2Q20 gives cloud vendors hope the worst COVID-19 impacts are over

2Q20 was better than expected and sparks more long-term optimism

Results in 2Q20 reflect a full quarter’s worth of COVID-19 impact, and the sigh of relief from executives at leading cloud providers was almost audible. That is not to say negative impacts were not felt, though. Transactional activity was once a nice growth driver for cloud providers, laying additional revenue on top of the long-term contracts that typically provide the majority of cloud revenue. Those revenue streams have been hardest hit in the cloud space, as businesses across the board initially looked to trim expenses amid pandemic-driven disruption and financial challenges. Some long-term projects have been delayed, particularly among smaller customers that lack the same degree of financial stability their larger counterparts possess to weather challenging times. And lastly, there remains a considerable amount of uncertainty as to how the economy and customer demand will change in 2H20.

Despite these challenges, numerous positives occurred for cloud providers during 2Q20. Those positive elements not only yielded a better-than-feared performance in the quarter but also gave vendors a reason to believe there could be even more improvement in the back half of the year. One factor spurring this optimism is that, for the most part, COVID-19 has accelerated existing trends within the competitive landscape, rather than dramatically altered them. Customers are not scrapping planned cloud investments, although they may be delaying or paring them back temporarily. The largest vendors, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) (Nasdaq: AMZN) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), saw deceleration in their revenue growth rates, but that has been occurring for years. SAP (NYSE: SAP) needed to rely on remote services to take new deployments live, but that too has been a trend for quite some time. Lastly, Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) saw a decline in cloud revenue growth and continues to trail competitors in pace of cloud growth, but that is the latest chapter in an ongoing story.

The silver lining that was consistently reported across 2Q20 earnings calls is that customer demand for cloud solutions long-term is expected to strengthen. Many vendors are looking to endear themselves to customers now by helping customers reduce expenses and by aiding in COVID-19 response. On the pricing front, vendors strategies range from pricing flexibility to discounts to assisting customers in finding efficiencies that reduce costs. To help customers respond to COVID-19, cloud vendors have developed targeted solutions and IP that support shifts in business operations, many of which are being offered free of charge or at a deep discount in the near term. These efforts may dampen some of the short-term growth for cloud solutions. However, cloud vendors have growing reason to believe they will reap the benefits of accelerated cloud investment once the economy and their customers’ businesses improve.

COVID-19 has not impacted all industries equally. Though cloud proved resilient during 1Q20, there was still trepidation about how customers in harder-hit industries like travel, entertainment and transportation would react through the remainder of 2020. Not only were results in 2Q20 stable for leading cloud vendors, there is optimism that demand for cloud technologies will remain robust through year’s end regardless of how other industries and the broader economy perform. 

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