The cloud infrastructure market is expected to reach $83.5 billion by 2021, up from $40.8 billion in 2018. Amazon Web Services was launched in 2006, which means it took twelve years for the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) market to reach $40 billion – but will take only three years for the next $40 billion to accumulate. Therefore, the investment window for cloud infrastructure stocks is far from over.
The IaaS segment is currently Amazon’s (AMZN) most profitable revenue stream comprising 55% of its quarterly operating profit, and is also the top growth driver for Microsoft (MSFT) at 89%. Considering these are two of the three companies vying for most valuable company in the United States, it’s easy to see why IaaS could be the determining factor on who will remain in this position. AWS has a formidable lead in cloud infrastructure with estimates of $26 billion in sales last year compared to Microsoft’s $10 billion.
However, there was an important strategic acquisition Microsoft completed last month which will narrow its position in second place – and it’s my prediction that this specific acquisition will be a primary driver that will propel MS into first place in the next 2-3 years. Before I discuss the acquisition, I think it’s important to provide an overview of the IaaS segment.
Brief Overview of IaaS Cloud Stocks
Gartner analysis bumped Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) and IBM (NYSE:IBM) from the leader quadrant this year, while placing Google Cloud in third behind AWS and Microsoft. For all intents and purposes, these are the three cloud infrastructure companies remaining for serious stock investors after a period of fierce consolidation. At one point, Amazon had more market share than the trailing 14 cloud infrastructure companies combined. It now has the market share of the trailing 5 companies combined. This reflects Microsoft and Google’s (GOOG) (GOOGL) growth as the territory Amazon has forfeited was primarily gained by MS Azure and also Google Cloud Platform [GCP].
AWS has an outstanding lead at 33% of the market, with Microsoft at 13% and Google at 5-6%. These margins are why Amazon posts 40% growth while Microsoft posts 98% growth – there is simply more territory that MS can gain as a second-place participant. GCP claims the most growth because its revenue is small enough to post these gains.
Suffice to say, current revenue is not a solid indicator of who will capture the $40 billion projected growth over the next three-year period. In fact, I believe AWS will have its hardest years ahead as Microsoft’s singular focus has been to grow Azure, and this strategy will be reflected in earnings between 2019 and 2022. AWS is the most mature provider in this category, but Microsoft has deeper experience with strategic IT dominance. The effort at which Microsoft is driving adoption to .NET CORE and Azure is, surprisingly, not something we see with AWS (more on this below).
To some extent, this reason could easily be explained by Amazon’s ever-expanding focus. The company may be too distracted with growing its e-commerce dominance, such as Prime deliveries and also Prime OTT streaming, plus the Whole Foods acquisition, as well as its plans to disrupt the healthcare industry and the connected home. It’s easy to see how Amazon might lack the focus in strategic investments that the competitive cloud infrastructure market will demand. Microsoft, on the other hand, is putting its entire weight behind IaaS, and the next couple of years will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Microsoft’s Strategic Move to Acquire the World’s Largest Open Source Repository
Microsoft’s dedication to become the cloud infrastructure leader was demonstrated last month with the acquisition of GitHub for $7.5 billion, which is a repository for developers to upload projects and files. There are 28 million active developers collaborating on GitHub. In other words, every single developer in the world is on GitHub. In fact, GitHub’s user base is larger than the total number of developers globally, which is an impossibility the founder pointed out last year, proving the platform’s omnipresence.
“Git” refers to version control systems, which developer-talk for an open version of all the modifications made to projects (like writing code), that is stored in one central repository. Collaboration and sharing are at the essence of open-source software, and GitHub provides a social environment for this to occur. There is a ton of innovation which happens here, and almost every developer hosts their code and projects here for the world to see (or even for employers to review during job interviews). Developers can “fork’ a project, or split a project, by creating a new project off an existing one. Or they can issue a pull request to have the original developers of a project incorporate new code.
Ironic is the best word to describe Microsoft’s venture into open source technologies and repositories. At one time, the company was loathed by the developer community for their closed standards, as the Founder Bill Gates adamantly believed software should be proprietary. In the late 90s, leaked documents showed Microsoft had attempted to contain the open source movement, and to prevent Linux from competing with Microsoft software by locking customers into proprietary protocols. (Linux is the free and open-sourced software operating system that launched in the early 90s and Android is built on today; Windows is the anti-thesis to this operating system).
Developers seek open source environments so they can learn from each other, and to support more innovation. Today, AWS excels when it comes to open source development due to being an early supporter of Linux. However, Microsoft is attempting a complete one-eighty by embracing the open-source community, and if MS succeeds, it will pay in dividends for Azure as it goes head to head with AWS.
This venture into open-source advocacy has been planned for some time. Over the last few years, Microsoft became the top contributor on GitHub with 2 million projects, which helps position Microsoft as an advocate while evangelizing the .NET framework and the .NET CORE that runs on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Microsoft now claims that 40% of Azure’s virtual machines are running Linux.
Furthermore, MS acquired Xamarin two years ago, the leading mobile application development platform. The tools help developers navigate across the various programming languages required by different platforms, such as iOS and Android on native, web applications, or a mix of both with 75% of the code re-usable. This greatly reduces development time and resources, and also demonstrates that MS is ready to host and support competing operating systems in order to gain on cloud infrastructure.
Microsoft is courting developers because they are a primary decision maker as to which cloud service a company will use. MS Azure’s current customers are enterprise level, such as Fortune 500 companies. Microsoft’s strength is that most businesses at this level have a significant investment in MS products, and it is easier to go with MS because it is what they know, and the transition is easy as the IT department won’t have to be trained on AWS or Google Cloud.
However, Microsoft’s glaring weakness is open source, and the some 28 million developers that are on smaller teams and who socialize on GitHub are decidedly open source. For $7.5 billion, Microsoft has done what every great company should do – acquire to address your weakness.
Both Xamarin and GitHub are highly strategic acquisitions. Microsoft paid 25 times the value of GitHub, which has revenue of about $300 million. Alphabet was also interested in purchasing GitHub, according to inside sources.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in MSFT over the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.