If you want to know which competitors pose the biggest threat to a company, just look at who gets banned from attending company conferences.
Microsoft has just added Amazon to the list of companies whose employees are forbidden from attending its forthcoming Worldwide Partner Conference. (Update: Microsoft removed the list from the web site a few days after this story posted, but confirmed to ReadWrite that the ban is still in effect.)
Google, Salesforce, and VMware -- who were on the list last year -- are banned again. The registration form says that employees from those companies are excluded from attending or participating in the annual event that caters to businesses that sell and support Microsoft products and services.
It's hard to figure just where Microsoft drew the line -- why not Apple or Oracle? But the list surely indicates which companies Microsoft considers to be most threatening.
Adding Amazon shows just how important Microsoft's cloud ambitions are. Azure has been an important part of Microsoft's business for a while now but Satya Nadella, who used to run Microsoft's cloud business, has been focusing even more on the cloud since he took over as CEO. His central vision for the company combines mobile devices with the cloud, in what he calls a mobile first, cloud first future.
In fact, during the recent quarterly earnings conference call for analysts, Nadella said it's "gold rush time" in the cloud and SaaS markets.
While this focus on cloud isn't a surprise to anyone who has been following Microsoft, a recognition from Microsoft that Amazon is a threat is new. Traditional enterprise software vendors like to paint Amazon as a cloud service for startups. Amazon takes a lot of criticism for lacking the kind of support services that large enterprises have learned to expect from their vendors.
But Amazon, which knows that traditional enterprises represent a potentially huge market, has been working very hard to counter that criticism. The last few conferences it has hosted for customers have emphasized enterprise users and the services Amazon offers for big businesses.
Microsoft might also increasingly view Amazon as a threat because Amazon has started branching out into new kinds of services beyond just utilitarian compute services. For instance, it now has a desktop as a service offering. The service might sound like a complement for Microsoft because end users will be accessing Windows and Office. But it's not ideal for Microsoft. Microsoft would be better off if the end user had an Office 365 subscription. Plus, Amazon is making it easy for users of the desktop service to use its own cloud backup service, a competitor to Microsoft's own OneDrive. Such storage services can be pretty sticky since it can be a pain to move files from one to the other.
By keeping Amazon employees out of the Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft appears to be hoping to keep a competitor at arms length.
Last year was one of the first times that people noticed the banned list for the conference. Other companies with similar partner conferences also surely prevent certain competitors from joining, although they don't typically broadcast which ones. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft adds more companies next year. Or if Microsoft puts a stop to this new tradition of pointing out which competitors worry it the most.