Can Google’s cloud finally win a place in the enterprise?

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When Google Inc. opens its three-day Cloud Next conference on Wednesday, its top executives will be showing off new services, partnerships and customers of its cloud computing service in hopes of stealing a march on the cloud’s reigning leaders, Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

But for the most important potential customers of its cloud services — the big corporate enterprises that still haven’t moved most of their critical operations to the cloud — it all boils down to one overriding question: Can I trust you to run my most critical services for the next decade?

For all of Google’s clear expertise in designing and running its own cloud-based operations, it continues to have trouble convincing the biggest companies it’s committed to enterprises and cloud computing and won’t suddenly change direction as it has with so many consumer services. Indeed, Diane Greene, senior vice president in charge of the Google Cloud Platform, admitted some frustration last fall at the persistent question. “It drove us crazy because yeah, we are really serious about the enterprise,” Greene said.

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Google cloud chief Diane Greene

A number of partners and customers say Google is starting to prove it. It has added new technologies such as identity management and support for Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating software. It has also forged a number of partnerships with the likes of Accenture that help companies with their information technology transitions. And Google has hired a lot of enterprise-trained talent in the past year.

“All these things sound boring, but it’s quite important for enterprises,” said Dan Conde, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. “Sometimes people don’t give them as much credit as they should.”

Observers credit the new attitude to Greene, a founder and longtime leader at enterprise veteran VMware Inc. She joined Google when it bought her startup Bebop in late 2015 and has been visiting potential customers and partners worldwide to cement deals.

Swiss cheese

But Greene still has a lot more to prove — since as Conde put it, Google’s overall cloud offerings are “like Swiss cheese — there are a lot of holes. And every single hole is an objection” to using Google Cloud, he said.

The traditional databases and applications such as human resources management, business intelligence and customer support that these big companies run don’t sound nearly as exciting as some of the cloud customers Google likes to talk about, such as Snap Inc., Evernote Corp. and Apple Inc. But the traditional companies still account for the vast majority of information technology spending. According to a new report from Bain & Co., cloud accounts for represents about 16 percent of the $1.1 trillion enterprise IT market, so traditional “workloads,” or computing tasks, represent the bulk of the cloud opportunity.

“They have to push hard to get new workloads because that’s how you survive in the cloud,” said Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

And rivals such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure have a big head start. AWS, the leader at least in the base infrastructure-as-a-service layer, commanded a third of the $10.3 billion market in the fourth quarter alone, according to the research firm Canalys. Second is Microsoft Corp.’s Azure, with Google a distant third. IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. are also trying to provide various kinds of cloud services to their customers.

Lots more work to do

Google has a lot of work to do. For one, it must provide a large enough infrastructure to compete with AWS and Azure in the base level of cloud computing, infrastructure as a service. Urs Hölzle, Google’s senior vice president for technical infrastructure, said last year that the $9.9 billion Google spent in 2015 on its cloud infrastructure was double AWS and Microsoft Azure spending combined. Hölzle also promised that Google would announce about one new data center region a month this year and vowed to “keep up that pace for quite a while.”

Even more important, though, enterprises will be looking to see if Google can help bring together more of what they need to move workloads to the cloud, while also making sure they can sync them with the workloads they need to keep in their own data centers because of legal compliance or regulatory concerns. “The majority of people still believe data and applications will need to be partly on-premises,” said Mario Blandini, vice president of marketing at SwiftStack Inc., whose latest hybrid cloud storage software works with the Google Cloud.

In September, Google announced an alliance with Accenture to develop cloud and hybrid solutions for customers in specific industries. It also announced a number of new customer support services. And in a pre-Cloud Next announcement today, Google unveiled a simplified partner program and new or expanded partnerships with Intel Corp., Check Point Software Inc., Veritas Technologies LLC and Egnyte Inc.

Not least, it has made some new hires from enterprise ranks. Last year, for instance, it hired Tariq Shaukat, former chief commercial officer at Caesars Entertainment Corp., as president of customer engineering and operations for Google Cloud, with the intention of providing more hand-holding to big customers. Last November, it hired Cloudera Inc. and VMware Inc. veteran Bertrand Yansouni as global partner sales and alliances lead for Google Cloud Platform, and last month, it moved him over to handle all global partner sales and strategic alliances.

For their part, enterprises themselves need to adapt to new ways to use and manage IT services in the cloud era — including new cloud-based machine learning and analytics technologies Google is offering to cutting-edge users. But at Cloud Next, they’re hoping to see Google meet them more than halfway.

Photos by Robert Hof