The opportunities and pitfalls of Google Compute Engine


Google compute engine (GCE) is now generally available.  According to Google, it provides developers with the flexibility to architect applications with both managed and unmanaged services that run on Google’s infrastructure.  They claim to improve the developer experience across their services “to meet the standards our own engineers would expect here at Google.”  Okay, not sure what that means.


The road to IaaS for Google has been long, with kind of a funny past.  According to Derrick Harris, “Google finally designated its Compute Engine infrastructure-as-a-service offering as generally available on Monday, about 18 months after announcing the service at its I/O conference in June 2012. It’s not clear how, exactly, generally available is different than the “available for anyone to use” status Google donned Compute Engine with in May (perhaps it has to do with support and SLAs.”

GCE has held some great promise, considering that many people wanted another public IaaS cloud provider to give AWS a run for its money.  While they have been impressive, overall it’s not been impressive enough to change the game around IaaS.  They are a strong contender, but it’s still an AWS world and getting more so each time I look at the numbers.

The list of new GCE stuff is pretty logical, including

  • Expanded operating system support, including a variety of Linux flavors.
  • Transparent maintenance with live migration and automatic restart.
  • New 16-core instances, bringing more computational power to developers.
  • Faster, cheaper persistent disks, with up to 700 percent faster performance and a 60 percent price reduction.
  • 10% lower prices for standard instances.

The trouble with this list is that you don’t see the features you would expect from Google, especially after the recent AWS re:Invent.  AWS proved that they are enterprise-ready, they added many more features to their cloud, and they won’t give up their market share anytime soon.  None of the close competitors, if you consider them even close, have stepped up to give AWS a run for its money.  At this point, it’s not likely they will.

Google, however, has a good opportunity to make a difference in this market.  Why?   They are big, cash rich, innovative, and always willing to try new things.  Google’s ability to focus resources in areas where they can create something new and different will be GCE’s only chance to get ahead in this space.

Cloud computing consumers are certainly interested in AWS due to its rich feature set and large share of the market.  If Google managed to provide a cloud service that was a “game changer,” believe me, enterprise IT would buy it as well.  There’s even the opportunity for Google to produce an “instead of AWS” product, if the ultimate value was there.

Right now it’s clearly a multi-cloud world.  Many enterprises are picking 3 to 5 public cloud providers, and leveraging powerful CMP (cloud management platform) tools to manage these public clouds as raw resources behind a “single pane of glass.”   These resources can be turned on or off at the push of a button, and are monitored in terms of the value they provide to the enterprise.  This allows enterprises to hedge their bets, and provision the public cloud that best meets their cost and performance expectations.  If that’s GCE, so be it.

The larger problem in leveraging the innovation that is Google is to provide compelling reasons to leverage GCE.  The standard IaaS services won’t cut it, including the list of features they just named around their recent release.

The best approach for Google is to take some risks in the cloud, add some compelling features (such as externalizing many of the innovation they already have in place), or build something new.  This could be a new type of storage system, a new approach to elastic compute, new ways to provision, or a new management and monitoring layers… I could provide a pretty long list from the wish lists of enterprises I currently working with, that’s for sure.  These are things that AWS has yet to provide, but I’m sure they will figure it out sooner rather than later.

Many ex-AWS employees state that Google is a concern for AWS.  After all, Google has huge engineering resources and deep pockets, as well as a solid track record of shaking up the industry.  However, I suspect those fears are put on the back burner with every market analysis that shows AWS beyond successful, relative to the other players.

It’s clear; the industry wants a second choice when it comes to public cloud.  Google was a good contender, and perhaps still is.  However, we need to see much more from them, much faster.

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