Google enterprise cloud challenge unlikely to be solved soon

The Internet giant predicts a tipping point for adoption of its public cloud offering, despite lingering questions about the size of its enterprise customer base and maturity of the platform.

The lack of Google enterprise customers remains a major perception challenge for the cloud platform -- one not...

likely to be solved any time soon.

Google has made strides to improve Google Cloud Platform over the past year, changing its leadership team and adding features -- particularly around new machine types, storage and containers. Nevertheless, a lack of enterprise customers remains the biggest knock against the platform, and analysts said its lack of maturity likely will hold it back from being a strong public cloud competitor -- at least for now.

Google enterprise customers are everywhere, with tools such as search, mobile devices or Gmail, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research, based in New York. Google wants the "brass ring" of cloud computing, too -- but the vast majority of the company's revenue is still tied to advertising, and none of those services help Google Cloud Platform expand to enterprise IT, he added.

"[Google] wants what Amazon is getting, what Microsoft is clearly getting and what Oracle is now clearly a serious contender to [get]," Brooks said. "They want the next generation of cloud computing, but I don't think there's a lot in their corporate DNA that's suited for this."

Google isn't entirely bereft of high-profile customers, with enterprises such as Macy's, Sony and Coca-Cola using the platform, as well as popular startups, such as Vimeo and Snapchat. Cloud analysts and resellers, however, said their conversations with enterprise clients tend to focus on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and, increasingly, Microsoft Azure, with rarely a mention of Google Cloud Platform.

No one doubts Google can do advanced computing and find efficiencies in its data centers that can be passed on to its users. However, the capabilities of hyperscale cloud platforms grow linearly, and Google's platform is fundamentally immature, compared with Amazon and Microsoft, which both had head starts, Brooks said.

"It's a problem of aspiration," Brooks said. "They're, frankly, kind of late to this game, and they're going to have to claw their way up if that's what they want to do."

They're frankly kind of late to this game, and they're going to have to claw their way up if that's what they want to do.
Carl Brooksanalyst with 451 Research

The cloud is a "natural place for us," proclaimed Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, in its earnings call earlier this month, citing the company's history of operating at scale with products such as YouTube and search. Cloud has reached the tipping point with businesses, and it will be one of Google's major investment areas in 2016, he added.

To catch AWS and Azure, Google must address features in response to customer feedback, and Pichai said he expects significant traction this year, as the company's cloud is ready to be used at scale.

"A lot of it is about making sure we are very seriously committed to this space, which we are," he said.

While Pichai said Google has surpassed 4 million applications running on its cloud, most of those live in the developer world and not the enterprise, noted 451's Brooks.

"That's not Lockheed Martin abandoning its data center for Google -- that's not happening," he said.

Catering to the enterprise

Google made smart hires to lure in more enterprise customers, particularly last November, putting Diane Greene, co-founder and former CEO of VMware, in charge of its cloud, said Arun Chandrasekaran, research vice president at Gartner.

Greene understands how to cater to enterprises, and she also will be tasked with addressing Google's most pressing needs around building a marketplace for channel partners and independent software vendors to tie in with its platform, Chandrasekaran said.

"From a product standpoint, you can argue there are some functional gaps where they can improve, but that's a small part of it," he said. "It's more about the ecosystem."

Big data upgrades: SSD boost and a Lambda competitor

Many Google customers highlight the platform's big data capabilities as its biggest draw, with services such as Bigtable, BigQuery, Cloud Dataflow and Cloud Dataproc. Earlier this month, Google doubled the size of its local solid-state drive (SSD) storage capacity to 3 TB and upped persistent disk capacity from 10 TB to 64 TB per VM -- a hike that could be beneficial for customers that need more I/O closer to the nodes for workloads, such as Spark and NoSQL applications.

Lytics, a Portland, Ore., startup that provides automation services for marketing, switched from AWS to Google Cloud Platform after issues with poor disk I/O, especially when using Cassandra, said Aaron Raddon, co-founder and CTO. Google Cloud Platform also provided considerable improvement in network speed and the switch resulted in three to four times the savings from running in AWS.

Lytics has tested the new, larger local SSD and has seen tremendous performance improvements by coordinating the capacity with the new custom machine types.

"It just provided a lot more flexibility on provisioning to get the right mixture," Raddon said.

It appears Google is being selective in the areas it's trying to catch up to AWS and Azure, observed Mike Matchett, senior analyst with the Taneja Group Inc., based in Hopkinton, Mass., and a TechTarget contributor.

"Google is picking and choosing where they can get the most leverage, and they feel that with big data, they can take it farther faster," Matchett said.

This week, Google also quietly launched the alpha version of an event-based service, Google Cloud Functions. The new feature is seen as the first true competitor to Amazon's Lambda machine learning service.

Still, enterprises aren't necessarily as interested in top-end performance and may not be as ensconced in big data as they are in reliability, lowering risks and managing costs, Matchett said. Amazon has shown leadership on integration and data protection, and has a mature directory service that customers rely on.

"It's not that Google doesn't have similar services at some level, I just don't think they're mature yet and proven," Matchett said. "Yet, if I'm setting up a big data app, I'm going to [look] at Google Compute Engine."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at tjones@techtarget.com.

Next Steps

Comparing Azure vs. Google for public cloud services

Understanding Google Compute Engine pricing

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