Russian aggression will not dampen pandemic-driven cloud demand

After benefiting from COVID-19 disruption, cloud should fare well yet again in the face of the war in Ukraine

We expect cloud vendors to experience limited financial and operational disruption as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Most cloud and software vendors generate a small percentage of their revenue from the two countries combined and maintain limited direct investment, partly due to Russian business regulations. The larger potential impact, in terms of the cloud market, is a slowdown in adoption and investment. The effects of the invasion on the global economy, COVID-19 recovery, and energy markets are all still uncertain.

During the last prolonged economic downturn in 2008, the cloud market was still very early in its development and still quite a small part of most customers’ IT environments. That challenging economic environment was a boon for cloud adoption, largely due to the cost reduction and capital expense avoidance benefits it could provide to customers. The general perception and value of cloud have evolved since then to be more focused on agility and innovation rather than just cost savings, a change we believe may again benefit the cloud market.

In times of uncertainty, cloud’s ability to help customers change business processes, gain greater insight into data, and ensure IT services are available regardless of geolocation have proved invaluable. While prolonged economic uncertainty could pressure IT budgets, we expect cloud to remain a priority given the value customers have realized especially during challenging times. The cloud space may not directly benefit from this invasion as it did with COVID-19, but we expect its growth will continue.

Global hyperscalers do not stand to lose significant revenue streams, but will see delays in the already lagging eastern European cloud markets

The most obvious and direct impact of the war is the disruption of revenue streams for cloud vendors with business and footprints in Ukraine and Russia. Especially in Ukraine, business operations have been all but halted as citizens flee, protect their families, and defend their nation from the Russian military.

While the magnitude is not overly significant to most cloud vendors due to the relatively small size of Ukraine in population, economy and overall cloud adoption, certain global vendors, specifically Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), have a sizable presence and generate revenue streams within the country. Microsoft announced a partnership with the Ukrainian government for cloud services and security in 2014 and in 2020 was discussing plans to invest up to $500 million, including two new data centers, to service the Ukrainian market. That investment has not yet come to fruition, but Microsoft’s relationship with the Ukrainian government has intensified as it works to thwart cybersecurity threats arising from the war.

Russia is certainly a larger economy, but also should not lead to material pressures for cloud vendors during the war and its aftermath. As the aggressor, Russia does not face security threats like Ukraine does, but sanctions have wreaked havoc on Russia’s economy. With the ruble plummeting, Moscow Stock Exchange closed, and financial systems facing chaos, the IT and cloud spaces are impacted along with every other industry in Russia. The effects are mitigated by the fact that cloud adoption has been quite low in the country. Europe in general lagged the U.S. in the acceptance and implementation of cloud solutions, and Russia is even farther behind.

According to industry estimates, 5% or less of IT spend in Russia is cloud related, well below worldwide rates in the 25% range, which means that Russia accounts for less than 1% of the total cloud market opportunity. For the U.S.-based cloud leaders, the revenue effects are mitigated even further by the regulatory challenges of competing in the country. Similar to China, Russia’s laws prevent direct operations by foreign firms. Local providers like Yandex, SberCloud and Mail.ru control a majority of the market. Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) (Nasdaq: AMZN) have partnered with some of these local providers to participate in Russia, but we do not believe those relationships have grown into significant revenue streams. The war will mean cloud revenue will be delayed further for AWS, Microsoft and other leading global cloud providers, and some vendors might opt to shutter their operations in the country.

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