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Microsoft escalates its cloud battle with Amazon after a slew of new Azure announcements

Key Points
  • This year's Microsoft Build conference is chock full of announcements related to the company's cloud product, Azure.
  • The company is making it easier for GitHub users to start using Azure.
  • In the first quarter of this year, Microsoft's Azure revenue was estimated to be less than half of Amazon's cloud revenue.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, sits in the Volkswagen Digital Lab in Friedrichshain, Germany, for a joint press conference with the chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen on Feb. 27, 2019.
Bernd von Jutrczenka | picture alliance | Getty Images

Microsoft on Monday used the start of its Build developer conference in Seattle as an opportunity to unleash a slew of updates to its lineup of cloud services.

For instance, Microsoft is letting users of its GitHub code hosting service provide their login credentials in order to access Azure cloud tools. At the same time, the company is making GitHub's enterprise tier compatible with the Microsoft Azure Active Directory service, so administrators will be able to more easily manage employees' GitHub use.

These changes and other enhancements could lead to greater adoption of Microsoft's overall Azure public cloud for hosting applications and storing data. That's critical as Amazon continues to maintain a big lead in the market and Google, which is thought to be behind Microsoft, is doubling down on its cloud efforts under its new chief, Thomas Kurian. Amazon had 32% of cloud market share at the end of 2018, according to Canalys. Microsoft had 13.7% and Google had 7.6%.

Microsoft has talked about cloud at its Build shows in past years, but this year it seems to be at the very center of the company's appeal to developers. Executives onstage are spending less time this year talking about consumer products like Windows and Surface computers.

GitHub, which Microsoft bought last year for $7.5 billion, could represent an on-ramp of sorts for Microsoft public cloud services.

"As the companies [Microsoft and GitHub] work together even more, there is an opportunity to educate them on Azure and how they should think about developing apps on top of Azure. And so we will certainly be promoting Azure to the GitHub community, but for the GitHub developers, really it's whatever cloud they want to build on and we're going to support that," Dave O'Hara, chief financial officer of Microsoft's commercial business, said at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in February.

On Monday, Microsoft said it will release an Azure SQL Database tool that can handle computing in a "serverless" capacity. This means developers won't have to set up and manage underlying resources for databases. Amazon and Google have also come out with serverless database technologies.

For almost two years now Microsoft has worked with partners, including third-party software makers, to sell Azure to companies, benefiting both Microsoft and its partners. The so-called co-sell initiative has led to more than $5 billion in partner annual contract value in the past year.

Now Microsoft is expanding the program to Microsoft 365 — a bundle that includes Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility & Security software — and the Dynamics suite of enterprise software, including the cloud-based sales management application that competes with Salesforce's core Sales Cloud.

In the first quarter, Amazon picked up $7.7 billion in revenue from AWS. Microsoft does not specify revenue from Azure, but analysts Alex Zukin and Scott Wilson of Piper Jaffray estimated that Azure produced around $3.6 billion in revenue in the quarter. Microsoft did say that Azure revenue rose 73% year over year.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct value of annual contract value for Microsoft's Azure co-sell initiative.

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