Microsoft Cloud Revenue Grows 147% To Annualized Run Rate Of $4.4B

On Tuesday, Microsoft released its Q4 2014 earnings report, the second such report since Satya Nadella took over as CEO in February. Key features of the report include the following:

•Revenue for the quarter ending June 30, 2014 amounted to $23.38B, up 18% year over year from $19.89B.
•Net income was $4.61B, down from $4.97B for the same quarter during the preceding year.
•Earnings per share calculated to $0.55/share or $0.05/share below the $0.60/share earnings target anticipated by Wall Street. For the same quarter in 2013, Microsoft posted earnings of $0.59/share.
•Commercial cloud revenue grew 147% to an annualized run-rate of over $4.4B. Over the course of the quarter, cloud revenue grew $564M, largely due to triple digit growth in enterprise sales of Office 365 and Azure.
•Windows licensing revenue grew 11% to $13.48B.
•Office 365 subscribers grew to 5.6 million and added a million users this quarter.
•Bing advertising revenue grew 40% and now consumes 19.2% of the U.S. search engine market.
•Revenue from server products grew 16%, including Azure, SQL Server and System Center.

Despite missing its earnings per share target, cloud revenue represents the shining star in this quarter’s earnings report as Microsoft pivots toward Nadella’s “mobile first and cloud first” strategy and away from a business model based on PCs. Nadella himself commented on the Q4 2014 earnings results by highlighting the figures related to cloud revenue as follows:

We are galvanized around our core as a productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world, and we are driving growth with disciplined decisions, bold innovation, and focused execution. I’m proud that our aggressive move to the cloud is paying off – our commercial cloud revenue doubled again this year to a $4.4 billion annual run rate.

The bottom line here is that Microsoft’s aggressive move to focus on Azure and a cloud-based version of Office 365 has paid dividends in an impressively short period of time. Investors can feel confident in the cloud-component of Microsoft’s new strategy, although they are likely to feel less certain about its ability to deliver with respect to mobile devices and applications, particularly given the challenges specific to the $7.2B Nokia acquisition, which itself claims responsibility for 12,500 of the 18,000 employees that are slated to be laid off by the Redmond, WA tech behemoth. That said, 147% growth in its cloud business bodes well for the Azure platform, particularly given that it is fueled in part by Microsoft’s booming Office 365 cloud-based subscription offering, which operates on Azure infrastructure. Expect growth in Microsoft’s cloud revenue to continue although the company will wrestle with the $1.1 to $1.6 billion cost of integrating Nokia Devices and Services (NDS) through fiscal year 2015, and the first half of the 2015 fiscal year in particular.

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Microsoft Slashes Prices And Increases Cloud Storage Limits For OneDrive And Office 365

Almost as if in response to the Amazon Fire Phone’s announcement of unlimited cloud photo storage, Microsoft announced an aggressive expansion of the limits for its cloud-based storage offerings by increasing the free quota for OneDrive from 7 GB to 15 GB on Monday. In addition, Microsoft announced that all Office 365 subscriptions will include 1 TB of cloud storage. Finally, Microsoft reduced storage prices for cloud storage independent of an Office 365 subscription by 70% such that monthly prices for 100 GB of storage are now $1.99 as opposed to $7.49 and 200 GB are $3.99 instead of $11.49. Microsoft’s pricing of free storage represents an astute move to continue its aggressive rollout of Office 365 by shifting customers to its cloud-based productivity suite in contrast to the client-based installations via download or DVD. Moreover, Microsoft continues to tout the possibilities for collaboration enabled by the cloud and as such, users are likely to see enriched collaboration functionality coming to the Office 365 suite soon. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella underscored the importance of the connection between the cloud and collaboration in a blog post by noting that “the cloud is enabling a world where you can walk up to any supported device, sign in, collaborate, communicate and share your creations with the world. Doesn’t matter what you make, where you make it or what device you use. The cloud is there to help.” Whereas Steve Jobs introduced iCloud primarily in the context of device synchronization, and the resulting operational simplicity specific to accessing the same version of every file and folder from every machine, Nadella appears to be taking things one step further by positioning the cloud as a platform fundamentally for collaboration, communication and sharing.

Three Key Points From Microsoft’s Q3 FY 2014 Earnings Call Featuring CEO Satya Nadella

On Thursday, April 24, Microsoft delivered its first earnings call since the appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO on February 4, 2014. Whereas outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer rarely participated in earnings calls, Nadella participated on the Q3, FY2014 earnings call in a clear sign that he intends to claim accountability for Microsoft’s relationship with Wall Street and success more generally. Analysts were almost universally enamored by Nadella’s responsiveness to questions on the call as he began the elaboration of a concise but bold blueprint for Microsoft’s transformation over the next 5-10 years. The basis of Nadella’s strategy for Microsoft is “mobile-first cloud-first” and a “cloud for everyone on every device” philosophy that applies to Windows, Office 365, Azure and its infrastructure division without discrimination. Strikingly, Nadella avoided mention of big data, Hadoop and analytics in what represented a clear strategic move to underscore the critical importance of mobile and cloud technologies to the next phase of Microsoft’s evolution. That said, Nadella did mention that “the ability to reason over and draw insights from everything that’s been digitized will improve the fidelity of our daily experiences and interactions” and that the concomitant ubiquity of computing represents a huge opportunity for Microsoft in the “mobile-first and cloud-first” world.

Three key points worth noting from Nadella’s remarks on Thursday’s earnings call are as follows:

1. Acknowledgement of Microsoft’s need to innovate

Nadella delivered a stark admission of Microsoft’s need to transform itself by noting:

What you can expect of Microsoft is courage in the face of reality. We will approach our future with a challenger mindset. We will be bold in our innovation. We will be accountable to our customers, partners and shareholders.

In noting that Microsoft will be “bold” and look to the “future with a challenger mindset,” Nadella acknowledged that Microsoft had lost its pre-eminence in the technology world and would need “courage” to reinvent itself in the contemporary tech landscape.

2. Mobile-first means “mobility first”

Nadella noted the need to think about user experience on a “variety of devices” including those not powered by Microsoft as follows:

So this mobile-first cloud-first thing is a pretty deep thing for us. When we say mobile-first, in fact what we mean by that is mobility first. We think about users and their experiences spanning a variety of devices. So it’s not about any one form factor that may have some share position today, but as we look to the future, what are the set of experiences across devices, some ours and some not ours that we can power through experiences that we can create uniquely.

The availability of Office for the iPad constitutes one such example of attention to the larger universe of devices used today, but the broader point here is about the creation of user experiences across varied devices that Microsoft “can create uniquely.” Nadella went onto to note that the company’s attention to mobility would require deep thought about how real communications such as “how communications happen,” and “how meetings occur.” He also noted that the attention to a variety of devices would be accompanied by “one cloud for everyone and every device” that could accommodate the heterogeneity of devices and operating systems in the tech world today.

3. The growth of Microsoft’s cloud is enabled by the triangulation of its infrastructure, SaaS-based Office 365 product and its Azure cloud platform

In response to a question from Karl Keirstead of Deutsche Bank about factors that enabled Microsoft’s growth in “server product revenue” on the order 10%, Nadella noted that advancements to its server infrastructure products had accelerated because of their use to power the Azure cloud as follows:

One of the questions I often get asked is hey how did Windows server and the hypervisor underneath it becomes so good so soon. You’ve been at it for a long time but there seems to have something fundamentally changed I mean we’ve grown a lot of share recently, the product is more capable than it ever was, the rate of change is different and for one reason alone which is we use it to run Azure. So the fact that we use our servers to run our cloud makes our servers more competitive for other people to build their own cloud.

Nadella elaborated that Office 365’s growth was also critical to powering the growth of its infrastructure business, creating a cycle marked by differential margins across its infrastructure, Office 365 and Azure business that would need to be carefully indexed in order to effectively understand the drivers of Microsoft’s growth. Nadella’s commentary on the relationship between its infrastructure market, Office 365 and Azure means that Microsoft is positioning itself within the triangle composed of Azure, Office 365 and infrastructure, even as it espouses a two pronged strategy focused around mobility and the cloud. Thursday’s call represented a remarkably rich and informative elaboration on the company’s strategy for an earnings call. Based on Nadella’s performance on Thursday, investors will be looking forward to subsequent Microsoft earnings calls, particularly insofar as Nadella intends on “joining these investor calls going forward” as part of “an ongoing dialogue with investors.”

The full transcript of the earnings call can be accessed on SeekingAlpha.com here or on the Microsoft website.

Microsoft Cuts Azure IaaS and Storage Prices While Emphasizing Quality And Innovation

At its Build Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft joined Google and Amazon Web Services in slashing IaaS and storage prices by announcing price cuts of up to 27-35% on compute services, and 44-65% on storage. Additionally, Microsoft revealed details of “Basic” VM instances that lack the load balancing and auto-scaling functionality that comes with the Standard instances. Price cuts were deepest for “Memory-Intensive” virtual machines and ranged from 35% for select Linux machines, and 27% for Windows-based machines. Microsoft also announced a new redundancy storage option branded Zone Redundant Storage (ZRS) that allows customers to store three copies of their data across “multiple facilities” which may be located either within the same region or across different regions. Zone Redundant Storage provides customers with an alternative redundancy option to the currently available Geo Redundant Storage (GRS) choice which enables customers to store data in regions “hundreds of miles apart” marked by 3 copies of their data in each region. Zone Redundant Storage will be 37.5% lower than Geo Redundant Storage in price. Notable about Microsoft’s announcements of Azure price reductions was its concomitant emphasis on quality and innovation in the cloud computing space:

While price is important, and something that will continue to grab headlines, there are three key factors at play in cloud computing: innovation, price, and quality. Innovation and quality will prove far more important than commoditization of compute and storage. Vendors will ultimately extol their track records for building and running services far more than their prices and SLAs.

Microsoft will continue to focus on bringing our customers a world-class service with an unrivaled user experience. This means best-in-class value while still providing the most complete cloud experience on the market. It means massive investments in cutting-edge infrastructure and world-class R&D. It means continuing to grow our developer and partner ecosystems. Simply put, it means devoting the bulk of our efforts to delivering innovation and a quality experience for our customers, developers, and partners.

With cloud guru Satya Nadella now at the helm of Microsoft, the industry should expect Microsoft to hold good on the promise made by Steve Martin, General Manager of Windows Azure, in his blog post regarding the devotion of “the bulk of our [Microsoft’s] efforts to delivering innovation and a quality experience for our customers.” All this suggests that, what had previously been a two horse race between Amazon Web Services and Google has now, within a matter of days, morphed into a three horse race that prominently features Microsoft and its renewed commitment to cloud and mobile technologies under Nadella as evinced by Microsoft’s release of Office on the iPad. Without question, Microsoft’s experience serving enterprise customers exceeds that of Google by far, but its ability to innovate in the cloud space with the frequency and depth of Amazon Web Services and Google remains to be seen.