Four years ago Microsoft lost its mojo. The software giant had failed to compete in web search.
People questioned whether Microsoft was on an IBM-style path to irrelevance. When the phone business flopped, it looked like Microsoft’s time in the sun was over.
Today it is back. The 2017 Microsoft is a different beast, the main reason for its revival is a successful transition to selling cloud computing services. Microsoft’s rebirth isn’t yet on the same scale as Apple which came back with the iPhone, but that can still happen.
This week Microsoft reported quarterly profits that are more than twice the level of a year earlier.
It’s not all good news. Some of the jump was down to the company realising a tax benefit after writing off its failed mobile phone business.
Fast growing cloud transition
Yet that’s the past The important part of the quarterly announcement is that Microsoft’s cloud business is growing at a clip. That was enough to send the share price up three percent.
This wasn’t the first quarter where Microsoft’s cloud business was the star of the show. It's been climbing for years now. In the latest quarter Intelligent Cloud revenue was up 11 percent to US$7.4 billion. Revenue for the company’s Azure cloud services was up almost 100 percent.
While Azure still trails behind Amazon Web Services, there is clear blue sky between Microsoft and the next set of cloud service providers. Being second in the most important market of the day is a huge win for Microsoft.
At the same time, cloud economics means it is close to a winner takes all game. Amazon and Azure share almost all the cloud profits.
The other cloudy good news from Microsoft is that revenue from the cloud version of Office 365 went past traditional software sales for the first time. There are now 90 million Office 365 users on iOS and Android. That is a big thumbs up for CEO Satya Nadella’s decision to support non-Microsoft operating systems.
Although Microsoft is doing a better job of transforming than rivals like IBM, Oracle or Google, it isn’t in the clear yet. Sales of Surface devices fell two percent during the quarter. Meanwhile enterprise service revenues fell. Yet it appears to be keeping pace with AWS, that’s something no-one else can manage.