Microsoft vs AWS: If you can't bark with the BIG DOGS get off the PORCH

A tight squeeze in the cloud


Those pesky customer numbers

What of customer numbers? AWS reckons in 2015 it has “more than” one million active EC2 customers; in 2013, Microsoft had claimed 200,000 Azure customers but it has said nothing since and there was nothing Thursday; a telling sign Microsoft doesn’t want you to really know what it's got.

What we’re left with, then, is an Azure business likely short of $2 billion, if you subtract the rest of the commercial other unit’s gumbo.

And before you say it, forget anything you might have heard about “run rate.” Microsoft’s chief executive Sataya Nadella last quarter in January claimed a run rate of $5.5 billion for Microsoft’s cloud. However, run rate is an exercise in extrapolated maths — today’s earnings projected into the future, they do not measure actual revenue.

Also, much of that is coming from the Office 365 side of life, especially in business, which Microsoft has been hurling into customer accounts.

Right, let's talk costs. What's being spent by Microsoft and Amazon on AWS tell another story, too: it's a tale of two companies clearly at different points in the data centre growth cycle.

The amount Microsoft is spending on data centres is growing while Amazon is cutting back on AWS – presumably, having passed build-out critical mass.

Microsoft said in the last quarter it spent $189 million on data centres and other online infrastructure, an increase year on year of 13 per cent. Amazon, meanwhile, cut its infrastructure bill by 19 per cent but still managed to out spent Microsoft's $871 million on “property and equipment.”

Then we have Google – also announcing its first-quarter on Thursday – and IBM, the on-prem giant limbering up to become a cloud service provider.

Google spent up to $2.9 billion on data centre construction and facilities – a number that also includes development of products and spend on equipment.

IBM last year committed to spend $1.2 billion on 15 data centres – new facilities and upgrading centers owned by SofLayer, who it acquired.

Taking a step back, Amazon does have more room to grow. Despite a plethora of feature updates, it’s AWS that’s been pushing the envelope. Amazon claimed 516 new features and services launches on AWS in 2014 alone.

But, and here’s the interesting part, Microsoft has the greater scope to improve – adding more features to try to catch up and beat AWS.

That said, Microsoft is offering customers a cloud that’s potentially easier to consume than AWS – a fact that could prove easier in terms of onramping new customers.

AWS is, proudly for Amazon, an infrastructure and it'll take some expertise to weave together. You need Amazon gurus, third parties or your own experts. Or you rely on a partner running on top of AWS to abstract out the complexity and who serves as the service that you engage with.

Microsoft is making Azure easier to consume and build for a group of customer’s who are its bread and butter — business and enterprise developers.

What happens next will be interesting: how far AWS can a) grow that business customer base that’s belonged to Microsoft through its current strategy or by making AWS easier to consume, or b) squeeze growth from partners who shield the customer from AWS’s underlying complexity.

As to raw money — revenue and profit — that will be a wrestling match of our times.

Next page: Land grabbing

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