A group of European cloud providers which includes which Amazon Web Services (AWS) has backed an antitrust campaign against Microsoft which was first revealed by France's OVHcloud. Italian cloud provider Aruba has publicly joined the campaign, along with Danish cloud providers.

OVHcloud and Aruba have complained to the European Commission that Microsoft uses licenses for products such as the Office productivity suite to favor its own Azure cloud, by ensuring that Microsoft software is either cheaper or more functional on Azure than it is on services like OVHcloud and Aruba.

microsoft dublin headquarters.jpg
Microsoft's European headquarters in Dublin – Microsoft

CISPE, a cloud trade association which includes dominant player Amazon (but not Microsoft) has criticized Microsoft's response to the complaint.

"Vague commitment"

Microsoft president Brad Smith has promised to learn from the criticism and work more closely with European cloud providers, but CISPE (Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers in Europe) says this is not enough to counter what it says are deliberately anticompetitive actions by Microsoft

"CISPE cannot believe changes which have caused real harm to its members and their customers are merely the 'unintended consequences' of Microsoft’s refinement of its software licences," says a statement from CISPE. "Urgent action is needed, not just a vague commitment to 'learn more and then make some changes'. Cloud players and customers alike will only be sure of a level-playing field for the cloud industry in Europe when these well-evidenced practices are ended."

CISPE says Microsoft must make "definitive and effective moves" to end the alleged practices, and endorse a set of "Fair Software Licensing" principles created by CISPE and French business group Cigref. "Microsoft’s full adherence to the Principles would send a strong signal of its true commitment to tackling the valid concerns of the industry over its licensing practices," says CISPE.

In the meantime, CISPE asks regulators to "fully investigate the comprehensive claims against [Microsoft]."

The complaint against Microsoft was filed in the summer of 2021, but was not revealed until March, when OVHcloud told the Wall Street Journal about it. It alleges that Microsoft is "abusing its dominant position" in a way that "undermines fair competition and limits consumer choice in the cloud computing services market." Aruba has now confirmed it is part of the action and a group of Danish providers calling itself the Danish Cloud Community is also part of the action, according to a report on Bloomberg.

The providers have filed a complaint with the European competition watchdog (DG Competition of the European Commission), saying action is necessary "to ensure a level playing field among cloud services providers operating in the European Digital Single Market"

The cloud providers want the watchdog to investigate Microsoft's practices, complaining that customers have to pay more to get access to crucial software such as Windows and Office if they run them on rival clouds instead of Microsoft's Azure. Microsoft is thus using power in the applications market to gain an unfair advantage for its cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft previously faced antitrust actions in the 1990s, when it was ruled that it used its dominance in operating systems to boost its productivity software, and then in the 2000s, when it was found to have similarly favored its Windows Explorer browser.

In response to the current complaints, Microsoft President Brad Smith has acknowledged to Bloomberg that “there definitely are some valid concerns” and promised to learn and "make some changes“

This will apparently mean working more closely with European cloud providers such as OVHcloud and Aruba. Smith accepted that "we just have not been engaged in enough direct conversation with them" to address the issues. “There definitely are some valid concerns,” he said in an interview. “It’s very important for us to learn more and then make some changes.”

Microsoft previously defended its cloud marketing in a statement to DCD: "The cloud market is growing and European cloud providers have built successful business models using Microsoft software and services. Cloud providers enjoy many options to provide cloud services to their customers using Microsoft software, whether purchased by the customer or the partner."

DCD has asked for an update in the light of latest developments.

CISPE was formed in 2015 to promote and explain cloud computing to customers, and has produced codes of conduct for data protection and reversibility, as well as its fair software licensing principles.

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