Of the dozens of meeting requests I received in conjunction with this year’s Interop conference, the one I least expected came from Google. Interop is all about enterprise IT — networks, security, servers, stuff with gravitas — and Google is, well, Google. Whatever it is, it’s not enterprise IT. Or is it?
It’s not IBM or Cisco, but in its own way, Google is becoming a serious IT company. According to Jonathan Rochelle, group product manager for collaboration apps (with whom I spoke on Tuesday), you can see the evidence of Google’s maturity in recent product launches such as Google Drive and BigQuery. They’re not half-baked computer science projects in the guise of applications, but fully baked products that have undergone lots of internal scrutiny.
Where does it live and what should it cost?
Today, Google isn’t just thinking about the technology when it releases products, but also about things such as pricing and ensuring applications stick around. It’s also naturally limiting the products it rolls out, Rochelle said, always asking, even of cool technology, “Where does it live?” Someone has to sponsor it, and it has to have a purpose.
That’s probably a good starting point considering the heat Google has taken over the past year for some significant product changes. CEO Larry Page’s “more wood behind fewer arrows” strategy, for example, might help boost the company’s bottom line, but users of some experimental services that got the axe weren’t too happy. And then there was Google Wave.
Users of App Engine, Google’s cloud computing application platform, were downright furious when the service lost its “alpha” label last September after about three years. Along with the status came new pricing model that threatened to raise the monthly bills for their apps — many of which weren’t generating much money in the first place — through the roof. For developers, it was re-architect your application for efficiency, pay a much larger bill or rebuild your application — built especially to run on App Engine — and take it elsewhere.
Rochelle acknowledged that some of Google’s past actions have resulted in “a valid concern when things are first introduced” that they won’t stick around.
“Do no evil” … and be prudent
However, with Drive, Rochelle said, the seven or so years it was in development actually resulted in a product that users can rest assured isn’t going anywhere and isn’t going to suddenly double in price. The technology is right and the team didn’t take lightly the task of developing a sustainable pricing model. Google is getting better at this kind of stuff, he said. “It matters to people.”
It didn’t hurt, either, that a market built up around Drive while it stayed tucked away inside the Googleplex instead of being rushed out the door. Box.net and Dropbox, “gave credibility to every layer of the concept,” Rochelle said.
Much of what makes Drive such a robust product off the bat also applies to BigQuery, Google’s recently released big data tool querying huge data sets via a spreadsheet interface. Although many users might never need to move beyond the free 100GB the service allows them to store and analyze, users paying for BigQuery can analyze up to 70TB of data.
BigQuery is targeting “big, hairy, audacious problems that you otherwise couldn’t solve,” said Rochelle, who spent years on Wall Street and knows the types of demands serious users can put on spreadsheets. And because it’s targeting users like those on Wall Street, or in pharmaceutical firms or genomics labs, BigQuery came with a service level agreement from day one.
You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette
Actually, it’s Google’s quest to move beyond consumers and attract enterprise users that might be most responsible for its newfound maturity. Although Apps and everything else non-advertising is just a sliver of Google’s overall business, Rochelle said it’s a “significantly big business compared to its peers [in the collaboration and productivity software space].” In some ways, he said, “It’s shocking that we’re at that point.”
But competing against the likes of Microsoft and other large vendors comes at a cost. For one thing, there’s the constant litigation, customer poaching and public potshots all in an attempt to gain every possible edge over competitors. On the product side, although large customers will actually pay for products that work, they’re dead serious about those products working as advertised. For Google, that means no more (or at least a lot less) messing around.
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Michael Drager.