Thomas Kurian has kept a low profile since he replaced Diane Greene as CEO of Google’s cloud division — until now.
The longtime former Oracle executive spoke publicly for the first time as Google’s top cloud exec on Feb. 12 at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet conference in San Francisco. He touched on a number of topics of interest regarding Google Cloud plans for customers, prospects and the cloud market at large. Here are six key takeaways from Kurian’s appearance.
A customer love-fest
Google Cloud has extremely loyal customers and very low churn, Kurian said. But Google wants to do more to help customers and prospects, through a new program it calls Customers for Life.
“This is a very well-defined methodology within [Google Cloud] and with our partners to track the customer, help them on board, derive business value and then convert them into advocacy so they can talk about their happiness with our cloud,” he said. “Nothing speaks more importantly to a global CIO than another global CIO.”
Such efforts have many precedents in the technology industry. Kurian is no doubt familiar with Oracle’s Customer Success program, and IBM has long pushed a reference sales model. But any additional structure that can be put in place around customers’ post-sale experience is a good thing.
Google’s tech won him over
At Oracle, Kurian led all product development and reported directly to executive chairman Larry Ellison, but reportedly clashed with Ellison over the direction of Oracle’s cloud business. Initially, Oracle said Kurian had taken leave but soon it was clear he left the company entirely, and news of his hire at Google Cloud Platform (GCP) emerged.
An executive with Kurian’s background probably had his pick of opportunities, but he chose Google for its technical prowess.
“I talked to some of the largest companies and asked, ‘Why did you choose Google?’ Uniformly, the feedback I got was, ‘The technology,'” he said. By that, Kurian meant not just Google’s software, but also its data center designs and operational history to run reliably at massive scale. “When was the last time you remember Google search being down?” Kurian added.
Resiliency is a good talking point for Kurian to emphasize in talks with customers and prospects about Google Cloud plans. It remains to be seen how clearly he can make this a differentiator compared to the likes of AWS and Microsoft Azure, both of which make continuous improvements around availability, reliability and scale.
Souped-up sales teams
Historically, Google has focused on digital-native companies that started on modern cloud platforms with little to no legacy IT systems. They are sophisticated tech buyers, often with developers that lead the way.
Google has quadrupled its direct enterprise sales force for GCP in the past three years, but Kurian tacitly admitted that it must do more to compete credibly for enterprise business. To that end, Google plans to target a set of verticals, including financial services, telecommunications, retail and health care. It has hired salespeople that can speak the language of these industries and have the background to sell GCP into large, traditional companies, Kurian said.
Meanwhile, many global systems integrators work with GCP on industry-specific products and services. “They have a lot more domain expertise in the application business process layer. We have expertise in the infrastructure layer,” he said.
Eyeing the cost equation
Price wars have shaped — and scarred — the cloud industry landscape for years, although the battleground has been quiet of late. Kurian is confident in GCP’s technology chops, but it also must compete on cost against AWS and Azure. “We are very focused as we grow on not just having the best technology but also the lowest cost delivery vehicle for that technology,” Kurian said.
Power usage is a huge factor in the ultimate cost to deliver cloud services, and to determine pricing for customers. GCP will continue to make enormous efforts to improve its data center efficiency, including the use of AI to optimize load balancing and other factors, to potentially lower price for customers, Kurian said.
Google Cloud plans target hybrid and multi-cloud
Kurian touched briefly on where Google Cloud stands in the market for hybrid and multi-cloud computing. “[Multi- and hybrid cloud] is an important factor for every Fortune 500 CIO,” he said.
Google Cloud Services Platform can be run inside a customer’s data center, on GCP as well as on other providers’ clouds. GCP has been fairly quiet about the Cloud Services platform of late, but it’s a safe bet there’ll be more noise in the run-up to Google’s Next conference in April.
Since the start, GCP positioned Cloud Services as partner-led, particularly for on-premises scenarios, and Kurian said nothing to indicate this plan had changed. That’s probably a smart play given the lineup of large-scale vendors that shuttered their public clouds due to lack of business, such as Cisco and HPE, but stand ready to be service providers for hybrid and multi-cloud scenarios.
GCP will go up the stack
There has been ample speculation that Kurian will pursue major acquisitions to scale up the GCP business. Nothing has been announced, but GCP could get into more types of SaaS applications along with continued advances in IaaS and PaaS.
GCP has options here in the form of marketing and contact center software, and this will expand into more applications over time, Kurian said.