Google I/O: Arming for the battle of the public cloud stars

At Google I/O this week, the elephant in the room cloud-wise, will be whether the company announces “general availability” of the Google Compute Engine (GCE), the Amazon(s amzn) Web Services competitor announced at last year’s event. A month ago, Google cracked open access to GCE by making what had been an invite-only service  available to any customers who pay $400 a month for Google Gold support. It’s unclear how many customers took advantage of that offer — or even how many customers have Gold support. Google Compute Engine vs. Amazon EC2

My money’s on Google taking the GA plunge but then again the company is known for fielding “preview” products for years. Still, Urs Hölzle, SVP of technical infrastructure and Greg DeMichillie, director of product management for Google’s Cloud Platform, will host a session Wednesday afternoon on the next-generation of cloud computing which will feature “announcements and demo important new features of the Platform.” Hmmm, smells like a GA announcement to me.

A Google spokeswoman said she had nothing to share at this time but referred users to the above-mentioned session. One of the things Google is expected to do is drive use of its cloud platform via its Google Drive and Apps franchises and right on cue, Google on Monday said customers will get 15 GB of unified storage across Google Apps, Drive and Google +. According to the Google Drive blog post:

“So, instead of  having 10 GB for Gmail and another 5 GB for Drive and Google+ Photos, you’ll now get 15 GB of unified storage for free to use as you like between Drive, Gmail, and Google+ Photos.”

While that’s not really tripling the amount of storage for Google users, as some have reported — it actually spreads it across Google properties. But 15GB is still more than what competitive free services offer. Dropbox offers 2GB for free; Microsoft SkyDrive starts users at 7GB for free while Apple iCloud and Amazon Cloud Storage provide 5GB before charges apply.

GA or not, here it comes

But getting back to GCE, here’s the thing:  even some AWS cronies say that GCE is the cloud infrastructure to watch in the upcoming year given Google’s experience in scale-out computing. It would also make sense for Google to roll out a for-real load balancer service, which one AWS partner said is a huge hole in Google’s platform strategy compared to both AWS and Rackspace(s rax). Google has also been working to beef up Google App Engine capabilities, something that Snapchat co-founder Bobby Murphy will doubtless address at GigaOM’s Structure event next month. The popular Snapchat photo sharing service runs on GAE. Google telegraphed (by virtue of its Google I/O agenda) that it will add a new language to the fold for its Google App Engine Platform as a Service (PaaS). GAE now supports JavaPython, and Go. Speculation at Reddit is that PHP will get the nod . Thomas Clayburn over at InformationWeek would prefer to see Google add Node.js or JavaScript first, so we’ll see. Some also say Google needs better integrate its Cloud SQL database service into its cloud platform

Battle for public cloud workloads ratchets up

Whatever Google’s official roll-out plans, GCE is already considered a contender in a hard-fought battle for public cloud infrastructure dominance by virtue of Google’s size and expertise.  AWS, launched in 2006, has a prodigious head start, but now with Microsoft’s Windows Azure  and GCE coming on line, AWS faces two extremely well-funded and tech-savvy rivals, both of which seem  determined to carve out a healthy chunk of this market. And then there are all the OpenStack-based public cloud options from Rackspace(s rax), HP(s hpq) and others. It’s still very early on in the cloud deployment game so things should get very interest in the race to add services — and cut prices. It could be a very good time to be a buyer of cloud services over the next few years.