IBM Passed Google to Take #3 Position In Cloud Revenue Long Ago (And No One Told Us)


We thought the cloud leaders were clear and had ranked them 1,2,3 as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. I never really understood this because when you talk about market leadership, you generally talk about revenue, but Google just broke out their cloud revenue, and in the latest quarter, they did $2.6B in revenue, and in their latest year, they did a respectable $8.9B. But, here is the thing—IBM, who once dominated the technology market, did $6.8B for the quarter and $21.2B for the year, which is over twice the revenue for the quarter and nearly three times the revenue for the year that Google did.

Now Google certainly is a major user of their cloud with services like YouTube and search, but we typically don’t measure market share based on what a vendor uses themselves but what they sell to others, and here IBM is ahead of Google.

Let’s talk about what this means this week.

Why Third Place Is Important

Like a horse race, you typically don’t care who comes in fourth. If you are looking for a technology supplier, and are a large company, you will typically focus on the top 3 vendors in any space. So, it is important to be in the top 3 if you want to be seriously considered. Given Google, and Android, typically didn’t break out their revenue very well and we knew that Android/Google mostly made their money from online advertising and from selling customer data to third parties it always seemed odd that they were ranked so highly in cloud revenue because you’d think most large companies would avoid them like the plague given their business model.

But as long as that revenue was buried, the massive amount of revenue they made from their major business certainly made it look like they were in Amazon and Microsoft’s league even though it makes it look like a lot of IT folks were taking incredible risks with their customer and company data. Well, the breakout of revenues showcases that far fewer IT folks are willing to take this risk and that a far larger number trust IBM—historically one of the most trusted companies and brands in the market—more.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that, given a choice, between a vendor you can trust with your firm’s critical data and a firm that makes a business out of selling data on others that IT buyers would choose the firm that is secure by design over one that mines customer data for a living.

What Third Place Cloud Provider Means to IBM

A few years back, IBM didn’t really have a serious cloud offering and lost a major government bid to Amazon, who was dominant in the cloud at that time even though Amazon didn’t meet all the bid conditions (like security) either. IBM then bought SoftLayer, a second-tier cloud provider, and worked to make their combined offering first tier. Now that we can see Google’s real numbers, IBM has made the cut and now is one of three first-tier cloud providers in the US.

This ranking change should allow IBM to increase its sales volume in the segment and compete more aggressively as a peer to both Amazon and Microsoft. And, like Microsoft, and unlike Amazon, their cloud offering is core to their new business model, having made a CEO change to Arvind Krishna, much like Microsoft did when they promoted Satya Nadella to CEO a few years back. Both changes make the cloud in their respective companies’ first-priority offerings, and that means IBM should be even more trusted in this space than Amazon, which still ranks their retail business as their primary business.

The most strategic efforts in any company tend to get the resources and support and, cloud services are neither Amazon nor Google’s primary focus. By the way, I should point out that Blind, an anonymous professional network, ran a survey and found that a majority of IBM employees also feel that Arvind Krishna will have a positive impact on IBM’s fortunes.

Wrapping Up

I’m sure to IBM the release of Google’s sales performance was a bit of a wake-up call as it not only pointed out that they were in third place, it suggests they’ve been in third place for over year and didn’t know it. That will likely piss them off a bit, and, I expect, they’ll work to make everyone realize that they, not Google, are in third place in cloud revenue.

Even though Arvind just started, he’ll get the benefit of this switch, which he helped drive in his prior role, showcasing again that he is the right guy, at the right time, for IBM.


About Author

As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.


  1. Isn’t the IBM Cloud revenue including the software sales revenues? If yes, then this number is fictitious and you need to compare using the real Public Cloud revenue number (which is much less).

  2. Both Google and IBM bundle services and software into their numbers as they relate to the cloud. Concerning the numbers and delineation, both firms report this appears the closest to an Apple’s to Apple’s comparison as both numbers reflect similar bundles of services. It used to be this number, on Google’s side, was buried under their ad revenue. So this was the first time we could see what Google sells. But while IBM’s number undoubtedly includes more hybrid cloud revenues than Google pretty much everything is cloud or hybrid cloud today so the comparison does reflect both firms IT Cloud revenue wether that by on or off-premise. And given the market where the two firms compete is an IT cloud market where Google competes poorly and is well behind Amazon and Microsoft, I think this better represents the disruption an authentic IT vendor could have in the segment.

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  21. No way is IBM ahead of Google if it’s an apples to apples comparison. IBM is king of financial engineering, cooking the books to tell the story they want people to hear, truth be damned. IBM is rolling everything they can into their cloud number. I worked in software/SaaS sales a long time for IBM and saw first hand the shenanigans that were done to inflate numbers.

  22. Your comment about Google Cloud and data ownership is inaccurate. GCP on an enterprise level does not own, touch, or use your data without you asking for their help and giving them permission.

  23. Yes. I agreed. Many software product revenues from IBM were rolled into part of cloud revenue, for example, middleware products and services.. therefore the comparison here is not Apple to Apple.

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  25. Funny because IBM “cloud” group contains on premises hardware appliances and software. When I worked for IBM we would include cloud in deals and no one ever used it. It got put on the books as revenue though.

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  27. Right on point, they count “building data centers” aka “Private Cloud” in their cloud revenue which is quite a stretch. The public cloud part (the most visible and the first one that comes to mind when we talk about cloud) is very small

  28. Amongst many other things, IBM also rolls all Security sales under Cloud…but I guess Google does the same with Chronicle?

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