‘Cloud’ Atlas





_ Introduction to Cloud Computing


_ Apple

_ Amazon.com

_ Google

_ Microsoft


_ Afterword

_ Concluding Remarks


_ Appendices

       _ Five Forces Analysis

       _ Company Introductions

       _ Business Strategy + Business Results

       _ Consolidated Industry Positions



















“What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”
– David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas


Introduction: The cloud has long been the pipe dream of technologists. Ever since the first computers – which were based on the client-server computing model – we have worked toward developing networked computers that allow you to access your data and user-sessions across machines.
With the OS fragmentation of the 80s, and consolidation toward a single player (Microsoft) in the 90s, this progress however, was stunted until the mobile world-wide-web became ubiquitous in the 2000s, forcing at least some attention away from entrenched desktop interfaces. With smartphones came renewed efforts in platform development, the ‘widgetization’ of larger applications into smaller task-specific apps, and a broader multi-screen behavior that made the cloud the quintessential backbone of modern computing.
This paper explores the strategies of the four major players in this space today – Apple, Amazon.com, Google, and Microsoft – their broader strategic positions, and the role the cloud plays for each of their strategies. It explores emerging behavior and potential threats, and concludes by discussing multiple scenarios for the evolution of the cloud industry and the broader computing environment, and its effect on these four players.

Text Box:  “If, for some reason, we make some big mistake and IBM wins, my personal feeling is that we are going to enter a computer Dark Ages for about twenty years.”  - Steve Jobs in 1987, 20 years before the launch of the iPhone  “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.” - Steve Jobs on “Mac OSX: Darwin” in 2000 “That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” - Steve Jobs in 2003
Apple: Apple’s single greatest challenge, with the return of Steve Jobs in 1997, was to not lose the next platform war, even while adhering to their product strategy of highly curated, single-platform hardware-software combination. Apple (and Jobs at NeXT) realized early that the future of personal computing revolved around two variables: (a) computers as access points to content (media hubs,) and (b) the widgetization of services (fragmentation courtesy the internet – apps, web apps, feature-based start-ups – think DropBox, Spotify, Instagram in the modern context, and remember that even in 1997 we had overarching portals and nothing else).
Major Initiatives + Strategic Positioning: They overcame these challenges by a gradual related diversification strategy. It started with a four-box matrix that consolidated their offerings into Personal and Professional, and Desktop and Portable. To this mix was added SoundJam, which was soon rebranded as iTunes. This was followed by the iPod, the iTunesMusicStore, the iPod video, Movies and TV shows via iTMS, the iPhone and the App Store, AppleTV, and the iPad and iBooks, NewsStand, and FaceTime. And in the past 18 months, they have finally refined their cloud service – iCloud – to make it a formidable and ubiquitous service. Apple has at every stage developed a hardware (access point) and data-hub (content, software, cloud services) – developing their strategy as step-functions.
Role of Cloud in Portfolio: Apple’s iCloud service is an extension of its hardware products – both a repository of content for consumers, and a high barrier switching cost. The iCloud service is now merged with iTunesMusicStore, the AppStore and the Mac AppStore, thereby making your content accessible from any device you are logged in to. It also features an email service – .mac, and a set of online productivity tools in the form of iWork.com.
One might argue that the fundamental purpose of iCloud within the Apple portfolio is to make the ownership of multiple
Apple hardware products seamless, in terms of personal data and content.                         

Amazon.com: Amazon’s single greatest challenge has been to ensure that another firm doesn’t do to it, what it did to Borders and Barnes & Noble and other book sellers – being made irrelevant as demand shifts to different channels. Their real-world solution is FBA – Fulfilled By Amazon, which was once called “Marketplace Sellers”. This allows real-world retail stores to host virtual stores on Amazon.com. Amazon controls the flow of cash, and ensures standardization in fulfillment across categories.
Major Initiatives + Strategic Position:
In 2007, Amazon made it’s major thrust into the digital space with its Kindle line of hardware devices, and Kindle service for ebooks. By July 2010, they were already selling more ebooks than physical copies of books. In 2007, Amazon also created AmazonMP3, their answer to Apple’s iTunesMusicStore. In 2011 they added CloudDrive – a drop-box like service, Kindle Desktop Publishing, a Mac AppStore and an Android App Store, and in 2012 announced that they would make a foray into touch-based gaming. They also created Amazon Prime in 2005, which in more recent times also includes two cloud features – access to Amazon Instant Video, the Amazon equivalent of NetFlix, and the Kindle Owners Lending Library.
Role of Cloud in Portfolio:
In 2002, Amazon.com created Amazon Web Services. This was followed by Mechanical Turk in 2005, and a host of service products have since been added to the Amazon.com portfolio. Broadly speaking, AWS offers server and database services to customers, making use of Amazon.com’s extensive server farms by loaning out capacity to start-ups and major corporations alike. Mechanical Turk goes a step further, offering computational services and human-based fractional computation services to firms. This constitutes the B2B side of Amazon’s Cloud portfolio, with Kindle, Prime, Instant Video, CloudDrive and AmazonMP3 constituting their customer-facing side. Kindle Desktop Publishing goes a step further, harnessing the cognitive surplus of human endeavor, allowing budding new writers to bypass the
traditional publishing model, potentially paving the way for overnight success: crowd-based-curation via the cloud.

Text Box: “Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  – Larry Page and Sergey Brin Google: There are rapid changes in the technology market, with converging, new and disruptive technologies. Google competes with other service providers to attract and retain users and content providers. It faces limited competition from Yahoo! and Bing in search, Amazon and eBay in eCommerce, Facebook and Twitter in social networking, and traditional advertising media for the advertising business.
Major Initiatives + Strategic Position
: In order to stay in a leading position in the technology game, Google constantly innovates and updates its products and services to offer more powerful experience to its customer base. In June 2011, Google+ was launched as an online social networking and sharing platform. As of January 2012, over 90 million people had joined Google+. In 2012, Google launched Search plus Your World. This allows Google+ content from a user’s network to be included on the results page when a user performs a signed-in search. The intelligent search features on Google’s platform creates unparalleled convenience for the user to navigate through multiple services whilst user preferences are collected and organized in a meaningful manner by the search engine.
Role of Cloud in Portfolio:
Since all of Google’s services and products are web-based, cloud computing is a major part of Google’s business. Its search, advertising, media, and storage capabilities are all hosted by massive data-centers that make use of the cloud technology.

Text Box: “If you give people tools, and they use their natural abilities and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.”  ― Bill Gates
Microsoft: Microsoft operates under a highly competitive environment with strong competitors such as Apple and Google in the mobile devices, content and social spaces; and firms like IBM and Oracle on the enterprise side. And they face competition from Sony and Nintendo in console gaming. Their key strategic challenge, however, is managing the world’s transition from desktops to other devices, and the fate of its two cash cows – Windows and Office – in that brave new world.
Major Initiatives + Strategic Position:
As part of diversifying its products and services from personal computers (“PCs”), servers, phones, and other intelligent devices, Microsoft expanded its portfolio to include entertainment/gaming products by introducing the Xbox 360. The Xbox competes directly with Nintendo and Sony gaming products and utilizes cloud services to entertain and connect users.
In April 2011, Microsoft and Nokia entered into definitive agreements to form a strategic alliance to jointly create new mobile products and services and to extend established products and services to new markets. This partnership allowed Microsoft to support Nokia’s mapping, navigation, and location-based services to the Windows Phone ecosystem, with Microsoft’s Bing and adCenter powering the search and advertising on Nokia’s devices.
Role of Cloud in Portfolio:
The interesting thing about Microsoft and the cloud is how each of their divisions – whether OS (Windows, Windows RT), Office, Online Sales (Bing, adCenter), Enterprise Solutions (Servers), Email and Storage (SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Hotmail) and Gaming (XBox Live) – have cloud computing built in. As of now though, only XBox Live and Enterprise Solutions have any significant contribution to the Microsoft bottom line.

Afterword: It is rare in the world of technology to find a firm regaining lost glory – and it almost never happens like – in the case of Apple – within the very same industry it lost in earlier. What happens more often is that the firm diversifies into new spaces. Think of IBM’s move out of PCs and into consulting services. Or GE’s revival through high finance and other non-related fields. And think of the decline of firms like HP, Dell and one might argue, the entire PC industry – from potential innovators to dumb hardware manufacturers.
With our overview of the cloud, and its role and impact on the bottom-line and strategy of each firm, we clearly see that the cloud is itself not designed to be a major revenue driver. Instead, it is seen as a shield to existing lines of business for each of the firms we have looked at. It is indeed a tacit acceptance of the role of brands/firms as “media objects”.
With Amazon.com, we see the cloud as a defense of existing business and its broader customer-focus. Kindle and Amazon MP3 and Instant Video extend Amazon’s traditional “hard” markets into their digital equivalents. Kindle Desktop Publishing is an answer to the emerging trend of users as content generators. For Amazon, the cloud either defends or extends existing lines of business. Cloud services for amazon (if defined to include content delivery) contribute the largest percentage of revenues for any of the four companies we’ve looked at.
With Apple, we see the cloud used as a service and “carrot” feature to Apple’s hardware line. Indeed, even as Apple has become the largest retailer of music in the world, the percentage that cloud contributes to overall Apple revenue has reduced dramatically over the last three years.
With Google, we see the cloud as an extension to their larger aim of organizing the world’s data and making it accessible and useful. The cloud perhaps most naturally fits into Google’s product line than any other, yet Google is amongst the least efficient at monetizing the cloud – largely because their business model is based on monetization through search, not through paid goods and services. With Google, the cloud performs two roles. Services like Gmail, GDrive, Picasa and Chrome allow for users to extend their data and their “desktop” to any machine, anywhere in the World. And services like Play and YouTube deliver content, which might be either paid or monetized through search.
And finally with Microsoft, we see the cloud used as a means to attempt to defend Windows and Office. So we see OfficeLive and Sharepoint as major drivers of traditional desktop services blending with emerging online behavior, and services like SkyDrive to serve as alternatives to services like DropBox, iCloud, GDrive and CloudDrive.
The potential for disruption or success in the cloud is as likely to occur from one of these four players, as it is from a startup focused on any one given activity. It could be Hulu for video, Flickr or Instagram for photography, Evernote for personal time management, or DropBox for Cloud Services. See the Five Forces Analysis in the exhibits for more details.

Concluding Remarks:
We foresee three potential / ways the near-future (5-10 years) of computing could go:

(a)    A major shift towards pure-play distributed computing. This would give the advantage to services like Chrome OS and Mac OS, with multiple screens still being the norm, and interplay between computer, tablet and mobile client-server relationships.

(b)    A major shift towards touch-based distributed computing. This would give the advantage to Apple with iOS and Google with Android, and potentially Windows RT, if Microsoft manages to deliver usability and a great value proposition

(c)    Or the industry will be as fragmented as it is today.

With the four major interface technologies – click, touch, speak and gesticulate – all in play for the foreseeable future, it would be impossible to, at this point, accurately predict who will come out on top in this race. Our personal belief is that unlike with traditional platform markets, at least in the 5-10 year window we mentioned, there is unlikely to be a single winner. Given the significant multi-homing costs, and differences in price and value-proposition, a more likely outcome is two major 40%+ firms (Perhaps Google and Apple) with a smaller <20% third firm (Microsoft, depending on the success of Windows RT and their Nokia partnership.) Then there’s the question of margins in hardware sales, and ARPU’s (Average Revenue Per User) for each platform, that will over the long-term affect the viability of each platform.

Interestingly enough, regardless of who comes out on top, the firm that seems primed to see good (and comparatively unchallenged) growth in this time period is Amazon.com. Being a platform neutral marketplace (their music plays everywhere, their books load on all devices) they are guaranteed to take advantage of the growing cloud industry, regardless of what else happens in this space in the short term.


Five Forces Analysis

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Our Five Forces Analysis brought up some interesting observations. The major one being that while each of the four firms we’re looking at our in a position of strength, new entrants could very easily challenge aspects of their business. In that sense, closed systems and raised multi-homing costs (something firms like Apple and Microsoft do better than Google or Amazon.com,) could be long-term strategic advantages. And even here, because Apple tends to be priced competitively in the content market, and at premium pricing in the hardware market, Apple might eke out a margins-advantage, if not always a volume-advantage.

Once again, our favorite anomaly, Amazon.com, benefits by virtue of its sheer openness. Its content markets are equally competitive as Apple’s, but can be accessed from all hardware systems. And on the B2B side, services like AWS are actually used by startups – for hosting, database management, analytics and so on. So Amazon can “win” regardless of what else happens. They tend to be financially not as spectacular as the other three because they reinvest much of their earnings into capacity or new initiatives, so they certainly are a solid company, and one to watch with their doubling down on hardware with last week’s Kindle Fire HD tablet announcements.


Company Introductions

Apple: Apple was established in 1976 and incorporated a year later, like with many computer firms at that time, in a garage. Apple reframed the computer as a personal computer, a “human” object meant for personal consumption. The only computers you could buy back in 1976 were big IBM mainframes, or “hobby-kit” computers, which you had to assemble yourself. Jobs and Wozniak, by selling wholly assembled computers, changed the narrative of how this industry did business. What had been an open mix-and-match hardware and software market offered, for the first time, a “curated”, plug-and-play product. Personal Computing would never be the same again. Apple’s core has always centered on “demystifying technology” – Steve Jobs’ famed insistence on Apple as fundamentally a firm at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts best articulates it. Not just computers and technology products, but design objects, cultural objects, human objects.


Amazon.com: Amazon was incorporated in 1994, and sold its first book in 1995. Having spent years perfecting its real-world supply chain and becoming the leading online retailer for books, Amazon.com rapidly diversified into other areas such as technology, durable goods, fashion, and even automobiles, and is among the leading sellers in every category it operates in.


Google: Google was incorporated in California in 1998 as a search company focused on improving the ways people connect with information. Google’s mission is to organize information and make it universally accessible and useful. Over the years, it has become the most recognized internet brand in the world through its innovations in web search. Google’s strategy focuses on hosted web-based applications and search technology. Its assets include Google+, GMail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Sites, Google Maps, Google Earth, YouTube, Google TV and Google Books.


Microsoft: Founded in 1975, Microsoft was created with the purpose of putting “a computer in every home.” Today, its products range from its two mainstays – Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, to its servers, enterprise solutions, search (bing), social (facebook integration), gaming (XBox) and cloud services (Live, SkyDrive, Office365, Outlook.com).


Business Strategy + Business Results


Apple (US$, Millions)

















Other music related products and services (c)      




iPhone and related products and services




Peripherals and other hardware




Software, service and other sales




iPad and related products and services 








% of Cloud related biz on total Income




Total Growth YoY




Cloud related growth YoY





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Earnings / Forecasting Earnings

The total earnings from the aforementioned cloud services amounted to $9.27bn (total: $108.25bn) in 2011, compared to $7.52bn (total: $65.22bn) in 2010, and $6.45bn (total: $42.9bn) in 2009. Forecasts for this year estimate an even larger Y-o-Y increase of about 30%, versus the 23% from 2010 to 2011. So while Cloud Services are growing, the rest of Apple’s business is growing at an even faster pace. This can be explained by general ecosystem adoption curves. Followers and late adopters tend to have a lower ARPU than early adopters and trend-setters.


Amazon (US$, Millions)









Electronics and other general merchandise












% of Cloud related biz on total Income




Total Growth YoY




Cloud related growth YoY





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Earnings / Forecasting Earnings

Amazon.com earned $19.36bn through digital services in 2011 ($48.08bn total), $15.84bn in 2010 ($34.2bn total) and $13.42bn in 2009 ($24.09bn total). The AWS component increased 50% Y-o-Y in this time. This arc is expected to continue over the next three years. With Amazon we see digital content delivery become a larger and larger part of revenues. So where Apple sells content to entice you into buying hardware, Amazon.com sells you hardware to entice you into buying content.



Google (US$, Millions)





Google websites




Google Network Members’ websites




Other revenues








Total Growth YoY




Cloud account for a total 0.5% of total revenues





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Earnings / Forecasting Earnings

80% of Google’s revenue comes from online advertising. The revenue structure is based on “Cost-per-Click” i.e. charge customers for advertising each time visitors click on their ad; and “Cost-per-impression” i.e. charge for advertising each time an ad appears on its platform. Cloud is insignificant, Gartner estimates put its contribution as 0.5% of total revenue. Nonetheless, CloudServices for Google are an important (if loss-leading) initiative.




Microsoft (US$, Millions)





Windows and Windows Live




Server and tools




Online service




Microsoft biz division




Entertainment and device division








% of Cloud related biz on total Revenue




Total Growth YoY




Cloud related growth YoY





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Earnings / Forecasting Earnings

Microsoft derives its income from the usage fees for the paid services above. Additionally, revenues come from advertising on their search engine platform. We see significant growth in Microsoft’s enterprise solutions business, whereas its consumer-facing side – SkyDrive, OfficeLive etc are not major drivers yet.


Consolidated Industry Positions

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And this is a broad overview of the key offerings of each of the four firms we have looked at in the Cloud Industry. Note the vast amount of unpaid/monetized services. It would conceivably be incredibly difficult for these firms to ever charge money for the presently-free services, limiting their ability to tweak the core business model.


Note on Sources

This paper has been written collecting data from myriad sources – articles in publications and journals (milestones, strategic positions, market dynamics), Company 10K’s (revenue figures), and Press Releases (User numbers, etc). In addition, numbers from Gartner and ComScore were used.