Microsoft has all the right ingredients to top Amazon in the cloud, says the company's former Silicon Valley chief

Microsoft has all the right ingredients to top Amazon in the cloud, says the company's former Silicon Valley chief

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

  • Microsoft is well-positioned to overtake Amazon as the top player in cloud computing, says Dan'l Lewin, a longtime Microsoft executive who left the company in September.
  • The software company has a collection of advantages it can build on, including existing relationships with enterprise customers and expertise in operating data centers around the world, Lewin said.
  • And while Microsoft's latest cloud reorganization
  • Lewin has nearly 40 years of experience in tech, including serving under Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple.

Microsoft may be second in the cloud computing market, but the former head of its Silicon Valley presence thinks the software giant has a good shot to overtake Amazon and become the no. 1 player.

The company has a chance to build on the relationships it already has with enterprise companies of all sizes, said Dan'l Lewin, who left Microsoft in September after nearly 17 years as its top executive in Silicon Valley. It also has the international expertise that its biggest clients require, plus a management team and operating structure that have positioned it to succeed, he said.

"Over time I think there's a real possibility" Microsoft will top Amazon Web services in the cloud computing market, said Lewin, who last month was named the CEO of Silicon Valley's Computer History Museum, in a conversation earlier this month. "I think they've got to execute."

"Not that Amazon would be easy to catch by any means, but I think there are reasons why customers are going to want to work with Microsoft," he said.


Amazon pioneered the public cloud markets with AWS and built an early lead over rivals that it has since maintained. The operation brought in $17 billion in sales last year and accounted for the vast majority of Amazon's profits.

Despite trailing behind, Microsoft has an array of advantages on which it can build, Lewin said.

The company has already had success moving clients into the so-called private cloud model, where they turn their own servers into a unified cluster running virtualized software, Lewin said. It's now helping those clients into make the move to hybrid services that combine their own data centers and its Azure public cloud service, he said.

"If you think about the core business that Microsoft brings forward into this new era, it is an incredibly powerful position," Lewin said.

Microsoft's latest reorganization brought pain - but positioned it for long-term gains

Computer History Museum CEO Dan'l Lewin outside the Mountain View, California museum on March 19, 2018. Lewin, a former Apple and Microsoft executive, took over as head of the museum in February 2018.

Troy Wolverton/Business Insider

Dan'l Lewin outside Silicon Valley's Computer History Museum, where he became CEO earlier this month.

The company's latest reorganization under CEO Satya Nadella has also helped position it to compete in the cloud market, Lewin said. That corporate restructuring, which took place last summer and involved thousands of layoffs, was designed to reorient the company's salesforce on selling subscriptions to Microsoft's cloud services, rather than its more traditional software model.


And the company has other strengths to tout, he said. It has a strong position in machine learning, something that developers and enterprises can tap into for their public and internal company apps. While Microsoft famously lost out in the smartphone wars to Google and Apple, it's actually done well in mobile by building services for mobile developers and apps, Lewin said.

"I'm a fan," he said. "It's competitive, and it's bound to continue that way, but I think they're going to do really well."

Another thing Microsoft can build on is its international experience, he said. Because the company itself operates in every country on the planet, it's had to figure out where to locate its data centers and scale them appropriately and how to move data around seamlessly.

"If you can solve it for yourself, you can solve it for multinationals too," Lewin said.

But perhaps the biggest things going for Microsoft are Nadella and the management team he's put in place, Lewin said. Nadella combines a thorough knowledge of the company with technical skills and operating acumen, he said.


Nadella "is constantly skiing downhill," Lewin said. "He's on the move."

During his nearly 40-year career in tech, Lewin has worked with and for a handful of the top figures in tech, including not just Nadella, but his predecessor Steve Ballmer, and Apple founder Steve Jobs. Lewin served under Jobs in the early days of Apple and then at Next, the computing startup Jobs founded after leaving Apple that was eventually acquired by his former firm.

According to Lewin, Jobs had a hidden talent for logistics.