Google has taken a series of steps to make its Cloud Platform a better fit for the enterprise. Will it be able to gain market share against trusted incumbents?
In the last year, Google has stampeded toward the enterprise. With advancements in Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, improved security, and incentive pricing; it's obvious that Google is working hard to build out its portfolio of enterprise customers.
Another product that Google has been making more accessible to its business customers is its Cloud Platform. While Google has added value with new features, it is still uncertain whether or not it will be able to compete in a market dominated by Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.
The Google Cloud Platform is Google's infrastructure-as-a-service where users can host and build scalable web applications. The Cloud Platform is technically a group of tools that cover the gamut of what most people need to build a business online. Currently, these are the tools that make up the Cloud Platform:
- Google App Engine
- Google Compute Engine
- Google Cloud Storage
- Google Cloud Datastore
- Google Cloud SQL
- Google BigQuery
- Google Cloud Endpoints
- Google Cloud DNS
Brian Goldfarb, head of marketing for the Google Cloud Platform, said that Google is working to leverage its "history and investments" in data centers and data processing technology to bring what they have learned to the public. The most exciting part for Goldfarb is the breadth of possibilities that the infrastructure provides for businesses.
"The beauty of being an infrastructure provider is that the use cases are, essentially, limitless," Goldfarb said.
At the 2014 Google I/O developer conference keynote, Urs Hölzle and Greg DeMichillie announced a few more developer tools for Cloud Platform users. Google Cloud Dataflow is a way to create data pipelines that succeeds MapReduce. They also introduced a few minor tools such as Cloud Save, Cloud Debugger, and Cloud Trace.
According to James Staten, an analyst at Forrester, Google has been building its cloud offerings out for a while, but it has struggled to differentiate its products from its competitors.
"They continue to unveil some interesting things for developers, particularly those that are doing big data, which seems to be their only major differentiation as a cloud platform right now. So, they're building on that," Staten said.
When it comes to the numbers that Forrester has on cloud platform users, Google isn't at the bottom of the list, but they are no where near the top five because of its lack of differentiation.
According to Goldfarb, however, Google differentiates itself in three key ways:
1. Price and performance. Google offers automatic discounting and unique aspects in its business model for the Cloud Platform.
2. Technical capability. "We are a cloud first company," Goldfarb said. He notes that Google builds tools for their engineers to work on cloud production, which then get translated to the public-facing products.
3. Innovation. Customers will be the first to receive what Goldfarb calls "unique competitive advantages," new technical features as soon as they are created by Google. For example, when speaking of the new Cloud Dataflow he said, "There is nothing like it in the world."
Still, one of the primary issues is that the Google Cloud Platform wasn't initially geared to accommodate bigger enterprises.
As a platform-as-a-service, it primarily appealed to startups as it only supported Python and didn't have as robust an offering as needed by bigger companies. According to Staten, enterprises code not only in Python, but in PHP, Ruby, and Java as well; and if you only support one of those, it's not very appealing.
Of course, Google has grown to accommodate other languages, and the appeal has gone up slightly; but, Staten said that Google still only has the basics. He said the real value for cloud platforms today is the ecosystem surrounding the infrastructure, and Google doesn't yet have the ecosystem around the the Cloud Platform that it needs to be competitive.
"The battle is no longer around base infrasture-as-a-service," Staten said. "It's not about how many data centers you have, how fast those compute instances are and so forth. It's all a battleground now around the services that are available above and beyond that platform and, more importantly, the ecosystem around those services."
This is part of the reason why enterprise customers go to AWS or Azure. They go to those platforms because their peers are using it. They can draw on the experiences of their colleagues and peers for advice and best practices. Staten also notes that there are tons of available partners that many enterprises already know, and are already comfortable with. Some businesses are simply more comfortable working with companies such as Amazon, IBM, RackSpace, and Microsoft.
Still, some companies do trust their cloud offerings to Google. While its portfolio may not include as many Fortune 500 companies as some of its competitors, Google still boasts the likes of Khan Academy, Rovio, Gigya, Pulse, and Snapchat.
"Our fundamental goal with partners in the ecosystem is to empower them," Goldfarb said.
Goldfarb noted that working with its partner ecosystem and engaging the open source community are some of Google's highest priorities. He also believes that the heavy focus on open source is also a differentiator for Google among it competitors.
The first step, Staten said, is for Google to make a play around it's existing products. For an ecosystem to grow and flourish, Google will need to give potential Cloud Platform customers a reason to use their other products.
"Right now if I want to build Android applications, or I want to extend the Google applications, or I want to take advantage of any Google technologies, there's not a compelling reason for me to do that on their Cloud Platform," he said. "In fact, it's going to be easier, and more effective, for me to do that on Amazon or any of the other cloud platforms that are out there."
Conversely, Google also needs to focus on getting companies that are using its other products to use the Cloud Platform as well. Google needs a sticky value proposition if they want a strong enterprise appeal. Staten mentioned that this could play out as a suite offering or something similar.
It's not that Google has a poor reputation among business customers. The bigger issue is that most of these incumbent enterprise partners have built a deeper trust among the enterprise by working with them for so long. In order to further build trust, Google will need to take a serious look at its ad-heavy revenue model.
Staten said, "the enterprise hates advertising. So, they're very much on the antithesis of the Google historical model." Which means that Google will have to change its approach to accommodate more enterprise customers, so that it's known as more than just an advertising company. That could even serve to help diversity Google's revenue model.
Google has done a good job, so far, with much of its pricing and aggressiveness going after deals, but there are some things it can do to better its interactions with the enterprise.
"The biggest thing for Google is understanding that having a relationship with an enterprise is way different than having a relationship with a consumer," Staten said.
What Staten believes is that Google doesn't sell like an enterprise sales organization. Enterprise customers don't want to operate within a consumer-style sales model. Business customers value things like a specific, named sales rep that they can easily contact.
Enterprise customer also tend to be more apt to go where they can get customized support. They need customer support that doesn't involve getting in line behind thousand of consumers with the same questions, and they, rightfully, expect the potential for custom SLAs. But, according to Goldfarb, Google recognizes the difference between enterprise and consumer customers.
"We've done a lot of the last 12 months to build out or enterprise sales and services support," Goldfarb said.
Regarding enterprise customers of the Cloud Platform, Google offers a technical account management team with the potential for business customers to get connected to a specific, named sales representative. Goldfarb also mentioned a 24/7 multi-language support system and a team of more than 1,000 people dedicated to handling enterprise accounts.
According to Staten, Google certainly can compete with AWS and Azure, but they have some catching up to do if they want to be truly competitive.
"I think they are making some progress, but they probably are not making it as fast as they think they need to in this market," Staten said. "What they have to do is balance catching up with Amazon, with differentiating their offering. That balance is tricky, and it's not entirely obvious where that balance is."
What do you think?
We want to hear from you. Do you think the Google Cloud Platform can compete with products like AWS and Azure? Do you think Google is doing enough to accommodate enterprise customers?