Summary:

Microsoft has boasted of big Azure revenue and now it’s talking up server count. The metrics are misleading, though, because developers just don’t flock to Azure the way they do to other clouds.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently claimed his company runs more than a million servers and is ahead of everyone but Google on the server-count front. But don’t take that to mean the Microsoft cloud blows away pretty much every one else’s.

The statement is reminiscent of the widely reported bit about Azure sales sailing over the $1 billion mark. As my colleague Barb Darrow pointed out, it isn’t quite that simple. That figure included sales of Microsoft technology via other cloud providers, including Amazon and Rackspace.

As for the server number, it appears to be larger than Facebook, OVH.com, Akamai, SoftLayer and others, according to statistics Data Center Knowledge maintains — but it takes into account a few other services beside the Windows Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS):

  • Bing. The search engine is no Google, but it’s becoming a larger force as Microsoft turns it into a platform.
  • Office 365 applications.
  • Xbox. Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft’s server and tools business, called out Xbox Live at our Structure conference last month, saying that it’s got 45 million subscribers and that it’s “driving our cloud.”
  • Skype.
  • Internal applications and services, presumably. One would think Microsoft isn’t storing and processing its own data in other companies’ clouds.

To be fair, Microsoft said through a spokeswoman that the first three of those things run on Azure. In the past, it has been unclear just what Microsoft applications were running on the Azure cloud. But it’s still hard to say what other Microsoft applications, such as Outlook.com and Skydrive, are running on Azure vs. other hosting infrastructure at the company.

Outside of Redmond, Wash., it’s widely acknowledged that it’s not Azure or Google Cloud Platform but Amazon Web Services that leads the IaaS pack. By a lot. But hey, Ballmer can’t be expected to give every single statement the long-form treatment and hit on all the little details. He just spent 2,709 words going over the company’s reorg.

 image courtesy of Flickr user matt page.

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