Google’s Enterprise Problem
Compared to the insanity of today’s political environment, the world of Cloud Computing seems downright placid. The calmness on the surface, however, often hides turbulence underneath.
Take the hullabaloo surrounding comments that Greg DeMichillie, Director of Product Management, Cloud Platform at Google made on a recent GigaOM podcast – or more precisely, comments that he didn’t make. GigaOM’s Derrick Harris asked DeMichillie whether Google Cloud Platform might go the way of, say Google Reader, an example of a product Google killed in spite of its market traction because Google felt that Reader didn’t fit into its strategy. DeMichillie replied that essentially developers didn’t have anything to worry about, because Google Cloud Platform externalizes what Google uses internally. “There’s no scenario in which Google suddenly decides, ‘Gee, I don’t think we need to think about storage anymore or computing anymore’,” DeMichillie said.
However, what he didn’t say was that Google was committed to the Google Cloud Platform long term. This omission caused various analysts and pundits to pounce, leading to Google’s PR company walking back DeMichillie’s comments – that is, if it’s even possible to walk back something an executive didn’t actually say. Enterprises want futureproofed technology, say the pundits. Enterprises are in IT for the long haul, after all. There’s no way they’d go for a Cloud the service provider wasn’t fully committed to!
Ever the contrarian, ZapThink doesn’t agree with these pundits. Google’s reluctance to commit to the Cloud Platform long term isn’t an indication that Google doesn’t understand the enterprise Cloud buyer, or that Google isn’t committed to serving their enterprise customers long term. Rather, it’s more of a cultural difference between Google and typical enterprises. Fair enough – but won’t a cultural disconnect be a problem for Google as they ramp up their enterprise Cloud offering? The answer is no, but understanding why requires understanding the broader context of enterprise Cloud Computing.
Google’s Cultural Context
In an earlier ZapFlash, I explained how Google’s and Amazon’s lack of cultural baggage positioned both companies to compete well against the telcos. The story in today’s ZapFlash, however, is more about the culture that Google champions, rather than the cultural baggage it lacks. Over the years, Google has revealed its culture in many ways:
- Google’s willingness to try anything. Not only are Googlers expected to spend a sizable chunk of their time on pet projects, but they love to run many of those pet projects up the flagpole to see which customers will salute. Some ideas take off, others founder, and many find themselves in a seemingly never-ending beta state. True, there are products like Google Reader or iGoogle that gain traction, only to be pulled from the market. But many more ideas take off and remain lucrative, adding to Google’s already impressive bottom line.
- Google’s Silicon Valley, millennial-centric culture. The idea of two forty-somethings interning at Google is so ludicrous, Twentieth Century Fox actually produced a feature comedy based entirely on this premise. Need I say more?
- Don’t be evil. More than an informal motto, don’t be evil is one of Google’s core values. While this principle calls for integrity and honesty, those characteristics don’t differentiate Google from millions of other organizations who also champion such traits. What makes this motto special at Google is how people within the organization actually act upon it as Google has grown into the global powerhouse it is today. By all accounts, this motto encourages Googlers to make decisions based upon what’s best for the customer, where “the customer” refers to an idealized notion, rather than necessarily referring to specific paying customers. For example, Google fastidiously tweaks their search algorithm to frustrate the efforts of search engine optimizers, whose goal in life is to game the system. Such optimization is better for search users in general, as well as for the Internet overall. In this context, all users of the Internet are Google “customers.”
- The culture of scale. The reason Google is a Cloud player in the first place is because they figured out how to scale their infrastructure. But there’s more to Google’s culture of scale than the infrastructure story itself. Everything they bring to market must leverage this scale, which means that everything they work on must have massive scale as a core enabler. This trait gives new meaning to the maxim think big.
Roll up these cultural characteristics and DeMichillie’s perspective begins to make sense. True, the Google Compute Engine and Google App Engine began as experiments that leveraged Google’s massive scale. Now that enterprises are taking advantage of these tools, Google clearly won’t leave such customers out in the cold, since doing so would “be evil.” But will these products remain essentially unchanged five or ten years out? Nobody knows. From Google’s perspective, DeMichillie’s comments were right on target. Enterprise developers shouldn’t have anything to worry about, right?
The Bigger Picture
There’s more to this story, of course – and the larger story is a drum that ZapThink has been beating for a while now. At its core, Cloud Computing is a phenomenon of the Internet and the broader world of Web scale. It’s no mistake that companies like Amazon and Salesforce have defined the Cloud marketplace, as both vendors were born of the Web and live and breathe horizontal scalability, basic availability, eventual consistency, and decentralized, hypermedia-oriented architectures. Such Web scale environments are inherently dynamic.
Legacy enterprise IT environments, in contrast, focus on vertical scalability, high availability transactionality that requires immediate consistency, and centralized, middleware-centric architectures. And while such legacy environments have managed for the most part to meet the needs of global enterprises, they are inherently static, inflexible and expensive to maintain.
Cloud Computing is bringing the world of Web scale to enterprise legacy environments one way or another. Nobody wants the Cloud to be more like enterprise legacy. On the contrary: everyone wants enterprise legacy to be more like the Cloud.
Google understands this bigger picture with every fiber of its being. The world of Web scale is Google’s culture and its foundation, both its technical foundation and its raison d’être as a business. But more importantly, the world of Web scale is at the core of the value proposition it brings to customers – including its inherently dynamic nature. It doesn’t make sense to Google to bring a “futureproofable” offering to the enterprise. Instead, they are living their “don’t be evil” mantra by expecting and even encouraging enterprise customers to move to the world of Web scale, even though it’s inherently dynamic.
The ZapThink Take
Analysts love chopping up broader markets like Cloud Computing into ever-smaller market chunks like IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. In fact, the whole Cloud Computing market itself is a somewhat arbitrary construct. Analysts take this divide and conquer approach, of course, so they can write about individual markets.
When markets have matured, such slicing and dicing often makes sense. But as I’ve discussed before, because Cloud Computing is an emerging market (or set of markets), it doesn’t fit well into the spreadsheet-driven market models the analysts use. Nevertheless, most vendors try to shoehorn themselves into the various analyst buckets even in emerging markets, if for no other reason than to encourage analyst coverage.
Google, however, doesn’t like playing this game. In fact, when DeMichillie discussed Google Compute Engine and Google App Engine, he didn’t use terms like IaaS and PaaS. Instead, he discussed application hosting, storage, and development platform as the core elements of Google’s Cloud Platform – a categorization that makes sense to Google, but doesn’t necessarily line up with analyst market models.
This phrasing on his part had a deeper meaning. Google isn’t committed to IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS – or even the Cloud itself – as market categories. Instead, Google is committed to running many things up the flagpole to see what meets customer needs in a scalable, non-evil manner. If the market categories end up different in ten years, then so be it. What matters is that Google’s innovation is customer-focused – yes, even on enterprise customers.
So, should we expect futureproofed offerings from Google? Absolutely not. But more importantly, we don’t want futureproofed offerings from Google. We want innovative offerings with a laser focus on delivering customer value at scale. Can Google learn to tell this story better to enterprise buyers? Absolutely. But don’t let their culture-driven approach to market messaging interfere with your understanding of Google’s core value proposition.