Google's biggest challenge in the cloud has nothing to do with tech, and everything to do with dull. That is, can Google's gaggle of propellerheads build safe, boring cloud services that stodgy enterprises will embrace?
So far, the answer is no, with Google's cloud business collecting just $500 million last year, according to Morgan Stanley estimates, compared to Amazon Web Services' nearly $8 billion (and Microsoft Azure's $1.1 billion). But this may be changing.
At GCP Next, the company talked enterprise on and off the agenda, and trotted out mainstream enterprise case studies to complement its longtime strength in core technology.
To win, and win big, however, Google is going to need to fixate a bit less on the gee-whizziness of its technology and instead learn to be boring.
The aliens have landed
Google practically invented the cloud, yet struggles to translate its benefits to more earth-bound enterprises. Even at GCP Next, which was essentially an enterprise love-in, Google couldn't help but tout its science fiction bona fides.
Sure, Google started well. Chairman Eric Schmidt intoned that "Cloud is about automating the tedious details and empowering people." Tedious...enterprise...so far, so good!
But then, Google started into machine learning, an area where it's heads and shoulders above its competition, with Google senior fellow Jeff Dean telling the crowd, "Machine learning is one of the most important topics in computing." The company went on to blog that "now any application can take advantage of the same deep learning techniques that power many of Google's services."This is exciting, in a way, but it's way ahead of most enterprises in terms of ability to actually do something meaningful with machine learning.
As James Maguire puts it, "As impressive as its tech prowess is, GCP's ability to cater to the prosaic needs of enterprise cloud customers has been limited, even fumbling....GCP has been like the high school student with straight A's and perfect SAT scores that somehow doesn't have too many friends."
Put another way, as 451 Research's Carl Brooks told Businessweek, Google keeps missing the point for curmudgeonly enterprises: Google is "alien technology compared to the way most enterprises run data centers. They are probably the most advanced cloud operation on the planet. It also doesn't matter."
More boring, more good
Which brings us to Google's need to sell boring. Given how advanced its cloud operations are, it's not surprising that the company struggles to translate it into dull, enterprise speak and dull, enterprise practice.
For example, Miles Ward, global head of solutions for the Google Cloud Platform, and former AWS insider, challenges the notion that Google is behind AWS...by touting technology. In his words, "[AWS has] got what, like a few dozen edges? Try 100+ [at Google]. How many Billion+ user products? 0/7 [AWS/Google]. #awsplayingcatchup."
But, as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong counters, "Azure almost always loses tech evals to AWS hands-down, but guess what? They still win deals. Business isn't tech-only."
Which is why relatively staid features like an identity management service, advanced security, etc. were welcome, even if they wouldn't make the GitHub repository of any Google engineer worth her salt. Google clearly sees the need to "dumb down" its cloud smarts, and it could end up paying off big.
It's not yet clear, however, whether Google is willing to sully its hands building out support for Oracle databases or other enterprise mainstays, as AWS has, or whether it's wholly focused on inventing the enterprise of the future. I suspect it's more likely to win over the latter camp, but it's a far smaller market than the former. As but one example, the US federal government has closed, or expects to close, a total of 5,203 data centers by 2020, as it moves workloads to the cloud.
To win these workloads, Google is going to need to learn to be boring.
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Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.