Google gains appeal for cloud services, but there’s this company called Amazon

With Google (s goog) opening up its Google Compute Engine (GCE) for anyone and expanding the feature set of its Google Cloud Platform, the web giant appears to have its gaze fixed on easing Amazon Web Services’ (s amzn) lock on the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) market. But it won’t be easy, with many startups and enterprises already entrenched in AWS thanks to its early general availability and plethora of services.

Some developers hanging out at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco on Wednesday thought Google could be a viable option for certain workloads going forward, but they don’t see it as the it cloud for today. And that might be all right, because adoption of IaaS clouds is still far from complete, and because Google is indicating that it has plenty of ideas for enhancing the Google Cloud Platform.

“We’ll continue to add new services which lower the amount of tedious grunt work that developers have to do,” Greg DeMichillie, a director of product management for the Google Cloud Platform, told members of the press in a roundtable discussion following the Google cloud announcements. Better networking services could be one area for innovation, he suggested.

Indeed, my colleague Barb Darrow has expressed on multiple occasions that Google’s position in the IaaS world is worth watching. The trouble is, the road ahead looks steep.

The current cloud market

A July-October 2012 survey of 100 IT professionals at medium and large enterprises from 451 Research showed that 19 percent that were running IaaS deployments were doing so on Amazon, considerably more than on other options. Verizon (s vz) came in second with 8 percent, followed by Rackspace (s rax) with 5 percent. Google apparently held 1 percent or less. Looking toward the future, respondents named the vendors they expected their companies to move to, with CenturyLink, Amazon and Verizon coming out on top. Google had 1 percent or less there, too.

Why the lack of presence from Google in the standings? For one thing, “Amazon has been pushing this game along for a long period of time,” said Peter ffoulkes, research director at 451 Research. The other factor is that not many enterprises are ready to run on public clouds. ffoulkes fully expects Google to show up in the rankings in forthcoming surveys, but it’s too early for him to say when.

To be fair, since the 2012 survey wrapped up, Google has added to the Google Cloud Platform, with moves such as adding capabilities to BigQuery. It’s also acquired Talaria for software that could make Google server use more efficient. And remember that Google Compute Engine launched less than a year ago and just became generally available today.

Google has serious work to do in making the Google Compute Engine a top choice for enterprises. For one thing, Google has not (yet) opened a marketplace of services on par with AWS. Such a step could help Google in its efforts to drive more developers onto GCE.

What developers think

Google has a few opportunities to gain marketshare with GCE. One startup I spoke with has run workloads on Google App Engine (GAE) for a few years but still does data analysis and data mining on on-premise servers. Since GAE and GCE hook in well with each another, the startup is looking at moving the on-prem activities to GCE. Another area of opportunity is around using GCE for narrowly tailored high-performance workloads that scale out. Engineers at one major retailer in the United States said they were exploring public clouds for certain jobs, and Google Compute Engine is a possibility for exactly this sort of thing. Generally speaking, strong results could lead to larger deployments beyond tests and lower-priority applications.

Developers praised Google for introducing granular pricing down to the minute instead of the hour after a 10-minute minimum and increasing the size of a persistent disk from 1 TB to 10 TB.

But just as AWS has had notable service issues, Google App Engine, the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) piece of the Google Cloud Platform, has had multiple service disruptions of its own, and that doesn’t help adoption.

Plus, several developers noted that Amazon was the forerunner in the AWS market, which seems to be a major reason why Google faces a steep road. One developer said his hosted VoIP company just moved from on-premise servers to AWS. Translation: Too little, too late, Google.

The lock-in question

However long it takes for Google Compute Engine to get on the board in the IaaS conversation, the ease of migration from AWS and other IaaS providers to Google will eventually become a hot topic. What sort of lock-in issues could arise? That’s been a good question since cloud computing took off a few years ago and as options have proliferated. Amazon in particular has faced criticism on the lock-in point.

Performance is a whole other matter. Will GCE be a kind of exotic car of public clouds? Different customers will have different answers to that question, as not all workloads were created equal. Benchmarks attempt to give some insight into this, but they have drawbacks.

As developers try spinning up instances on GCE and do comparisons for themselves, the subject of price will come up. Google foresees more price cuts to its cloud services, as it’s in the company’s best interests to make its infrastructure as efficient as possible. That could entice more enterprises to join in. At the same time, AWS is likely to keep growing, slashing its prices and speedily bolting down enterprise customers. (To get a peek at what Amazon has in mind, check out GigaOM’s Structure conference in San Francisco on June 19, when Werner Vogels, Amazon’s chief technology officer, will take the stage.)

However the game plans play out, Google is optimistic at the moment. “It’s obviously a hugely important use case for us, a hugely important customer set,” DeMichillie said of enterprise users. “It’s early days, but we think over the next 12 months, we expect to see a pretty big upswing in that.”