When I speak with enterprise IT professionals and industry watchers about Google Cloud, there’s a common thread of concern that Google will decide to walk away from the enterprise technology space. Usually, it’s couched in a discussion of Google’s willingness to kill off consumer products, traditional lack of customer support and the company’s focus on selling advertisements to power its core B2C offerings.
To a one, these folks just don’t believe that Google has the attention span to stick it out in the enterprise cloud business, especially as its adoption continues to lag AWS and Microsoft Azure. In that view, Google is just one fickle decision away from walking away from its cloud, ceasing to update its services or pivoting its business away from what enterprises need.
In 2014, those would have seemed like reasonable concerns. But a lot has changed since then.
Over the past three years, Google has invested significantly to serve the needs of its enterprise clients. The company has massively expanded its physical infrastructure with 17 regions generally available around the world and 3 more in the pipeline. VMware cofounder Diane Greene, who came to Google when it acquired VMWare in 2015, has worked hard to reshape the cloud division into an enterprise software powerhouse.
Since Greene’s hiring, the Google Cloud team has moved its headquarters away from the main Googleplex in Mountain View, California, to nearby Sunnyvale. This was more than a symbolic gesture – headcount for the division has grown rapidly under Greene’s leadership, with the company building and scaling key enterprise functions like customer support, professional services and partner management. On Tuesday, Greene highlighted the company’s work to match enterprise table stakes under her tenure, including certifications, audit logging and customer relationship work.
Doing all of that makes sense because Google’s cloud ambitions are critical to the company’s future. Google’s ad revenue keeps growing, but the company’s Other revenue (which includes Cloud, Play and device sales) is growing faster. Google must find new markets to keep expanding. In 2014, Google Senior Vice President Urs Holzle said he expected the company’s cloud revenue to surpass ad revenue within 10 years. He’s since walked back that prediction, but the principle behind it – that the cloud business could be bigger than ads – is important to understanding why Google continues to invest, and why I expect it'll be a player in the field for a long time.
The company has also been playing the long game when it comes to adoption of its cloud products. Google has increasingly captured the next generation of enterprise tech end users by giving away G-suite productivity services for educational use. That, combined with the use of low-cost Chromebooks in schools, means people entering the workforce are increasingly likely to be comfortable with Google products as their primary means of getting work done. They will expect enterprises to work in the same way, with live collaboration, easy-to-use file sharing, videoconferencing and other functionality.
Several years ago, Google started both the TensorFlow and Kubernetes open source projects. These are core to the conversation around artificial intelligence and containerization, respectively, and Google continues to push out new open source offerings that build on the foundations set with each of these projects. Developer interest in those open source projects can help drive bottom-up adoption of Google Cloud Platform services and pull enterprises into its environment.
That’s not to say Google will hold sole dominion over the cloud when the market shakes out, but anyone who expects it to run away with its tail between its legs is missing clear evidence in front of them.