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A conversation with Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian - solving the enterprise multi-cloud problem

By Derek du Preez April 10, 2019
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A select number of journalists got the chance to sit down with newly appointed Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian to discuss his strategy for the company.

Google Cloud CEO, Thomas Kurian

This week Google Cloud announced general availability of Anthos, a service that allows enterprises to manage their cloud and on-premise environments, using a single view and approach. It also announced that it is integrating tightly with some of the market’s leading open source database vendors, including MongoDB and DataStax - providing a single point of contact, billing and support for buyers with Google Cloud.

Our take on the day was that Google Cloud isn’t just looking to compete on infrastructure alone and target developers. It is looking to add value with a more traditional enterprise approach, focusing on the C-suite. Giving buyers choice on their IaaS needs, with enterprise service level wrap arounds, and adding Google’s expertise on data and AI, could make the cloud provider a compelling proposition - despite being late to the game.

It’s this multi-cloud approach, that allows enterprise buyers to train staff once, on a single platform that allows them to still use multiple clouds or environments of their choosing, that Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian believes will help the company win big.

A select few journalists got the chance to sit down with Kurian this week at the company’s Next event in San Francisco to discuss his progress since joining the company late last year and to dig a little deeper into his approach.

What was clear was that Kurian is bringing his enterprise expertise gained at Oracle to Google Cloud, namely by focusing on business outcomes and building the company’s client-facing operations, but also is sticking to Google Cloud’s mantra of openness and choice. He believes this gives the vendor a competitive advantage over AWS and Microsoft Azure, which he argues are trying to lock customers down.

Commenting on Anthos and Google Cloud’s multi-cloud approach, Kurian said:

When we talk to customers around the world, they tell us that it’s very difficult to train their engineers and operators on a single technology that works in a consistent way across all the different environments they run for cloud. They’d like to be able to do that, that’s what customers tell us.

And to have the choice to also deploy that same technology inside their own data centre - hybrid cloud. So we offered this solution. You can build your workload once. You can run it in your data centre, on top of solutions from VMWare, Dell, HP, a number of partners. You can then move it to Google Cloud, or anything other cloud. We showed Amazon as an alternative today.

This gives customers three important things. One, because of the scarce skills in learning cloud, it helps them train on only one technology, you don’t have to learn every cloud provider’s technology. Second, it gives them choice. They don’t get locked into any cloud provider, they can choose to migrate to any cloud they have the best solution from. And third, it gives them operational consistency, which is a very important thing. For example, security can be configured the same way, monitoring can be configured the same way, policy can be configured the same way. That’s very important for customers, otherwise it adds risk.

Kurian added that this is “solving a really complicated problem that no other companies are solving”.

He said that the cloud industry provides customers with choice, but that it’s still “very early in the game”, citing a statistic that 80% of workloads are still on premise. Kurian said that Google Cloud’s aim has always been simple:

You have to have the best technology and the easiest to adopt solutions that give customers choice...period. If you do, they will choose you. If you don’t, eventually they will be unhappy. There is no question at all that our goal is to open up our cloud, to allow more people more choice on what technology they’re using. Multi-cloud is something that we have felt for a long time is a problem that needs to be solved.

Scaling up to satisfy customer needs

However, with the approach that Google Cloud is taking, technology alone is not going to solve the problem. It’s been a running theme throughout the event, from a number of senior executives, that the company needs to scale up its client-facing operations in order to succeed. Kurian wouldn’t comment on numbers, but he recognises that this is something that Google Cloud needs to accelerate.

But, he also wanted to make clear that this isn’t just about sales people. Google Cloud is aiming to scale up all of its customer relationship operations. Kurian said:

I’ve talked to hundreds of customers since I joined Google. The first thing they say is, ‘we love your technology, but we don’t have enough people from Google to assist us with your understanding of the technology and your understanding of our industry’.

That essentially translates to growing our go to market function and our work with partners to deliver the right solutions for customers, which means adding people in sales, customer service, customer engineering, as well as hiring people with deep industry background. We haven’t publicly talked about any numbers outside of the fact that we are going to expand it very, very significantly.

Most customers say, ‘we would love to work with Google, we just don’t have a relationship with you’. That’s a good position to be in, because most customers want a relationship with Google.

A vertical approach

This week at Google Cloud Next the company also made a number of vertical focused announcements, largely centred around AI and analytics, applied to specific industries (retail, media, healthcare). They include things like Contact Centre AI, Document Understanding AI and Vision Product Search for retail.

This is a unique approach for an IaaS player to take, which again reaffirms our believe that Google Cloud is taking a more sophisticated enterprise-focused approach to doing deals. One that is focused on outcomes, playing to its strengths (data and AI).

I was keen to get some additional insights into how Kurian sees this playing out for Google Cloud. He provided two examples - one from media and the other from healthcare. Firstly, from healthcare, he explained:

So, in health, today, there are many organisations that are trying to build what they call a longitudinal health record. A longitudinal health record is when you go to see a doctor, they have your information captured in something called an electronic medical record. Then you participate as a patient in a trial for a new drug, for example, but that’s in a separate system, which tracks your response to that drug. You may take a genetic test, which then sequences your genome sequence, and that’s stored in a third system.

So, to be able to give you great patient care we have built a technology that lets healthcare institutions get a unified view of a person’s medical information, across all these different data silos. Then we also have technology to help people build their diagnostic workflows on top it. For instance, if a person came in and if they have a certain profile, send them to the emergency room. If they have another profile, give them two additional tests.

And on the media side, Kurian explained how Google Cloud is helping companies to better understand and make their video content searchable. He said:

Many media company partners were saying that they have enormous catalogues of information that they’ve recorded over time. For example, sports television - there are millions of hours of sports television recorded. The day after you record it, you probably assume it’s never going to be watched again. It’s not because no one is interested in it, it’s just not findable.

We’ve got a technology that really understands video, at an extremely fundamental level. You can stream these sports, movies or whatever you’ve recorded, the computer watches the programme and it fully annotates it without any human assistance. It can say, ‘This is the time Cristiano Ronald scored a goal in the last 14 seconds of this game’. It annotates everything.

It allows media companies to re-energize all these older assets. We can also take all these older assets and make them searchable.

My take

You only have to look at the vertical offerings suggested by Kurian above to realise that Google Cloud is not just appealing to developers that want cheap and easy to use infrastructure. It is looking to appeal to companies that need a technology partner to solve their business problems with cloud technology (but most notably with the stuff that sits on top, e.g. AI). The IaaS is just the enabler. Will that be enough to play catch up with Azure and AWS? Time will tell.

And it also depends on how you look at it. I don’t think Google Cloud will necessarily achieve the same scale. But I do think it could win more value add contracts with companies that don’t just want cheap tin. Kurian knows that if he can solve business problems, give companies choice and flexibility, whilst offering unique assets such as Google’s AI tools, that will create a stickiness in the market that the others can’t necessarily yet achieve.

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