Cloud

Google Cloud Platform: The smart person's guide

This comprehensive guide covers the history of Google Cloud Platform, the products and services it offers, and where it fits in the overall cloud market.

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From its humble beginning with Google App Engine back in 2008, Google has grown its Google Cloud Platform into one of the premier cloud computing platforms in the market today. While it is still following its top competitors AWS and Microsoft Azure, Google has continued to make investments in Google Cloud Platform that make the product more attractive to big customers.

To help CXOs, IT leaders, operations administrators, and developers better understand Google's role as a cloud provider, we've put together the most important details and resources in this smart person's guide. This is a "living" article that will be updated and refreshed as new, relevant information becomes public.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary (TL;DR)

  • What it is: Google Cloud Platform, as the name implies, is a cloud computing platform that provides infrastructure tools and services for users to build on top of.
  • Why it matters: Google Cloud Platform is regarded as the third biggest cloud provider in terms of revenue behind Amazon Web Services in first place and Microsoft Azure in second.
  • Who this affects: Any organization in need of cloud computing should consider Google Cloud Platform for their needs—especially SMBs, which the platform was initially geared toward.
  • When this is happening: Google announced its first cloud tool, Google App Engine, back in 2008, and as it continued to add more tools and services they collectively became known as the Google Cloud Platform later on.
  • How to take advantage of Google Cloud Platform: Google has provided documentation for getting started and a frequently asked questions page for developers and IT leaders to investigate the platform.

What is Google Cloud Platform?

In 2008, to capture the growing interest in web applications, Google launched Google App Engine, a platform as a service (PaaS) cloud tool that allowed developers to build and host their apps on Google's infrastructure. App Engine struggled early on, due to the fact that it didn't support certain key developer languages.

SEE: Interview questions: Cloud engineer (Tech Pro Research)

Google then released a host of complementary tools, such as its storage layer and its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) component known as the Google Compute Engine, which supports the use of virtual machines. After adding additional products that handled load balancing, DNS, monitoring, and data analysis, Google Cloud Platform was able to better compete in the cloud market and began to gain market share.

Current Google Cloud Platform products span the following eight categories:

  1. Compute - App Engine, Compute Engine, Container Engine, Cloud Functions, and more
  2. Storage & databases - Cloud Storage, Cloud Bigtable, Cloud SQL, and more
  3. Networking - Cloud CDN, Cloud Load Balancing, Cloud Virtual Network, and more
  4. Big data - BigQuery, Cloud Dataflow, Cloud Dataproc, Cloud Pub/Sub, and more
  5. Machine learning - Cloud Machine Learning Engine, various machine learning APIs
  6. Identity & security - Cloud IAM, Security Key Enforcement, Cloud Security Scanner, and more
  7. Management tools - Stackdriver Overview, Monitoring, Trace, Logging, and more
  8. Developer tools - Cloud SDK, Container Registry, Container Builder, and more

Google Cloud Platform is primarily a public cloud provider. Google does have a network of private cloud providers that can help users build out a hybrid cloud deployment, but its proprietary space is the public cloud. The platform also has a host of other partners that provide additional services.

While AWS and Microsoft consistently push each other to lower prices, Google follows its own pricing pattern and routinely boasts that it offers the lowest cost of the three providers. However, Google really differentiates itself in its services.

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Why Google Cloud Platform matters

Whether or not Google Cloud Platform will matter to your organization depends on the type of tools and functionality they value from a cloud provider.

In terms of basic services, Google offers about the same core functionalities of AWS and Azure, but on a smaller scale. Where it really shines, though, is in its big data tools, machine learning initiatives, and container support.

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Google's BigQuery and Dataflow bring strong analytics and processing capabilities for companies that work heavily with data, while Google's Kubernetes container technology allows for clear container cluster management and eases container deployment. Google's Cloud Machine Learning Engine and various machine learning APIs make it easier for businesses to leverage artificial intelligence in the cloud.

Google is a company that thrives on the collection and subsequent leveraging of data. Whether that is user data, machine data, or geographic data is irrelevant—if an enterprise wants to experiment with data, the Google Cloud Platform may be a good option as a cloud provider.

Google Cloud Platform also matters because of the massive investment Google is making in its infrastructure. As noted by TechRepublic columnist Matt Asay, in 2014 Google spent more than AWS and Microsoft combined on its cloud infrastructure.

Those investments show most clearly in what Google perceives as its three keys to success in the future: Machine learning, data, and containers. At the 2017 Google Cloud Cloud Next conference in San Francisco, key Google leaders explained how they were working in these areas, as well as compute and security, to make Google Cloud Platform a better option for enterprise customers and a more attractive option.

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Who Google Cloud Platform affects

As with many of its innovations, the set of tools that the Google Cloud Platform comprises were originally internal tools built for Google's use. This would eventually prove problematic.

At the onset, Google originally targeted startups and SMBs for its cloud division. The company even went as far as to set up a startup fund, offering $100,000 of Cloud Platform credit to eligible startups back in 2014. However, Google would eventually need to expand its focus to prove successful.

The problem was, Google marketed its products for users to be able to build their apps just like Google did. But, many companies, especially bigger enterprises, didn't want to. Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt recently admitted that this was the wrong approach, and that Google has decided to change gears in how it provides its services through Google Cloud Platform.

"We decided to meet you where you are, as opposed to where we think you should be," Schmidt said.

By signing former VMware honcho Diane Greene, adding security and reliability, and providing better stepping stones into Google Cloud Platform, Google is making its platform more accessible to all businesses. So, where Google Cloud Platform would have once only affected small businesses and startups, it's now a viable option for enterprises and big businesses as well.

It seems that large corporations are paying attention. Google recently added big names to its Cloud Platform roster, including Disney, Coca-Cola, Spotify, Apple, Colgate-Palmolive, and Home Depot, among others, proving that it can cater to the needs of major players. Although, many of these companies also use other providers such as AWS or Azure, which means that Google Cloud Platform could also act as a complementary provider for existing AWS or Azure customers who need additional capabilities or flexibility.

Being that it is a platform on which applications are built and hosted, the choice of a provider like Google Cloud Platform also affects developers. For developers, Google Cloud Platform supports Go, Node.JS, Python, Ruby, PHP, and Java. Make sure you are involved in any conversations about selecting a cloud provider to make sure it is a platform you, and your team, are comfortable working in.

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When Google Cloud Platform is available

As mentioned, Google's first foray into cloud services was the Google App Engine back in 2008. Two years later, Google announced that it was adding a storage layer and, in 2012, the company began its partner program for the platform. Then came BigQuery, the Compute Engine, Cloud SQL, and the rest of the tools that make up today's Google Cloud Platform.

Most of the Google Cloud Platform products mentioned above are in general availability now. However, like all providers, Google is constantly adding new tools and features in preview or beta, which will likely make it to the general public.

Some of the latest tools brought to the Cloud Platform are advances in machine learning, announced by Google at the Google Cloud Next 2017 conference. In addition to its existing set of APIs and Machine Learning Engine, Google launched its Video Intelligence API for video cataloging.

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How to take advantage of Google Cloud Platform

Being that Google Cloud Platform is a publicly-available product, it's not very difficult to acquire its services. The bigger issue is two-fold: Deciding whether or not Google Cloud Platform is the best option for your business, and planning your implementation.

To effectively compare Google Cloud Platform against the other options out there, you'll need to do your research. If you are looking at comparing it against AWS and Microsoft Azure, try starting with our other smart person's guides for AWS and Microsoft Azure respectively. A list of other good cloud vendors can be found in this list of 15 of the top hybrid cloud vendors.

As your organization begins to plan its deployment, start by making a list of questions you have about the service and check them against the FAQ section on the Google Cloud Platform website. To understand the specifics of a Google Cloud Platform deployment, make sure you familiarize yourself with the proper documentation.

Interested parties can register to try Google Cloud Platform for free here.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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