In cloud infrastructure the biggest (Amazon) stays big, but Microsoft shows progress

This is the sort of story that could best be told in two charts, but since those charts cannot be published, I’ll do the best I can. According to the new Gartner(s it) Magic Quadrant report on cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (subscription required), Amazon(s amzn) Web Services retains its usual top slot, but it has new company in that rarified air: Microsoft(s msft) is the only other company in the top quadrant. That shows the software giant coming on strong since adding IaaS capabilities to its once-Platform-as-a-Service-focused cloud.

Normally, I don’t care too much for this sort of thing, but Gartner analyst Lydia Leong and her team is so thorough and fair that it’s important to pay attention to what they find. And this year they found Microsoft’s Azure cloud making huge strides both in terms of its vision and ability to execute — the two key metrics of the report.

Microsoft ranks #2, albeit a distant #2 to AWS

Gartner cited Microsoft’s “brand, existing customer relationships, history of running global-class consumer Internet properties, deep investments in engineering and aggressive road map.” Microsoft is second when it comes to IaaS market share, “albeit a distant second” to Amazon, they wrote. Microsoft is pushing Azure not only to dyed-in-the-wool Windows and .NET shops but as a development platform for mobile apps — not traditionally a strong suit for the company. In fact on Wednesday Microsoft announced the acquisition of Capptain to bolster its mobile development capabilities.

On the cautionary side, the report’s authors point out that Azure infrastructure services are still wet behind the ears and Microsoft remains in catch-up mode vis-a-vis many Amazon capabilities. These are contentions that Scott Guthrie, the Microsoft EVP in charge of that roadmap will be able to talk about Microsoft’s progress and remaining challenges at Structure in a few weeks.

For AWS strengths, Gartner cited its huge range of services, its user base (ranging from small startups building new web apps to enterprise applications), its multiple availability zones and its partner network. Weaknesses include the complexity of purchasing all those services separately, something Amazon CTO Werner Vogels can discuss at Structure. Other providers often bundle similar services that Amazon offers à la carte.

And AWS still “does not include enterprise-grade support by default,” according to the authors. That could remain an issue if it doesn’t change and as more big companies weigh cloud options.

Google does well on debut; IBM makes strides

Other highlights: Google(s goog) gets props for its new public cloud, which became broadly available in March, so Google didn’t even show up last year.  IBM(s ibm) Softlayer also showed huge improvement compared to Softlayer-less IBM, which was a laggard in last year’s report.

Also showing strong vision and ability to execute (but below AWS and Microsoft in both categories) were CenturyLink(s ctl) (now with Tier 3 aboard); CSC(s csc), which ranked second after AWS last year; and Verizon(s vz) Terremark, which is building an ambitious public cloud from scratch.

So Amazon continues to strut its stuff, but it’s also clear that credible — and scalable — cloud infrastructure is now available from several players. Let the games begin.