True or false: Google Cloud is enterprise-ready

It’s pretty clear that Google(s goog) has built out a pretty impressive public cloud. What’s less clear — from the outside, anyway — is how serious Google is about wooing enterprise accounts to that cloud. Its focus thus far has been (hat tip to Steve Ballmer) developers, developers, developers — but as Amazon(s amzn) knows quite well having started its public cloud push with developers, enterprises have lots of developers.
Given that, my guess is that Google’s pretty darned serious about this market. But it faces hurdles there:

  • First: Public cloud leader Amazon(s amzn) Web Services is into year 3 of a pretty aggressive enterprise push of its own.
  • Second: Vendors with more enterprise-y DNA — Microsoft(s msft), IBM(s ibm), Hewlett-Packard(s hpq), Red Hat(S rhat), VMware(s vmw) — are pushing clouds of their own.
  • Third: There is the lingering — although I think fading — perception that Google is an internet search and ad company that doesn’t prioritize enterprise customers and sales.

It would be silly to sell Google Cloud Platform short in the enterprise, though. Gartner(s it) cloud analyst Lydia Leong, who knows a lot about how enterprises buy technology, said via email big companies are “extremely interested” in what Google is doing but aren’t quite ready to adopt. And she said Google already has a sales force and enterprise-focused support features on par with what AWS and Microsoft Azure offer. The perception may not meet that reality, however.
Enterprise IT buyers may be intrigued by public cloud, but they need to be assured that their public cloud choice will work in a hybrid situation, and that’s where Google needs to prove itself with new offerings. And it needs some bona fide enterprise account wins — Snapchat is great — but CIOs want to see that big-boy companies are trusting workloads to Google Cloud Platform.
“Solid peering and a virtual network [capability] is essential for Google to compete with AWS, Azure and VMware’s vCloud Hybrid Service,” said MSV Janikiram, Gigaom Research analyst.

Assuaging concerns over hybrid cloud

First and foremost, Google needs to come up with something analogous to AWS Direct Connect or IBM SoftLayer’s Direct Link, which provide a dedicated physical connection from a company’s own servers to its public cloud of choice.
Google does let large entities “peer” with its network — as Netflix(s nflx) does with Verizon(s VZ). But peering is more about two big entities (usually ISPs) sharing traffic on a semi-equal basis: They transfer data in a way that is mutually beneficial and so don’t really charge each other, except perhaps for a flat per-port fee.
A direct connection, on the other hand, would let a company — say, Acme Paint & Glass, connect to its cloud provider via a physical link between its own private rack in a colocation center into the public cloud provider’s network. As Server Density CEO David Mytton noted, IBM SoftLayer’s Direct Link and AWS Direct Connect already offer that capability — SoftLayer charges for the port while AWS charges for the data transfer and the port. Google does not offer anything like that. Yet.
Google faces a unique challenge in this area as well. AWS, IBM and other companies typically partner with big data center providers like Equinix that host lots of other customers in the same facility. That proximity lends itself to easy direct connectivity. Google, on the other hand, owns and operates all its own data centers — and doesn’t even share their locations. It is seems unlikely that Google would let third parties wire up their own networking in those facilities. If that remains the case, VPN would be the other connectivity option. But VPNs are limited to public pipes and not the customer’s own private fiber, which can lead to performance issues.
Google Cloud Platform logo

Finessing the VPC issue

Amazon offers a Virtual Private Computing (VPC) option that lets customers cordon off an area of the bigger, public cloud for their own use. Google offers a similar capability, but it takes some doing. Google provides the building blocks for VPC, said Sebastian Stadl, CEO of cloud management company Scalr, who was able to use Google’s Networks feature to build logically isolated environments. The problem, he said, is that “customers seem to want something that is actually called VPC.”
Other wish list items include disaster recovery as a service and media encoding that would enable easier handling of massive video and other files.
And, if we’re talking enterprise, Google will need to deal with the usual roster of enterprise applications — the Oracles(s orcl), SAPs(s sap) and Microsofts of the world. Google knows how to run webscale workloads, but there are different requirements for those bread-and-butter applications that most companies run to survive. Google started down this path when it added Windows support to its cloud in March.

Google Apps blazes the enterprise trail

With Google Apps, Google has made headway in small- to medium-sized companies (especially startups). And end-user apps — word processing, spreadsheets etc. — are a crucial toehold, as Microsoft’ s history will attest.  Microsoft Office gave the company entry on user’s desktops and from there to the servers running the back of the house. If you win the user’s desktop, it’s easier to sell more software and services to those users and the IT admins supporting them.
Google has also done some smart things to help lure customers from rival clouds. For example, its cloud storage APIs are “100 percent compatible” with Amazon S3’s API, pointed out MSV Janikiram. Given how much data is in S3, that’s a pretty smart move.
The company’s work around containers and its Kubernetes container management also could make Google infrastructure a key component of hybrid cloud deployments going forward. Because enterprise players Red Hat(s rhat), IBM and Microsoft also back Kubernetes, as Derrick Harris reported, the technology could help Google propagate its style of computing more broadly. If all these players use Kubernetes as a standard container management framework, it will be easier going forward to run workloads between the various clouds. If your workloads running in Google cloud containers can move to and from Red Hat, IBM, or Microsoft environments, that should ease some enterprise concern about lock-in, if not promise workload interoperability.
Of course, it could also help Google vacuum up enterprise jobs from those other clouds onto its own infrastructure. Problem solved, at least from Google’s perspective.
For more on Google’s cloud infrastructure, check out SVP Urs Hölzle’s talk at Structure 2014.