If you want to see where information technology is headed, look no further than the earnings reports from three key companies on Thursday. All of them—Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—are building massive cloud computing businesses. And they hope that virtually every business will move its data and applications into their respective data centers instead of building more of its own.
So how’s that going? Pretty well, apparently.
Amazon’s cloud division, known as Amazon Web Services, reported $890 million in operating income on revenue $3.66 billion for the first quarter ending in March. That’s up a respectable 42.6% over last year. But perhaps more important, as MarketWatch points out, that business comprised 89% of Amazon’s total operating income.
AWS, previously seen as a loss leader for a giant e-commerce company, has proven itself to be the profit engine. At this rate, AWS (AMZN) remains on track to deliver $14 billion in revenue for the year, as Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky pointed out on the company’s earnings call.
As healthy as that growth rate is, it pales in comparison to past years. In the second quarter of 2015, for example, AWS posted 82% year-over-year growth. But AWS is now growing off a much larger base, and it’s facing more capable competitors in Microsoft and Google than it did a few years ago. TBRI analyst Meaghan McGrath also pointed out that price cuts announced in December had an impact.
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For its first quarter, Microsoft (MSFT) said sales from its “intelligent cloud” business grew 11% to $6.76 billion in the quarter from $6.09 billion a year ago. Profit was up about 2% to $2.18 billion from $2.17 billion year-over-year. This category includes not just AWS rival Microsoft Azure, but also Office 365 and Dynamics 365 subscriptions as well Windows Server and other software that run in customer data centers—not in any cloud at all.
Microsoft said Azure revenue alone was up 93% year-over-year, but provided no numbers, which is really what people want to see.
“I think Azure overall is growing faster than AWS in percentage terms, from a smaller base, of course,” said Dave Bartoletti, an analyst at Forrester Research (FORR) via email. “I think a steady doubling of quarterly revenue on a year-over-year basis is terrific growth for Azure. Now I just want to know what the actual Azure number is—we all do.”
Google (GOOGL), which is something of a wild card here, also continues to push its cloud agenda. But the size of that business remains hazy. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, counts cloud in its broad “other” category, which is virtually everything outside Internet search and advertising sales. That category this year contributed $3 billion in revenue, up a healthy 50% compared to a year ago. That would put “other” revenue, which also includes the company’s G Suite business software and hardware like the Pixel phones, at about $12 billion a year.
“Google Cloud continues to drive sizable growth, with Google Cloud Platform remaining one of the fastest-growing businesses across Alphabet,” company CFO Ruth Porat said during the earnings call on Thursday evening. Alphabet is the parent company of Google.
Google senior vice president Diane Greene, who leads this cloud push, said last week she thinks Google’s cloud business could surpass AWS in five years.
Industry followers are betting neither Microsoft nor Google will break out their true cloud numbers until they’re in the same ballpark as a AWS. There is precedent for this: Amazon didn’t start breaking out AWS-only numbers until 2015, nine years into its existence.