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Google's biggest cloud challenge? Serving enterprises

Matt Asay | March 30, 2016
Google's transformation into a cloud leader is as much about company culture as it is about tech -- and probably more

Last week Google made it clear that it takes cloud computing seriously: "dead serious," as Diane Greene, Google's top cloud exec, stressed. To make its case, the company brought out a range of enterprise customers (Disney, Domino's, Best Buy, and others) and a bevy of functional improvements.

What it didn't showcase, however, was the culture necessary to win over the enterprise.

Eric Knorr suggests that "perhaps most important of all in Google's enterprise push is the rapid evolution of Kubernetes," the company's container project. Though important, such innovations don't address the biggest gap in Google's cloud: DNA. Even as "entire data centers are being closed and replaced by AWS," as former Netflix cloud chief Adrian Cockcroft highlights, Google needs to quickly learn to speak enterprise if it hopes to compete with corporate-savvy AWS.

It wasn't always thus

In typing that last sentence, I was struck by the irony. A few short years ago, it was Amazon that couldn't figure out the enterprise. Instead, AWS appealed to developers who needed an easy way to spin up servers for test-and-dev workloads. Back in 2012, David Linthicum advised AWS to "communicate better with IT management," moving out of its comfort zone with programmers.

For this and other reasons, legacy tech titans scoffed at Amazon's pretensions to the enterprise IT throne, deriding its ability to deliver the reliability, security, and safety craved by risk-averse CIOs.

They're not scoffing now.

Well, mostly -- some, like HP's cloud lead Bill Hilf, still believe AWS has a ways to go before it really understands the enterprise. In his words, "Google and Amazon really are going to struggle with understanding how enterprises buy. As much as they want that to change and for everyone to swipe credit cards, that's not realistic."

Billions upon billions in revenue later, it's fair to say that AWS "gets" the enterprise and has no trouble convincing CIOs to spend with it. In fact, at the most recent AWS Re:Invent conference, GE's CIO took to the stage to announce the company is shuttering 30 of its 34 data centers and moving 9,000 workloads to Amazon's cloud. Apparently AWS has figured out how to get paid for massive enterprise deals.

Along the way, Amazon has both learned to speak enterprise, following Linthicum's advice, and helped the enterprise learn to speak cloud.

Is it Google's turn?

Yesterday, Linthicum wrote that "it's a three-horse race in the cloud: AWS is way out ahead, and Microsoft is next in line, but way behind. Google seems to be in last place, but is increasing its efforts."

Those efforts include a host of improvements or additions to Google's core strength in machine learning/big data, as well as olive branches to the enterprise through identity management (Cloud IAM), cloud management (Stackdriver), and more.  


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