Webscale Playbook: Microsoft

This report is the fifth in MTN Consulting’s Webscale Playbook series, which analyze the “Super 8” webscale network operators (WNOs), i.e. Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft, and Tencent. The objective of this report is to assess Microsoft’s:

  • latest quarterly key performance indicators including revenues, capex, opex, R&D, etc.
  • key tech-related spending priorities
  • network vendor relationships, M&A, and partnerships across different network product categories
  • vendor market landscape
  • network-related strategy


Microsoft has come a long way from being just a household name in personal computing selling “Windows” offerings, to becoming a tech-and-cloud giant now that develops and sells a range of products and services – including games (Xbox Live), productivity and personal computing applications (Office 365, LinkedIn, Windows, Bing), cloud computing (Azure, Windows Server), and devices (Surface, Xbox, HoloLens). After a brief period of struggle, the company is now reaping the benefits of investments beyond “Windows” offerings, in areas such as cloud computing and AI. These moves were largely implemented by its current CEO Satya Nadella after assuming the role in 2014.

Along with Microsoft’s diversification has come a game-changing shift in its business model – many Microsoft offerings such as Office and Windows have moved towards subscription-based revenue models. With its gaming business (Xbox) joining the subscription bandwagon, it is likely that the majority of Microsoft’s applications and services, if not all, will embrace this model eventually. The reason is simple – Microsoft wants to generate recurring revenues and create a sustainable business.
With these changes come the challenge of required network infrastructure. Microsoft’s vast network of data centers need to seamlessly support its various service lines – cloud computing business (Azure), cloud-based product offerings (Office, Windows, Xbox Live, etc.), devices, and its pursuits in AI-based projects – along with external customers’ software and applications. As a result, Microsoft’s capex has soared in recent times to reach 12% of revenues in 4Q18, a level very close to telco-like capital intensity of ~15%.

Below are a few highlights from the report:

  • Microsoft has been spending more on R&D than capex, but the gap between two has been shrinking in the recent times as it builds more data centers across Europe and Middle East
  • The company is designing and developing custom chips in partnership with silicon manufacturers to supplement its growing hardware and chip ambitions, which span across devices and gaming businesses
  • Microsoft’s top vendors, Intel and NVIDIA, are facing the heat as its pursuit for large-scale infrastructure expansion is witnessing new vendors (such as Xilinx chips for Azure servers) enter the fray

Format: PDF (PPT available upon request)

Table Of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Operational scale
  3. Latest earnings takeaways
  4. Revenue analysis
  5. Capex & R&D: Spend analysis
  6. Key spending priorities
  7. Key technology relationships
  8. Vendor market analysis
  9. Data center footprint
  10. Microsoft’s network strategy
  11. Appendix 1
  12. Appendix 2

Figure & Charts

  1. Microsoft Revenues: 3Q17 – 4Q18
  2. YoY Growth Rate (CAPEX vs. OPEX): 3Q17 – 4Q18
  3. Profitability Margins: 3Q17 – 4Q18
  4. Revenues (Annualized & Single Quarter), & YoY Growth
  5. FY2018 Revenue Split (MTN Consulting estimates*)
  6. Annualized Capex and R&D, % Revenues
  7. Microsoft’s annualized share of WNO network & IT capex (MTN Consulting estimates*)
  8. Top vendors, all years: Microsoft
  9. Contracts by product, Microsoft: all years