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How Google is using open source, containers and hybrid cloud to win over the enterprise

At this year’s Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco, the search giant gave an update on how its effort to win over enterprise IT decision-makers is progressing

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In the last few years, Google has made a concerted effort to boost the enterprise appeal of its cloud infrastructure and software offerings – and its share of the public cloud market has grown accordingly.

This process began in earnest around 2015 with a company restructure that saw its disparate cloud offerings – spanning infrastructure and software – brought under the control of a single business unit, headed by former VMware co-founder Diane Greene.

The move was intended to make Google’s overall cloud proposition easier for business users to understand, while addressing concerns about the enterprise-readiness of its offerings, given the company’s consumer-focused heritage.

At this year’s Google Cloud Next user conference in San Francisco, Greene gave details on how the firm’s work on this front is progressing, and revealed that analysts had told the company two years ago that it could take up to a decade to ready its cloud wares for enterprise users.

This revelation prompted Google to “buckle down” and redouble its efforts to woo enterprises, said Greene, by ensuring its offerings are on-point from a regulatory and functionality point of view, while emphasising its commitment to using open source technologies to build its cloud.

The end result is the creation of cloud services tailored to the specific needs of users in the financial services, media and entertainment, public sector and retail markets, paving the way for a number of new enterprise account wins that were announced at the show.

Chief among them was retail giant Target and online gaming development studio Unity, while a number of other high-profile brands also outlined how they are using Google Cloud, including music-streaming site Spotify, banking giant HSBC, online marketplace Etsy and broadcaster Sky.

During a customer session at the show, Sky told how it is using the Google Cloud platform to clamp down on websites that illegally stream English Premier League football matches, which Sky pays $1.6bn a year to broadcast exclusively to its subscribers.

Sky CTO Mohamed Hammedy said it is not just about protecting the company’s investment, because the money it pays for these rights goes back to the participating football clubs, enabling them to invest in players, stadiums and coaching staff. “For smaller clubs, it is vital for them,” he said.

As well as holding the broadcasting rights, Sky is also legally obligated – in its capacity as an internet service provider (ISP) – to disconnect any websites illegally streaming matches as soon as it finds them. It does this by combining Google Cloud’s network traffic analysing software with its BigQuery data warehousing technology.

“Using BigQuery and an in-house analysis which cost around $10,000 to develop, we are now able to continuously study traffic patterns and produce an always up-to-date list of suspect pirate sites,” said Hammedy. “Those are then checked, and once confirmed they are illegal, shut down.

“The time taken to run that query in the Google Cloud is less than 30 seconds and it cost 23 cents for every run. The result is a phenomenal reduction in the number of pirate sites accessible from the UK, with all the corresponding benefits to the football industry.”

Readying Google Cloud for the enterprise

Speaking to Computer Weekly at the conference, Aparna Sinha, group product manager for Kubernetes at Google, said the company’s push for enterprise readiness has also included investments in building out its sales and marketing teams, as well as its professional services capabilities.

And considering where it started from, it has made a lot of progress on this front in a relatively short time, given that Google is now the third biggest public cloud provider in the world, according to Synergy Research’s latest market share figures.

“We have been an enterprise player for only a few years, and even though Google is one of the top brands in the world and everyone knows who Google is, it has only recently become known in the enterprise,” said Sinha.

“We have invested in a big way to ensure that enterprise requirements, such as HIPAA compliance, GDPR and so on, are met, while making sure Google Cloud is ready for the enterprise from a security perspective.”

To emphasise this point, Sinha pointed to the minimal impact the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, news of which emerged at the start of this year, had on users of the Google Cloud Platform.

“Our customers were just not impacted – they didn’t have to do anything,” she said.

An open and inclusive cloud

Google’s close ties with the open source community are also an important part of its enterprise proposition, because supplier lock-in is a top c-suite concern, said Sinha.

“Smart enterprises don’t want to be locked in because, at the end of the day, you want to consume best-of-breed services regardless of where they are running, whether in an on-premise datacentre or the Google Cloud or some other cloud,” she said.

“You don’t want to be limited in your innovation capacity. So the smartest CIOs know they want to be really multi-cloud, they want to use open source to set up a consistent environment between private and public clouds.”

Google has been an avid contributor to the open source community since the company’s early days, which also gives it some unique perspectives on what functionality businesses want and expect from the cloud platforms they use, while also providing it with an opportunity to solicit feedback on its plans.

“What I like about open source is that I get to engage with customers directly,” said Sinha. “Even before some of these customers are using Google Cloud, I can engage with them through the Kubernetes project.

“That’s what I really enjoy because we get to help them, but also we get to learn how to shape the roadmap from that user interaction, and a lot of the time, users became contributors themselves.”

The hybrid cloud play

Even so, there is one area where Google’s enterprise cloud proposition has previously been weighed and found wanting by analysts – what it can offer organisations on the hybrid cloud front.

“Google’s strategy has lacked a focus on hybrid cloud and, specifically, addressing the needs of many customers who want consistent services on-premise and in the public cloud,” said Nicholas McQuire, vice-president of enterprise research at IT analyst house CCS Insight.

Particularly as, for many enterprises, the move to public cloud is unlikely to be an “all-in” affair, at least initially, because there will undoubtedly be workloads and applications they will need to keep running in on-premise datacentres for some time to come.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), the IaaS market leader, has had a hybrid cloud play for some time now through its technology tie-up with virtualisation giant VMware, which is designed to make it easier for enterprises to migrate vSphere-based datacentre workloads into its public cloud.

So, too, has Microsoft in the form of its Azure Stack. This setup allows enterprises to run its public cloud services within their own datacentres so they can shift workloads between their on- and off-premise environments with greater ease.

At Google Cloud Next, however, the firm finally lifted the lid on how it plans to help enterprises that are struggling to marry up their public cloud plans with their longstanding, on-premise datacentre commitments through the roll-out of its Cloud Services Platform (CSP).

During the Google Cloud Next opening keynote, Google’s vice president of technical infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, made the case for why the CSP is needed by alluding to the challenges faced by enterprises when trying to manage workloads across multiple clouds and on-premise environment.

 “We know cloud gives you unprecedented reliability, flexibility, scalability and performance… but cloud computing is still missing something – a simple way to combine the cloud with your existing, on-premise infrastructure or other clouds,” said Hölzle. “In fact, the industry has moved in the opposite direction to that – and that’s a problem.

“Cloud providers do things their own way and they often differentiate in areas that aren’t really differentiated. They are just different – so it might be about specifying permissions or setting up a virtual machine or network or any number of ordinary tasks, but all of these are different in different clouds. And that creates a lot of unnecessary complexity and work, and it’s getting worse.”

This is particularly so as the number of enterprises moving to adopt multi- and hybrid cloud strategies continues to grow, he said.

“As an IT owner, we have too much to do,” said Hölzle. “All of this is hard enough in a single environment, but in a hybrid environment – the way most companies work – you have to do everything several times, once for each environment, each with its own rules.”

As a result, the CSP is designed to help simplify the management of applications and workloads for enterprises that are running on-premise and public cloud environments concurrently, and comprises an integrated set of services, spanning cloud management, serverless and developer tools.

Getting cloudy with containers

These include an on-premise version of Google’s container management service, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), that enterprises can run in their own datacentres, which they can use to start modernising applications that are not quite ready to run in the public cloud.

The emergence of CSP is a major step forward for the firm’s hybrid cloud proposition, said Sinha, which has also been bolstered recently by a mix of partnerships and acquisitions.

On this point, Sinha highlighted the firm’s purchase of Israeli cloud migration software startup Velostrata, and the work it is doing with VMware to enable users of its vRealize cloud management suite to shift workloads to the Google Cloud.

“CSP is targeted at large enterprises and is our way of meeting you where you are and giving you the flexibility to migrate or not migrate, but to modernise at your own pace,” she said. This is done by allowing enterprises to start transforming their legacy, monolithic applications into cloud-native, microservices-based ones, she added.  

Such applications are often seen as something of a sticking point for enterprises that are intent on going “all-in” on public cloud, and the hope is that the on-premise version of GKE will help enterprises accelerate their cloud migrations, said Sinha.

“You never have to move all the way, and this technology means you can use the cloud and make use of on-prem when it makes most sense to do so,” she said.

Having a fully realised hybrid cloud strategy is an important step in Google’s overall enterprise-readiness push, said CCS Insight’s McQuire, but it must now turn its attention to ensuring its technologies are on the c-suite’s radar.

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This is particularly the case for the work it is doing around open source, machine learning  and – as announced at the show – the internet of things (IoT), he said.

“Most customers continue to ask why Google is better than [Microsoft] Azure and AWS,” said McQuire. “In our view, its biggest challenge remains a lack of awareness of these win areas with CIOs, which it hopes [Google Cloud] Next will address.”

Mark Sami, vice-president of Microsoft and cloud solutions at US-based digital transformation agency SPR, backed this point, but said there are signs that the tide is starting to turn in Google’s favour, particularly in the retail sector.

Securing Target as a reference customer is a prime example, he said, as Google and Microsoft are poised to pick up retailers that are reluctant to go all-in on AWS because constitutes a competitor of theirs.

“We are going to see a continued trend of major retailers moving away from AWS and towards Microsoft or Google cloud offerings because of the competitive threat Amazon poses,” said Sami.

“However, Google’s offerings are still in flux and not quite as polished at Amazon’s and Microsoft’s, and they are still figuring out how to package and sell cloud in an enterprise world where Microsoft has an especially strong foothold. The product is starting to take shape, but there is still a lot of catching-up to be done on the business front.”

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