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Google's partner ecosystem remains a work in progress

The Google Cloud ecosystem continues to expand, as Google improves its relationships with third-party vendors and tries to translate its technology to traditional IT shops.

To gauge the success of a cloud vendor, look no further than the company it keeps.

Public cloud providers have a symbiotic relationship with their partner ecosystems -- a marriage of marketing and technological convenience that links these massive platforms to thousands of ancillary products. These arrangements helped propel AWS deeper into the enterprise market and helped Microsoft parlay its precloud partnerships into more revenue from its cloud.

For Google, however, these relationships remain a work in progress.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) lags behind AWS and Azure in a number of areas, and its partner ecosystem's relative lack of depth and breadth is no exception. This is a particularly acute shortcoming for a company known more for its technology than its rapport with traditional corporate IT, but there are signs that Google has addressed the problem.

The turning point for GCP, according to industry observers, was the late-2015 hiring of VMware co-founder Diane Greene, who has emphasized success in the enterprise market. Partners and other vendors said it was difficult to coordinate any collaborative efforts with GCP in the past, but that process has slowly improved since Greene took over.

CenturyLink has worked with Google for more than two years to provide networking and application migration services that link to GCP. In the early stages of that relationship, discussions centered on how many petabytes of data GCP could ingest or the size of a Hadoop cluster.

"That would resonate maybe with data scientists working on big data analytics or cutting-edge app developers, but it didn't resonate with the broader IT department," said Chris McReynolds, vice president of core network services at CenturyLink.

Google has made great strides in this area, but it must continue to translate its broad set of technologies into products and services that meet customers' specific needs, he added.

"I don't think Google can do that alone," McReynolds said.

Google's scored some victories in this space in the past 18 months, such as prominent deals with Cisco, SAP and Salesforce. It also streamlined its partner application process, added incentives for partners and provided categories for customers to find particular types of partners. But some notable gaps remain in its partner ecosystem, including Oracle and VMware. And its 13,000 partners are far short of those for AWS, which added more than 10,000 partners in 2017 alone.

Google also has increased its financial commitment to this effort. The company's channel and partner team is as much as 10 times the size it was 18 months ago, said Nan Boden, head of global alliances for Google Cloud. That's a significant leap, but it's hard to gauge the exact impact, because Google wouldn't provide details about the actual size of the organization.

Part of that extended outlay is proactive outreach to partners to speed up adoption. Rather than wait for third parties to come to them, Google has invested to train channel providers, so they can get certified and well-versed in the platform. That avoids a scenario where independent software vendors and enterprises wait for the other to jump first.

Clouds and their partners: Can't have one without the other

We watched the early interest in Google, and there wasn't enough momentum for us to spend time and effort ... but there's been a lot of fast-growing momentum lately.
Joe KinsellaCTO and founder, CloudHealth Technologies

By some estimates, a public cloud partner ecosystem will generate as much revenue as the clouds themselves in the coming years, mainly driven by technology or consulting companies. The vibrancy of a given cloud's marketplace is particularly important to enterprise clients. Corporations want assurances that their third-party software licenses are supported on the platform, or they require assistance to architect and manage their cloud assets. If a cloud lacks the appropriate scaffolding to support either scenario, IT shops may look elsewhere.

IT vendors tend to follow their customers' lead with public clouds and extend to other platforms only when it becomes worth the investment in software and staff. Most third parties started with AWS and later expanded their support to Microsoft Azure. That shift to Azure several years ago was an early indicator that Azure was firmly established as the No. 2 public cloud on the market.

By contrast, Google's mantra, "if you build it, they will come," in the early years of GCP emphasized the company's technical prowess and spoke directly to developers and data scientists with the message that they could operate just like Google. That grassroots momentum ultimately stalled, and Google remained an afterthought for most large enterprises.

"We watched the early interest in Google, and there wasn't enough momentum for us to spend time and effort developing a value proposition there," said Joe Kinsella, CTO and founder at CloudHealth Technologies. "But there's been a lot of fast-growing momentum lately. We're kind of being pulled into Google [by our customers]."

CloudHealth, based in Boston, provides cloud management and optimization and has worked with Google for two years. It already has support for AWS and Azure and plans to roll out a GCP service in the coming months. In conversations with corporate executives this past year, Kinsella noticed a curious trend in how the three hyperscale platforms crossed paths within an enterprise.

A given company likely deploys AWS and Azure, but the usage is often disconnected, as different teams work independently. However, a company typically operates with Google's cloud in concert with AWS, which could give GCP an edge going forward, Kinsella said.

"What most enterprises are realizing is there is a lot more compatibility across stacks, from the migration services that Google offers to compute, database, storage and even their developer tools," he said. "They're more apples-to-apples compatible."

AWS clearly has a broader, more mature set of tools available to its users, but Google has checked off equivalents for the top 10 or so features, which account for 95% of the revenue for these vendors anyway, Kinsella said. He said he sees GCP in the same position AWS was in 2015, when it started to turn the corner with partners and enterprise clients.

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