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Google in the cloud

This is a pivotal week for Google Cloud Platform.

As it hosts its annual Google Cloud Next Conference in San Francisco, it will offer the usual lineup of speakers, customer testimonials and product announcements one would expect at this type of event, but the broader and more challenging task is showing the world that it is ready to take on the enterprise.

To that end, Google has been working hard over the last 18 months to position itself as the more open alternative to the cloud market leaders AWS (and to some extent, Microsoft and IBM who are also battling for the same enterprise customers). They believe if they can leverage the cloud smarts they have built up over the years, mix in a variety of open source projects and productize some of the tools they have created in-house to manage their own massive cloud, they can carve out a substantial market for themselves.

The challenge for Google going forward remains convincing enterprise customers that it is serious about their needs after not paying attention to them for so long. That will require building a case one customer at a time, not unlike a startup trying to fight its way in an established marketplace, surely a strange position for a giant like Google.

Beam me up, Scottie

When Alphabet hired Diane Green to run its Google Cloud division in November 2015, it signaled that the company was ready to compete for a piece of the enterprise cloud market. Greene, who was co-founder and CEO at VMWare for many years, gave the company an enterprise pedigree it previously lacked.

The baffling part of the Google public cloud infrastructure story is how long it took to get started. After all, this was not Microsoft or IBM protecting its on-prem computing businesses. Google was born in the cloud and was one of the earliest purveyors of cloud services like Gmail. Yet even though AWS launched the first public cloud infrastructure service in 2006, it took several years for Google to catch on, and years more before it hired Greene, something that AWS CEO Andy Jassy admitted in a recent interview baffled AWS folks. They never dreamed they would have a six- or seven-year head start.

The good news for Google is that even though Infrastructure as a Service has been around for more than a decade, in many ways it’s still a nascent market, a point that Greene was happy to make at the Goldman Sachs conference last month. When asked where we were in the cloud market evolution if it were a baseball game, she joked we were still listening to the National Anthem. That may be a bit of exaggerated wishful thinking on Greene’s part, but to carry out the interviewer’s metaphor a bit further, it’s clearly still early innings.