EU Regulators Lobbied on Big Tech Cloud Market

The big three cloud service providers — Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud — account for nearly three-quarters of the European cloud market, according to data published by Synergy Research Group.

And although all three companies have been subject to various EU antitrust investigations over the years, their respective cloud businesses have not yet felt the full force of European competition law.

That said, the European Commission (EC) has been investigating Microsoft for anticompetitive practices after complaints were filed by rival cloud providers, including Germany’s Nextcloud and France’s OVHcloud, last year.

Read more: Microsoft Facing Cloud-Based Antitrust Complaints in Italy, Denmark

No formal probe has been launched since, but the implementation of changes to Microsoft’s outsourcing and hosting terms in October has been widely perceived as an attempt to appease the EU’s antitrust concerns.

The revised terms are intended to make it easier for users of Microsoft’s software products to deploy them on non-Azure cloud servers and form part of the Big Tech firm’s previous commitments to support European cloud providers.

Yet the recent amendments weren’t enough to stop the trade association Cloud Infrastructure Services Providers in Europe (CISPE) from filing another complaint with the European Commission earlier this month, alleging that the new terms not only fail to address Microsoft’s market abuse, but add new unfair practices to its contractual requirements.

“Microsoft’s ongoing position and behaviors are irreparably damaging the European cloud ecosystem and depriving European customers of choice in their cloud deployments,” CISPE stated, urging the EC to launch a formal inquiry.

Besides Microsoft, CISPE has also leveled the accusation of restrictive licensing arrangements against Oracle and SAP.

While Azure has come under fire from rivals in the cloud provision space, Microsoft has also been accused of unfairly bundling products together with another of its cloud services — OneDrive.

A consortium of EU-based IT businesses added their support to a complaint filed by Nextcloud to the EC, claiming that Microsoft limits consumer choice and creates barriers to other market participants by “aggressively pushing” OneDrive, Teams and other services on Windows users.

In both instances, software developers that want to market and sell their products to Microsoft customers have accused the company of monopolistic practices that prevent third parties from freely interfacing with Microsoft services either through restrictive contracts or by making it prohibitively difficult to do so.

Many of the companies that joined Nextcloud’s OneDrive complaint would also benefit from the opening up of Azure’s legal and technical requirements, while the likes of Cozycloud and Aquaray are in the same boat as AWS, being in direct competition with Microsoft in the market for cloud hosting services.

Related: EC Proposes Changing Market Definition to Consider Digital Ecosystems

UK Opens Cloud Market Probe

What’s interesting about the latest development is that CISPE counts AWS among its members, suggesting that the global leader in the cloud market is confident that it would benefit from a cloud ecosystem in which developers have more flexibility to mix-and-match cloud services from different providers.

But while AWS may feel secure that it would benefit from a more open cloud market, the U.K. communications regulator Ofcom has named all three Big Tech cloud providers in its preliminary investigation of the market.

In a call for input, the regulator pointed to the Synergy research that suggests the dominance of the big three providers is even more pronounced in the U.K. than in Europe as a whole — taking an estimated 81% of the country’s public cloud infrastructure services sales in 2021.

Having now closed the public consultation, Ofcom will conduct a market study over the next year, with a final report to be published no later than Oct. 5, 2023.

The regulator states that it “will be exploring the extent of interoperability between services of different providers, how easy it is for customers to move their workloads and data between suppliers, and how easy it is for customers to change suppliers or use more than one supplier.”

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