It's no surprise that Amazon dominates the cloud. Bigger than its next four largest competitors combined, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a $7.3 billion cloud business, and it's growing at a torrid 81% rate. This totals to 10X the utilized capacity of its next 14 largest platform competitors combined, according to Gartner.
And yet, there's hope. At least, for Microsoft.
In a new Forrester report, Microsoft comes out well in front of the chasing pack, with double the cloud platform revenue of its enterprise competition, including Oracle and IBM.
With Goldman Sachs projecting cloud infrastructure/platform spending to boom at a compound annual rate of 30% from 2013 through 2018, compared to IT spending growth of 5%, Microsoft (and, of course, AWS) is well-positioned to own enterprise wallets for decades to come.
First among unequals
Earlier this month, 18,000 of the Amazon faithful gathered in Vegas to celebrate the impending doom of the old-guard IT vendors.
But this wasn't simply driven by brand new AWS functionality. Rather, the real momentum of AWS can be seen in its careful dismantling of every IT objection to running workloads in a public cloud, as Forrester's Paul Miller recounts:
"The headline items (the Internet of Things, Business Intelligence, and a Snowball chucked straight at the 'hell' that is the enterprise data centre (think about it)) are much-discussed, but in many ways the more interesting stuff was AWS' continued—quiet, methodical, inexorable—improvement of its current offerings. One by one, enterprise 'reasons' to avoid AWS or its public cloud competitors are being systematically demolished."
This steady domination has AWS fast approaching a $10 billion run-rate, a lead it won't easily lose.
And yet... there's Microsoft.
Amazon, Microsoft, and all the rest
We first got a sense of Microsoft's cloud stature in a Gartner report earlier this year. In that report, only Microsoft managed to stand relatively near AWS in Gartner's Magic Quadrant:
But the metric that really matters most—customer adoption, measured by customer cash—has only become apparent more recently, in a new Forrester report. In that report, AWS' dominance is confirmed, but it also reveals that Microsoft is well ahead of its next nearest rivals, with roughly $1.5 billion in cloud platform revenue:
Microsoft can claim this leadership position because it's been in the market so long and has done a fantastic job balancing a modern cloud with the ability to embrace legacy workloads. Plus, Microsoft is a strong platform for hosting new apps.
IBM and Oracle can't match that, partly because they don't own yesterday's platform in the way Microsoft does. Instead, they're stuck helping customers retrofit legacy apps for modern clouds. They're making good money doing this, but it pales in comparison to AWS and Microsoft Azure, where companies are building and betting their future.
Not all clouds are created equal
Of course, IBM and Oracle can point at their significant SaaS businesses and rightly call them "cloud." This is where IBM and Salesforce dominate, according to Forrester's data, but Microsoft isn't far behind IBM.
In the long term, however, Microsoft's probably the safer bet.
Industry pundits like to talk about multi-cloud enterprise strategies, but the reality is that enterprises will try to standardize just as they did in the on-premise server era. Sure, no one will completely succeed, but vendors that can offer both SaaS and IaaS/PaaS will tend to win.
AWS has obviously started with IaaS, but it's adding more functionality, arguing that it's in the enterprise pain management business. There's plenty of pain to be resolved with SaaS.
Microsoft, for its part, already has a strong footing in both business productivity SaaS and IaaS. And enterprises love it, with a Gartner survey showing 64% of enterprises that choose Azure do so because of their existing relationship with Microsoft.
That won't be enough for it to erase Amazon's lead, but those relationships, coupled with a soup-to-nuts, SaaS-to-IaaS strategy, should be more than sufficient to keep Oracle and IBM nipping at its heels.
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.