Google ups the cloud ante to go for gold

A new found enterprise maturity was on obvious display.

diane greene google horizon 2016
Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

Last week saw Google holding, for the second time, a conference dedicated to its cloud portfolio.

Roughly 12 months ago Google reorganized its products and combined its office productivity offering, GSuite, with its public cloud solution, Google Cloud Platform, to form one business unit under the management of famed enterprise IT leader, Diane Greene.

Since that time Greene has been working hard to build out enterprise muscle memory within Google, something that the company has never had before. She has been on a massive hiring spree, and the legion of executives presenting at last week's event with résumés including companies such as Microsoft, Cisco and VMware was telling.

Indeed the entire spirit at Google Next was a marked departure from the Google of old. While discussing this with a number of the other analysts at the event, I recounted how I had spent literally years trying to engage with Google so that I could better cover the company -- and in turn be able to better advise buy-side organizations about their strengths and weaknesses -- but to no avail. Despite repeated attempts, Google seemed intent on shunning the advances of myself and all the other analysts.

So to attend the Google Next analyst day was telling; there were several hundred analysts in attendance -- both independents such as myself, as well as representatives from all the big firms. And where historically Google had exuded an arrogance that dismissed anyone who wasn’t deeply technical, or advocating a business requirement, or  outside of the Google tent, the Google of today wants to engage, is happy to discuss a product and business roadmap, and sees analysts as a key conduit between end-users and itself.

And that new-found eagerness to engage seems to be paying dividends, if the product announcements at Next were anything to go by. At the end of the analysts day, when we were all briefed under embargo about what was being announced at the show, there was a general fatigue as we digested in just how many fronts Google is innovating. From pricing to security. From open source involvement to new approaches to professional support -- Google isn’t hanging around.

This was obvious when my colleague, Holger Mueller of Constellation Research, reflected on the "Olympics of the public cloud." As he pointed out, there are three generally accepted leaders in the public cloud -- Amazon, Microsoft and Google. And everyone, Google included, agrees that Google is currently a distant bronze medalist. Mueller asked the gathered executives what their ambition is, a question all the more telling given the huge lead Amazon has on both Google and Microsoft. The answer was emphatic -- Google is going for gold and in no way will be satisfied being a bit player in the space.

Of course ambition and actualization are two different things, and time will tell how well Google is able to build gains over its rivals. But the cloud division seems to be doing everything right. Greene told the attendant analysts just how quickly she is growing headcount and upping spending -- a $19 billion capital investment and the fastest growing division in the Alphabet portfolio, with over 1,000 individuals added to the headcount. And all of this spending, and all of these people, seem to be slowly delivering enterprise wins – Google had Disney, HSNC, Home Depot and eBay as examples of large organizations leveraging its platform.

Partnerships is another enterprise angle that Google is leveraging -- including an announcement that SAP’s HANA in-memory database is now certified to run on GCP. SAP even rolled out an executive to talk up the partnership -- although, it has to be said, this anointing by SAP is table stakes -- all three big public cloud platform can now tick that box.

Google is also moving to differentiate itself based on machine learning. At the event it rolled out one of its newest hires, Fei Fei Li, a famed Stanford professor of all things artificially intelligent. She unveiled Google’s new video intelligence API that, while pretty incredible in demos, will take a little while to become something customers actually move up to needing. She also announced Google’s acquisition of Kaggle, an A.I. community site that runs competitions in the space -- the acquisition will both increase the community around Google’s A.I. initiatives, and also provide much-needed data to tune all those algorithms.

Also announced were some innovative new pricing approaches that look set to remove the complexity and hassle of calculating and acquiring cloud capacity in advance. And Google’s innovative new models around customer success and site reliability services should help it further differentiate.

MyPOV

As I said at the event, the difference between the Google of today and that of only a year or two ago is like night and day -- this is one company that now totally gets what it needs to do to win enterprise customers. Time will tell, in a marketplace where its two biggest competitors are also innovating fast, whether that will be enough -- AWS is also ramping up its attractiveness to the enterprise via partnerships with VMware, while Microsoft is leveraging its huge existing enterprise footprint to build its cloud business.

One thing is for sure, next year’s Google Next event will be a fascinating chance to reflect upon how the foundational work to date has driven growth for the unit.

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