Google Compute Engine is a powerful one-year-old

In the quest for IaaS domination, Google is stating its case against AWS. But is Google Compute Engine still too new to compete?

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Google Compute Engine has been available to the public for only a year, but it has already made a significant impact. GCE fits into the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) category, and it can be compared to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

Compute Engine's application program interface (API) provides for load balancing, DNS servers and virtual machines (VMs). The VM is the core of GCE -- it's where you choose what mix of CPU and RAM you need, depending on your application.

Google Compute Engine is still new

First and foremost, GCE is managed via an API and command line. Although the documentation is very good, those expecting a suite of visual tools and a complete administration site will be disappointed. If you are starting a pilot GCE project, make sure you read the documentation carefully in the planning stages in order to see what features are missing.

For a platform that is less than one year old -- from the public's perspective, at least -- Google Compute Engine provides a competitive alternative to AWS for IaaS.

GCE doesn't include many features cloud admins might expect if they are familiar with Microsoft Windows Azure VMs or EC2. GCE's Windows offering is limited to Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition in only two regions. Additionally, there is no documented way of importing Windows VM images, which is a useful feature if you're trying to convince organizations to migrate to IaaS.

Another limitation is that GCE has only three regions, with two availability zones each. The Asian region is currently undergoing maintenance, which will take down running instances. Most cloud systems do transparent maintenance, which migrates VMs and does not shut them down. The only GCE U.S. region is U.S.-Central -- which limits the flexibility of applications that would scale or offer disaster recovery across regions.

GCE is also not as mature as AWS or Azure with its platform services. AWS offers Elastic Beanstalk and Cloud Formation; HP is getting in the game with its newly announced Helion; and Microsoft has Cloud Services. All of these allow cloud developers to design an entire platform with the application. GCE users would have to create scripts to execute locally and provision an application platform. Google does offer Cloud Deployment Manager and Replica Pools, but they are both under limited preview and specifically not recommended for production use.

Google Compute Engine's distinguishing features

GCE made an immediate splash with its pricing -- it was significantly lower than AWS' and Azure's. However, the cloud wars continued as both vendors drastically lowered their prices soon after.

GCE's unique charging method for its compute instances sets it apart in the pricing competition. It charges for one-minute blocks of usage with a 10-minute minimum -- many companies with systems use cases will find it to be a useful alternative.

Another interesting pricing feature is that GCE offers sustained use discounts. If you keep an instance on, it will automatically get a reduced rate for the additional time during a month. Further details are available on Google's pricing page. There are no up-front fees or time-period commitments like EC2's reserved instances.

GCE inherits Projects from Google's other cloud services. The concept allows for self-contained billing and metering of services. This is cleaner than linked accounts and can be much easier to manage.

GCE instances must be within a network -- or private subnet -- to ensure that only instances within the same network can see each other by default. GCE offers a feature-rich suite of tools to create advanced networks on the regional level. This means that instances can be spread across availability zones, making it easier to set up redundant infrastructure and create instances that run on Docker, which is becoming increasingly popular.

A bright future for GCE

For a platform that is less than one year old -- from the public's perspective, at least -- Google Compute Engine provides a competitive alternative to AWS for IaaS. If you like the command-line interface, you will love GCE. It also provides fluid integration with Google's other cloud services. Considering this is Google, expect a rapid introduction of features to close the gap with Amazon and Microsoft while offering creative new services.

About the author:
Casey Benko is the president of BLT Global Ventures LLC. BLT works with companies to leverage cloud services like AWS, Salesforce and Zuora.

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This was first published in June 2014

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