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Google cloud consulting service a two-way street

Google received plenty of attention when it reshuffled its various cloud services under one business-friendly umbrella, but tucked within that news was a move that also could pay big dividends down the road.

The rebranded Google Cloud pulls together various business units, including Google Cloud Platform (GCP), the renamed G Suite set of apps, machine learning tools and APIs and any Google devices that connect to the cloud. Google also launched a consulting services program called Customer Reliability Engineering, which may have an outsized impact compared to the relatively few customers that will ever get to participate in it.

Customer Reliability Engineering isn’t a typical professional services contract in which a vendor guides its customer through the various IT operations processes for a fee, nor is it aimed at partnering with a forward-leaning company to develop new features. Instead, this is focused squarely on ensuring reliability — and perhaps most notably, there’s no charge for participating.

The reliability focus is not on the platform, per se, but rather the customers’ applications that are run on the platform. It’s a response to uncertainty about how those applications will behave in these new environments, and the fact that IT operations teams are no longer in the war room making decisions when things go awry.

“It’s easy to feel at 3 in the morning that the platform you’re running on doesn’t care as much as you do because you’re one of some larger number,” said Dave Rensin, director of the Customer Reliability Engineering initiative.

Here’s the idea behind the CRE program: a team of Google engineers shares responsibility for the uptime and health operations of a system, including service level objectives, monitoring and paging. They inspect all elements of an application to determine gaps and determine the best ways to get move from four nines to five or six nines.

There are a couple ways Google hopes to reap rewards from this new program. While some customers come to Google just to solve a technical problem such as big data analytics, this program could prove tantalizing for another type of user Rensin describes as looking to “buy a little bit of Google’s operational culture and sprinkle it into some corners of their business.”

Of course, Google’s role here clearly isn’t altruistic. One successful deployment likely begets another, and that spreads to other IT shops as they learn what some of their peers are doing on GCP.

It also doesn’t do either side any favors when resources aren’t properly utilized and a new customer walks away dissatisfied. It’s in Google’s interest to make sure customers get the most out of the platform and to be a partner rather than a disinterested supplier that’s just offering up a bucket of different bits, said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst with Forrester Research.

“It’s clear people have this idea about the large public cloud providers that they just want to sell you crap and they don’t care how you use it, that they just want you to buy as much as possible — and that’s not true,” Bartoletti said.

Rensin also was quick to note that “zero additional dollars” is not the same as “free” — CRE will cost users effort and organizational capital to change procedures and culture. Google also has instituted policies for participation that require the system to pass an inspection process and not routinely blow its error budget, while the customer must actively participate in reviews and postmortems.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

Customer Reliability Engineering also comes back to the question of whether Google is ready to handle enterprise demands. It’s one of the biggest knocks against Google as it attempts to catch Amazon and Microsoft in the market, and an image the company has fought hard to reverse under the leadership of Diane Greene. So not only does this program aim to bring a little Google operations to customers, it also aims to bring some of that enterprise know-how back inside the GCP team.

It’s not easy to shift from building tools that focus on consumer life to a business-oriented approach, and this is another sign of how Greene is guiding the company to respond to that challenge, said Sid Nag, research director at Gartner.

“They’re getting a more hardened enterprise perspective,” he said.

There’s also a limit to how many users can participate in the CRE program. Google isn’t saying exactly what that cap is, but it does expect demand to exceed supply — only so many engineers will be dedicated to a program without direct correlation to generating revenues.

Still, participation won’t be selected purely by which customer has the biggest bill. Those decisions will be made by the business side of the GCP team, but with a willingness to partner with teams doing interesting things, Rensin said. To that end, it’s perhaps telling that the first customer wasn’t a well-established Fortune 500 company, but rather Niantic, a gaming company behind the popular Pokémon Go mobile game.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget’s Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Contact him at tjones@techtarget.com.

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