Cloud Next 18 - Google puts Kubernetes on-premise and TPUs on the edge

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright July 25, 2018
Is this cloud heresy at Google Cloud Next 18 - supporting Kubernetes on-premise, launching Edge TPUs for IoT and integrating G Suite to legacy content?

Diane Greene Google Cloud CEO at Google Next 18 370px
Diane Greene, Google Cloud

In a significant acknowledgement that quite a lot of computing isn't moving to the cloud anytime soon — if at all — this week's Google Cloud Next conference has been notable for several announcements supporting on-premise and edge computing. Today we have the alpha launch of Edge TPU, a new hardware chip designed to run machine learning models in edge devices, along with Cloud IoT Edge, a supporting software stack for Internet of Things projects. Google is also adding new integrations to G Suite including the extension of Cloud Search to encompass on-premise content stores. These announcements follow yesterday's unveiling of a version of Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) that will manage on-premise container deployments.

The Edge TPU chip is a tiny low-power device that's optimized to run TensorFlow machine learning inference models, allowing an intelligent device to make its own decisions on the spot. It's powerful enough for real-time operations such as collision avoidance in a car or personalization in a retail environment, according to Antony Passemard, Head of Product Management. It's managed by the new Cloud IoT Edge software stack and targets use cases in fields as diverse as manufacturing, agriculture and retail.

Yesterday's announcement of GKE On-Prem, coming soon in alpha, was part of the wider launch of Cloud Services Platform, an integrated set of services for managing deployment and operation of Kubernetes workloads, serverless computing and APIs across a hybrid cloud and on-premise infrastructure. The aim is to simplify administration of the hybrid environments that are typical of enterprise computing landscapes today, explains Urs Hölzle, SVP Technical Infrastructure at Google:

Managing or monitoring the application is the same as on GCP, so you have a single consistent, unified way to do your job ... There's no multiple configs, no multiple policies, no multiple trainings, no separate teams — just one place to do it once, and deploy it and go.

Meanwhile, Google today sought to enhance the enterprise appeal of its G Suite collaboration product line with several announcements designed to help organizations integrate with existing on-premise assets. These include the immediate availability of Google Drive Enterprise as a standalone service, allowing organizations to start migrating content online without having to also implement Gmail and Calendar at the same time, along with new G Suite integrations to Microsoft, Cisco and SAP products. Finally, the extension of Cloud Search to include integrations to third-party data and legacy enterprise content stores paves the way to the sunsetting of the Google Search Appliance.

Cloud heresy from Google?

So what's going on here with all this embrace of computing beyond the cloud? Yesterday's opening keynote started out on-message, with CEO Diane Greene proclaiming the supremacy of cloud within moments of striding on stage: "CIOs tell me they now realize they're going to be shutting down their data centers." But half an hour later, Google veteran Urs Hölzle was talking about supporting Kubernetes across hybrid environments and "ending the false dichotomy between on-premise and the cloud."

While at first glance this sounds like heresy, of course it's not Google reversing course and throwing in its lot with the on-premise diehards. It's more a case of recognizing where customers are in their journeys and meeting them there — as Greene went on to say in her opening remarks:

The other thing [CIOs] say is, looking at their workflows, there is a tiny fraction of them in the cloud. So we must be very early.

While the Cloud Services Platform launch, for example, could just as easily have targeted multi-cloud environments, the priority for customers was bringing their on-premise environments under the same regime as their GCP deployments, says Google Cloud CTO Brian Stevens:

There's no technical issues that would prevent us from doing that on any other cloud, having a GKE service ... But that wasn't the biggest challenge people have. The biggest challenge they have is, they want to refactor their on-premise IT as they adopt our platform. So we started there. That's what got them excited.

These announcements therefore are not about a resurgence of on-premise computing. No one, least of all Google, is talking about reverting to disconnected computing models. These announcements connect on-premise and edge devices more tightly into the cloud to become part of a single, shared infrastructure where ultimately the computing and data will exist wherever it makes most sense.

Or as GCP customer Justin Arbuckle, Senior Vice President of The Platform Organisation at Canada's ScotiaBank puts it on stage this afternoon, "Cloud is a method, not a location."

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