Microsoft Has a Secret Weapon in the Cloud That Amazon Wishes It Had
Microsoft has a secret weapon.

Amazon (AMZN) is known as the giant of almost everything, but it might not be the king of the cloud market for much longer. 

Microsoft's (MSFT)  Azure cloud platform is giving Amazon Web Services a run for its money. Microsoft's fiscal fourth-quarter results show that Azure keeps growing faster, with revenues up 97% year-over-year (Microsoft doesn't break out Azure's actual sales numbers). In its first quarter report, Amazon's AWS revenues grew a much-slower 43% year-over-year to $3.6 billion.

And CEO Satya Nadella said the company keeps adding more and more big enterprises to its list of Azure customers, including FedEx (FDX) , Walgreens and T-Mobile (TMUS) . Those names are probably no match for Amazon's $600 million deal with the CIA but, to Microsoft is definitely catching up. 

Pacific Crest Securities analyst Brent Bracelin estimates that Microsoft's Commercial Cloud division, which includes not only Azure but CRM services Dynamics 365 and productivity software Office 365, could soon surpass Amazon Web Services. Microsoft's overall Commercial Cloud business is now up to an $18.9 billion annual run rate, according to Microsoft, while Bracelin projects that AWS may have reached a $16.7 billion annual run rate. 

Bracelin notes that the "sheer size and accelerating pace" of cloud growth makes it seem likely that its Commercial Cloud group can scale to north of a $50 billion annual run rate by 2021. 

But Patrick Moorhead, president of market research firm Moor Insights & Strategy, is a bit less bullish on Microsoft's ability to surpass Amazon. Moorhead expects that the Commercial Cloud division won't overtake AWS until 18 months to two years from now. 

Additionally, Microsoft and Amazon aren't necessarily going after the same markets, Moorhead said. Both also have their own advantages.

"The key is that AWS got this big lead," Moorhead explained. "It took a while for the public cloud folks to get there and Azure really jumped on it. Microsoft really knows how to speak enterprise, where I would say AWS is learning how to speak enterprise, but speaks startup and developer really well." 

For the time being, Microsoft and Amazon are deadlocked in a race to chip away at the $3 trillion enterprise computing market, he added. 

That said, Microsoft does have a secret weapon that very few other cloud providers can boast. The company has been hyping up its Azure Stack offering, which is a hybrid cloud platform that allows companies to run workloads in a public cloud (such as Azure) while storing their data in a private cloud. Amazon doesn't have a similar application and is unlikely to create their own, Moorhead said. 

Enterprises are increasingly drawn to hybrid cloud setups because it allows them to take advantage of the scale of a public cloud, while also being able to protect their data in a private cloud environment. 

"I expect Azure to narrow AWS's lead in the public cloud, but Azure Stack will be its secret weapon," Moorhead noted. 

Editor's Pick: Originally published July 21.

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