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Interview: Google cloud chief Diane Greene talks enterprise strategy and taking on AWS

Computer Weekly talks to Google cloud chief Diane Greene about how it intends to win over the enterprise market and give AWS a run for its money

Google seems intent on spending 2016 reminding enterprise CIOs that it is not just the Amazon, Microsoft and IBM clouds they should be considering when working out where to move their on-premise workloads to.

The search giant formally kicked off this process in late 2015 when it enlisted the help of VMware co-founder and Google board member Diane Greene to oversee the running of its new-look cloud division.

While the company has a play in both the cloud software and infrastructure services markets, thanks to Google Apps and the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) respectively, these ventures had previously been looked after by different parts of the business.

That was until the powers that be at Google decided to give one team overall responsibility for all the company’s cloud businesses from a product, engineering, marketing and sales perspective. Greene was put at the helm.

In a blog post published around this time, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the restructure would allow the company’s cloud initiatives to become better integrated and co-ordinated. The hope was that this would put it on course to win a larger share of the overall cloud market.

Since then, the company has gone on to announce high-profile cloud contract wins with the likes of music streaming service Spotify, which was swiftly followed by reports suggesting Apple has joined Google’s growing role-call of users.

Getting Google enterprise-ready

While adoption of Google Apps has been steadily rising within enterprises in recent years, getting large corporations to consider using Google to fulfil their infrastructure needs has taken a little longer. It’s an area Greene and her team are seeking to address.

So far the GCP has followed a similar adoption path to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The company initially focused on courting the startup community before turning its attention to winning over the enterprise market.

But, as any company that has ever embarked on a similar effort to widen the addressable market for a product will attest, balancing the needs of existing users with the demands of new customers can be a tricky balancing act, Greene tells Computer Weekly.

“I’ve been a board member since 2012, but when we decided to do a public cloud, Google hadn’t had to do enterprise features before, right? So we started out as this terrific platform for startups, but some of our startups got quite big, and they scaled right up with us,” says Greene.

As these startups grew into bigger companies, particularly in the case of social media site Snapchat, they found themselves needing to deal increasingly with enterprise-like regulatory issues. This in turn helped inform Google about how to improve the enterprise-readiness of its cloud platform, says Greene.

“Now all those things are in place, we are ready for big enterprises,” she adds.

Regroup and move on

Putting all of its cloud business initiatives under one roof has played a massive role in positioning the company as enterprise-ready. It has also made it easier for CIOs to get a hold on the full scope of its off-premise propositions, which go way beyond simply serving up business productivity tools and infrastructure services to enterprises, says Greene.

“We have a broad array of assets to bring to the enterprise table. Google Apps is just a better way for a company to work. It allows you to empower all of your workers, and everybody’s collaborating, sharing data and having fewer meetings,” she says.

“We have a long history of research in artificial intelligence. We have all these APIs that anyone can take advantage of, Chromebooks that – thanks to all their security and administration features – people can bring to work and Google Glass too.”

The company's cloud stack consists of GCP, which Google reportedly uses to run all its own online services, and right on top is its online productivity suite, Google Apps.

Read more about Google cloud

Cloud giant AWS has been making headway in recent years towards climbing the stack in a similar way, through the rollout of its productivity-focused tools, such as Webmail.

Google Apps is far more mature, and some might argue, better known than the AWS productivity offerings. Indeed, Gartner’s 2016 take on the market paints the cloud-based, enterprise productivity market as a two-horse race between Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365.

Synergy Research Group’s first-quarter look at the cloud infrastructure services market in April 2016 also revealed that Google had quietly chalked up a year-on-year growth rate in excess of 100%.

Prospects of success

With that in mind, and the adoption of GCP appearing to gather pace, how does Greene rate Google’s chances of closing in on AWS – and even dethroning it as the leader of the cloud market?

“Amazon was there first and they have a lot of features and a lot of partners,” she begins. “We’re bringing on those partners and features very quickly, and we’ve really ramped up our investment. I’m pretty excited by how fast we’re proving to move and grow.”

The company’s ongoing ability to move and grow will be largely determined by how willing enterprises are to ditch their private datacentres and run their business in the public cloud, Greene adds.

“People have huge, long leases on their datacentres, but I do think they now understand the public cloud is more secure than their datacentre”

Diane Greene, SVP Google Cloud

“People have huge, long leases on their datacentres, but I do think they now understand the public cloud is more secure than their datacentre. For example, we have more than 600 people working full-time on security, and it’s hard to match that scale if you’re not in the business of providing a public cloud.

“Everybody will migrate to the cloud, but on what schedule is unclear. For some people it will take a very long time, while there are others who are already fully there.”

This was last published in July 2016

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You can’t just make a blanket statement that companies should move to the cloud. There are some cases in which moving to the cloud makes sense, cases in which moving to the cloud doesn’t make sense, and still others in which case a hybrid approach is called for.
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