.

On July 17, Amazon announced new capabilities for Snowball Edge, a hardware device that was originally meant as a way to do lightweight computing and eventually move data into the Amazon cloud. Now customers can run a variety of standard EC2 virtual-machine instances -- each of which can perform multiple computing tasks -- on these boxes. EC2 instances are widely used for all sorts of computing tasks in Amazon's main public cloud.

"If you need to move very large amounts of data into the cloud, or if this data sits in a location where it's not easily brought into the cloud, we need to give you the tools," Amazon chief technology officer said at a company event in New York.

Then, earlier this week, Google introduced hybrid-cloud software called the Cloud Services Platform. One of the new technologies is GKE On-Prem. GKE stands for the Google Kubernetes Engine, which is a cloud tool Google offers to help customers manage containers — an alternative to more traditional virtual machines for running programmers' code. The new tool is similar, except it can work on companies' existing data center infrastructure.

Amazon has introduced other tools for use in corporate data centers in the past, like providing broader access to the Amazon version of Linux, and Google has announced partnerships with companies that sell corporate data center gear, like Cisco and Nutanix. But the new moves indicate the cloud providers are more interested in meeting the needs of businesses, government agencies and other groups that don't want to depend exclusively on outside providers for their IT needs — or at least not yet.

"I want to support the customer no matter where it is, and really, it's not a race," Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene said in an interview with CNBC earlier this week. "This is a long-term play, and we want to do the right thing for the customers, because we want to be their partner long-term."

There's still upside for Microsoft, says analyst
There's still upside for Microsoft, says analyst