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How Microsoft Is Gaining on Cloud Rivals Amazon and Google

Survey finds Microsoft's offerings gaining favor with CIOs.

Bob Orsillo / Shutterstock

Don’t look now, but Microsoft’s cloud services appear to be catching up to Amazon and Google in the quickly evolving battle to supply companies with cloud computing services, a survey of CIOs by the research firm Pacific Crest Securities has found.

The firm asked CIOs to list the services on which they expected to increase spending in the coming year. Microsoft’s Azure and Office 365 beat both Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, and was the second most preferred supplier for public and private cloud services behind VMware. Ten percent said they intended to boost their spending with Google, while seven percent said they would spend more with with AWS.

For the survey, Pacific Crest checked in with CIOs at 152 companies with 1,000 or more employees — most of them with over 5,000 employees. That at least partially explains the overall strength for Microsoft: Big as it is, Amazon’s AWS tends to be more popular with earlier-stage (and therefore smaller) companies.

Last month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said its cloud business was on track to bring in $4.4 billion in revenue. This would put it a few billion behind IBM’s cloud business (said to be on a $7 billion run rate this year) and a few hundred million dollars behind AWS (the size of which Amazon doesn’t disclose, but which has been estimated to account for about $5 billion a year). Office 365 had 5.6 million users as of the end of Microsoft’s most recent quarter.

One thing that large enterprises tend to like, writes Pacific Crest’s Brendan Barnicle, is that Microsoft’s cloud tends to work nicely with their existing Active Director infrastructure, the system they use to sign into older Microsoft products like Exchange. They also like it because they get access to a lot of Microsoft products that they couldn’t get from a standard installation of Microsoft Office.

That’s good news for Microsoft, because it takes on little if any incremental cost. Office 365 is more profitable than the old-school Office. As big enterprises move to Office 365, it could generate as much as $3 billion in net income, or as much as 36 cents a share, which amounts to a sizable chunk of the $2.71 per-share profit that analysts expect Microsoft to deliver in its 2015 fiscal year.

And as is usually the case with cloud software products, Microsoft will treat Office 365 sales as subscriptions, so that that earnings growth will become both recurring and highly predictable. And that, Barnicle says, may justify a higher share price down the road.

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