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​Can Google Cloud gain enterprise acceptance?

SAP offers seal of enterprise approval as big name customers come on board.
Diane Greene - Senior Vice President, Google Cloud

Diane Greene - Senior Vice President, Google Cloud

Google has staked its claim as a serious cloud contender across the enterprise, backed up by an expansive list of heavy hitting customers migrating to the skies.

In a bid to gain a voice along the corporation corridors of power, the tech giant revealed a host of multinational wins at its Google Cloud Next ’17 conference in San Francisco, alongside an applications partnership with SAP.

With over 10,000 customers and partners cramming into the Moscone Center, the annual gathering offered Google the opportunity to flex its big business muscles on the global stage.

If one word best summarised the opening monologues on day one, it wasn’t so much cloud, rather enterprise, reflecting the vendor’s bold ambitions to become a serious big-game player.

And that was always going to be the key play - securing acceptance in a market dominated by Amazon Web Services (AWS), with Microsoft Azure in hot pursuit.

To enter the conversation, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, stepped back, gracing the stage for five minutes maximum, before shining the spotlight on enterprise customers pursuing cloud-first agendas through the vendor.

For the Golden City played host to a golden line-up of end-users, including HSBC, Verizon, Home Depot, eBay, Disney and Colgate-Palmolive among many.

Bolstered by its partnership with SAP, the two-hour opening keynote was dominated by customer success stories and tales of fast-paced deployments.

“The cloud with the best technology is the best cloud,” Google Cloud Senior Vice President, Diane Greene, said.

“It gives you the best technology and it gives you a competitive edge. But all of this technology needs phenomenal customer focus, and we’ve doubled down on the customer facing aspect of Google.”

Built by over 500 engineers, Greene said Google Cloud is now reaching customers across financial services, health, retail, media, energy and manufacturing, representing opportunities for specialist partners in the channel.

Headlined by HSBC, one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organisations gave Google Cloud the green light, adding much needed credibility in a competitive market.

Today the bank houses over 93 petabytes of data, created by more than 4,500 branches and over 37 million customers across 70 countries worldwide.

Now, Google Cloud has gravitas.

Sundar Pichai - CEO, Google
Sundar Pichai - CEO, Google

But the vendor didn’t stop there, intent on hammering home its enterprise credentials through Verizon, who allegedly shifted away from Office 365 and onto G Suite.

With the product set rolled out to over 150,000 employees, the corporation with over 114 million retail customers added further weight to Google’s cloud claims.

Likewise Colgate-Palmolive, who migrated 23,000 users to G Suite during a weekend, before eventually taking 28,000 users to Google Cloud within six months.

Collectively, the customer case studies showcased Google Cloud in a new light, a light favourable with CIOs open to increasing cloud investments during the next 12 months, and partners keen to align with leading cloud providers.

In a not so subtle dig at AWS following its recent S3 outage, Greene also alluded to the importance of partnering with a cloud provider capable of maintaining availability.

“Take Google Search, it runs at five nines of availability,” Greene added. “That’s how we’ve designed our cloud and it’s easy for our customers to design and build off this capability, it’s distributed with no single point of failure.

“We’ve been recognised as having the highest availability of any cloud over the course of 2016. We’re putting in a lot of effort across our engineering teams to keep providing more nines.”

Early days

But despite the mix of facts, customer line-ups and corporate propaganda, it’s worth noting that Google Cloud was only recognised as an official business unit in September 2016.

And though it has a promising future planned out, it still remains a minimal contributor to performance within Alphabet’s broad portfolio.

Executives on a recent Alphabet earnings call did however highlight the progress made by the cloud unit in 2016, reporting that G Suite - the new brand for Google Apps - boasts over three million paying businesses.

Moreover, the rapid innovation within the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) portfolio throughout 2016 has positioned the business on an upswing, ready for accelerated growth in 2017.

And in San Francisco, Google demonstrated this growth, casting doubt on claims that public cloud will be dominated by a two-horse race.

The optimists will no doubt point to increased market potential, while the skeptics will offer a harsh reality check.

Because even the most ardent of Google Cloud supporter or partner must acknowledge that the vendor is up against formidable cloud competitors in AWS, Microsoft Azure and IBM Bluemix, and only holds a single digit share in the global public cloud market.

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The vendor has moved beyond table stakes functionality however, and has developed differentiating leadership in machine learning and analytics, security, application developer tools and connected business platforms.

Of the differentiators, machine learning and analytics are billed as the primary area of leadership for Google Cloud, and the probable driver of 2017 platform uptake.

“As the business looks to win a larger share of the cloud market in 2017, Google Cloud will rely on its investments in accelerating enterprise sales to continue paying off,” Technology Business Research Analyst, Meaghan McGrath, observed.

“And also for partners to help the firm penetrate new markets as Google Cloud more than doubles its global availability regions.”

McGrath said the partnership with Accenture, in particular, will help Google develop and message clear, industry-specific use cases for machine learning and the GCP suite as a whole to improve mind share and drive uptake in specialised segments.

As reported by ARN, Accenture is currently the only provider recognised as a Google specialist across four core areas, spanning app development, data analytics, machine learning and infrastructure.

Alliances

Partnerships will be pivotal for Google in the years ahead, as illustrated through SAP now running its flagship products on GCP.

Designed to develop and integrate Google cloud and machine learning solutions with SAP enterprise applications, the agreement will allow customers to run mission-critical SAP applications and databases, such as SAP HANA, on GCP.

With over 125 million subscribers on the SAP cloud user base, the SAP HANA platform houses over 5,200 start-up developers, alongside more than 560 partners globally.

“With this partnership we’re offering SAP customers the opportunity to leverage Google Cloud to accelerate their digital transformation and convert data into actionable insights and business outcomes,” Google Cloud Head of Global Technology Partners, Nan Boden, said.

Delving deeper, the partnership also includes new G Suite integrations, Google’s machine learning capabilities and data governance collaboration, alongside the availability of SAP Cloud Platform on GCP.

“Machine learning is top of mind for enterprise CIOs and developers alike, and Google is leading the industry to expand access to machine learning’s benefits,” Boden added.

“Google Cloud solutions include APIs covering speech, text, image, translation and infrastructure for large-scale training and delivery of machine learning capabilities.

“Google and SAP intend to collaborate on building machine learning features into intelligent applications like conversational apps that guide users through complex workflows and transactions.”

Fei-Fei Li - Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence AI and Machine Learning, Google Cloud
Fei-Fei Li - Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence AI and Machine Learning, Google Cloud

For Google Cloud to focus on effectively driving enterprise adoption in 2017, the ability to offer compelling machine learning use cases and secure infrastructure expansion will be the key differentiator between success and failure.

Machine learning

Across the board, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have reached a critical tipping point and will increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology enabled service, thing or application.

“Creating intelligent systems that learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously rather than simply execute predefined instructions is primary battleground for technology vendors through at least 2020,” Gartner Vice President of Research, David Cearley, added.

As explained by Cearley, AI and machine learning, which include technologies such as deep learning, neural networks and natural-language processing, can also encompass more advanced systems that understand, learn, predict, adapt and potentially operate autonomously.

“Systems can learn and change future behaviour, leading to the creation of more intelligent devices and programs,” he added.

“The combination of extensive parallel processing power, advanced algorithms and massive data sets to feed the algorithms has unleashed this new era.”

As businesses store and access petabytes of data, they increasingly rely on machine learning and AI to build and run their products and internal processes.

“As a technology reaches more people, it’s impact becomes more profound,” Google Cloud Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence AI and Machine Learning, Fei-Fei Li, added.

“This is why the next step for AI must be democratisation, removing the barriers to entry and making it available to the largest possible community of developers, users and enterprises.”

In reaching over one billion users daily, the tech giant will launch GCP in Australia this year, with eight new Google Cloud Regions including Sydney, Mumbai, Singapore, Northern Virginia, São Paulo, London, Finland and Frankfurt.

“Combining the massive reach of this platform with the power of AI, and making it available for everyone, will result in a greater improvement in quality of life from education to manufacturing, and health to retail,” Li added.

“This is why delivering AI and machine learning through Google Cloud is important.”

James Henderson is attending Google Cloud Next ’17 conference in San Francisco as a guest of Google.