Why Alphabet and Microsoft Should Start Disclosing Cloud Revenue

By Evan Niu, CFA Markets Fool.com

Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) is currently hosting its Google Cloud Next '17 developer conference, which kicked off earlier today in San Francisco and runs through March 10. Speaking at the event, Google CEO Sundar Pichai made it clear that he sees Google Cloud as an incredibly important part of the search giant's future, and not just one of the company's many side bets. "To me, Google Cloud is a natural extension of our mission to make the world's information accessible and usable," Pichai said.

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The distinction is that while search helps regular users access information, cloud computing infrastructure and the related value-added services like analytics help the enterprise organize and access their information. The cloud infrastructure market is booming, growing 49% last year to $38.1 billion, according to market researcher Canalys. It's expected to jump another 46% this year to $55.8 billion. As the market grows, so, too, does the impact on the financials of the major players: Google Cloud, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Azure, and Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) AWS.

Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Image source: Google.

As such, the former two should start disclosing exactly how much cloud revenue they're bringing in.

Follow Amazon's lead

I never thought I'd see the day when Amazon was leading the way in investor transparency, given the e-commerce giant's long-standing refusal to share various operating metrics that are pertinent to investors. Yet, when it comes to AWS and cloud revenue, Amazon is doing just that; Amazon started sharing AWS financials in 2015. AWS revenue was $12.2 billion last year, translating into $3.1 billion in operating income.

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Microsoft only discloses growth rates for Azure (up 93% last quarter), but lacking a base number, that data point is less meaningful. We do know that total revenue in Microsoft's intelligent cloud segment, which includes Azure among other offerings, was $6.9 billion last quarter, resulting in $2.4 billion in operating income. Lacking an official figure, JPMorgan analysts estimate Azure revenue for all of 2016 was $2.7 billion, which would make AWS nearly five times bigger.

Google includes Google Cloud revenue within its Google other revenues segment, which generated a hair over $10 billion in sales in 2016. That also includes revenue from Google Play as well as the company's growing hardware portfolio. One particularly prominent Google Cloud customer that just went public likely spent between $400 million to $450 million last year, and is committed to $400 million per year for the next five years, so there's that.

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You could reasonably argue that AWS is far more important to Amazon than its peers' respective cloud businesses, though, specifically since AWS is by far the market leader and it's such a major contributor to profitability due to razor-thin margins in the core e-commerce business. In contrast, Google and Microsoft enjoy much higher gross margin, as they each specialize in software and services.

Still, the cloud infrastructure market is only going to become increasingly important in the years ahead, and investors will want to see the results from the three largest players to assess each company's competitiveness. Google and Microsoft should start sharing more, especially if it's as important as Pichai says it is.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Evan Niu, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.