In the half-decade since its debut, Google Cloud (née GCP) Next has morphed from a technical conference focused on features, technologies and developers into a business event concentrating on ways that Google services facilitate new products, processes and services. Unlike those early days where Google highlighted its technical prowess and vast infrastructure, at Cloud Next, the product announcements were almost an afterthought. Derek du Preez gave a good summary of the product themes in an earlier column, but most of the keynote and spotlight presentations emphasize one or more of the following Google Cloud attributes:
- ‘Openness,’ which is Google’s focus-group-tested marketing term for ostensibly portable (at least until you wrap it with proprietary cloud services) container infrastructure and the associated ecosystem of services like managed Kubernetes (GKE), full-stack container platform (Anthos, Cloud Run), DevOps toolchain (Cloud Build) and microservice integration (Istio-based Anthos Service Mesh).
- Data science, processing and AI covers all the services used to analyze and act on data of all types and includes both traditional databases (SQL and NoSQL), data warehouses (BigQuery), AI model development (Vertex) and packaged AI applications. (NLP, image/video recognition-classification, text translation and transcription).
- Security, what Google calls ‘Trusted Cloud,’ spans both the internal controls Google uses to secure infrastructure and applications and packaged security services like BeyondCorp Enterprise (BCE), Cloud DLP and Security Command Center.
Despite announcing more than two dozen products and updates, there are no blockbusters at Cloud Next, but rather a host of improvements that address portfolio shortcomings, changing application dynamics (such as a collective move to distributed, edge infrastructure to reduce latency by processing data close to its source and users) and cloud adoption ‘fatigue’ through highly automated packaged services. Indeed, Derek du Preez nails the event’s motif in his summary (emphasis added):
What's clear from the range of Google Cloud announcements is that it is focusing on deep integration across its own products and a number of partners, as well as offering buyers a range of management options for both Google Cloud and other cloud environments. It's hope, I believe, is that it can create stickiness with customers that favour choice and flexibility in their multi-cloud environments, rather than doubling down on one specific provider.
Less ‘what’s new’ and more ‘how to’
The most striking aspect of Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s keynote was its sole focus on customer case studies that exemplify what he sees as four differentiating benefits of Google Cloud. Indeed, in contrast to the blitz of new products we’re accustomed to at keynotes from Apple, NVIDIA or Microsoft, Kurian’s was devoid of announcements. Kurian cites four categories of “innovation that delivers transformation.”
- The most complete and unified data, analytics, and AI portfolio with recent improvements in BigQuery (Omni) that allow running data warehouse analytics against information stored on AWS and Azure, a new autoscaling and serverless Spark service, a managed ML notebook service (Vertex AI Workbench) and a partnership with Salesforce Tableau to allow analyzing data from BigQuery using the Looker BI service and enabling Tableau access from Google Sheets.
- An open cloud that can run anywhere via Google Distributed Cloud which extends its infrastructure, data/AI and platform services to on-premises data centers, carrier and enterprise edge locations and hosted-colocation facilities. Like AWS Outposts and the Azure Stack product line, Distributed Cloud addresses a growing need to locally process data without incurring the cost and network latency of backhauling it to the public cloud for storage and analysis. Unlike its competitors, Google’s distributed system is based on the Anthos container platform to improve cross-environment portability, however, it’s unclear what other Google services will be available at edge installations.
- Fostering productivity in the hybrid workplace is code for Google Workspace and its associated third-party integrations. Google announced most of its hybrid office improvements at a dedicated event last month (which I discussed in this column). Two items saved for Cloud Next are app-level connectivity to Atlassian Jira which allows creating new tickets and monitoring issues from within Workspace and extension of its AppSheet low-code scripting environment to Gmail to enable email workflow automation. Google also expanded an agreement with Citrix in which the latter committed to run its desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) on Google Cloud. Although the agreement doesn’t mention Workspaces, don’t be surprised if Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops become available on the Workspace Marketplace and manageable within the Workspace Admin console.
- Unrivaled online safety centers on Google’s strong commitment to using zero trust security on its internal infrastructure and productizing ZTA (zero trust access) via the BeyondCorp Enterprise (BCE) service. It also announced two security services: the Cybersecurity Action Team (a combination of managed SOC and security consulting) and the Work Safer program, which combines Workspace with other Google security services, including BCE, reCAPTCHA (website fraud and abuse protection), Chronicle (security analytics and threat intelligence ) and Chrome Enterprise. Work Safer also includes integrations with security products from Palo Alto Networks, Crowdstrike and Cyberreason. Other security improvements include DLP protection BigQuery and Google Chat and client-side encryption for Google Drive and Meet.
While Kurian mentioned many of these in passing, the focus of his keynote was Google Cloud’s more than 20 new and expanded industry partnerships and numerous case studies from high-profile customers like Walmart, General Mills, Wendy’s and Siemens. The Diginomica team has several other profiles of how companies like CommonSpirit Health, Cynergy Bank, Bed Bath and Beyond and other companies have used Google Cloud services to improve their business operations and build new products and services. Unlike most tech events that deliver a litany of new products and update with a catalog of presentations diving into the internals of each, the primary purpose of Next 2021 was to teach companies and their developers how to use Google Cloud services to improve business performance.
As I first discussed more than two years ago after his first Cloud Next keynote, Kurian is laser focused on invading the enterprise market by carving niches where Google services have a clear, or at least arguable, advantage. As I wrote at the time (emphasis added):
This isn’t the first time Google Cloud has touted enterprise outreach with services and programs designed to woo big businesses from AWS. Nonetheless, the message seems to have more teeth behind it this year with a new CEO familiar in the ways to CIO schmoozing and enterprise sales processes paired with its rounding out a hybrid infrastructure portfolio via Anthos and its various hardware and OSS partnerships.
Of Kurian’s four themes — I omit ‘sustainability,’ which also got airtime when Sundar Pichai used his keynote time to crowed about Google’s use of renewables, since the topic is a perfunctory talking point for every CEO these days — I see three (data analytics/AI, cloud collaboration/hybrid workplace and security) as solid differentiators for Google, one (open cloud) as clever, but deceptive marketing. All of Google’s competitors have a deep portfolio of container services and support container deployments on distributed edge and private data center environments. While Google can make compelling arguments for its container implementation being superior, it can claim to be uniquely open and distributed.
Where Google appears unique is its view of IaaS/PaaS (Google Cloud) and SaaS (Google Workplace) as part of a cloud continuum where each category can be improved by incorporating features from the other. In contrast, Microsoft treats Azure and Office 365/Power BI online as distinct, loosely-coupled product lines. Google is also unique in its pioneering and evangelization of zero trust as an enterprise security model and the pairing of BCE and Workspace (which I plan to detail in the coming weeks) significantly improves the security posture seen at most enterprises.
In sum, Cloud Next didn’t try to position Google as the only cloud for an enterprise, but a beneficial addition to every enterprise’s cloud fleet.