Internet Giant Flexes Its Enterprise Credentials at Next '17 Event
Last week I attended Google's premier enterprise event, Google Cloud Next '17. A dizzying total of 100 announcements were made at the event, highlighting key market trends and the speed of progress being made by the Google Cloud unit under new boss Diane Greene.
Here I'll summarise the main announcements and our assessment. For a more comprehensive analysis please see Google Cloud Next '17 Event Shows Significant Enterprise Progress.
As a largely consumer-orientated search and advertising business, Google has faced scepticism over the past few years about its long-term commitment to the enterprise market. Critics also raise questions about its competitive advantages over gigantic cloud rivals Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM.
The stage was set at Next '17 to silence critics and provide answers to these important questions. Ms Greene kicked off on the offensive, showcasing the impressive progress and transformation of the Google Cloud organisation during the past 12 months. Some of the highlights included:
- Google has seen total computing consumption in its cloud grow threefold in a year.
- A huge $30 billion of capital investment has gone into Google's cloud resources over the past three years.
- Google has increased its customer count by 300 percent in the past year. Several large-scale customers were showcased on stage at Next '17, including Verizon, eBay, Home Depot, Disney and HSBC.
- Google Cloud is now the fastest-growing division within Google. In 2016 the unit went through a major rebrand, launched more than 500 products and made several acquisitions, including Orbitera and Apigee.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
Unsurprisingly, machine-learning and artificial intelligence were critical themes at the event, and the technologies have rapidly become the most significant aspect of Google's long-term competitive advantage in cloud services. The event witnessed the arrival of Fei-Fei Li, Google Cloud's new head of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and director of Stanford University's Vision Lab.
Dr Li announced a private beta test of the Google Cloud Video Intelligence API. This uses deep-learning models built using Google frameworks such as TensorFlow to help developers search and discover objects in videos on platforms like YouTube. Dr Li also announced the acquisition of Kaggle, an online platform for a 500,000-strong community of data scientists and machine-learning experts; she also announced the general availability of the Google Cloud Machine Learning Engine, a tool for building custom machine-learning models using TensorFlow, and unveiled improvements to the Cloud Vision API.
Google is moving rapidly to establish the talent, tools and services to bring artificial intelligence to the mainstream enterprise. Building on its heritage in search, this effort has moved Google more comprehensively into artificial intelligence services than most of its competitors, in our view. For me, this was perhaps the most important message I took away from the event.
G Suite Shows Major Progress
Some of the most interesting announcements came from Google's productivity software, called G Suite, a competitor to Microsoft's Office 365. Google stated there are now more than 3 million paying customers using G Suite and 70 million users in education.
G Suite's success has historically been with "digital natives" in schools as well as with small and medium businesses, but over the past 12 months the platform has been gaining ground in the cutthroat productivity and collaboration market, particularly with large enterprises.
Announced improvements to G Suite included to Drive and, most significantly, to Hangouts, which was revamped into two new elements. Hangouts Meet is a video meeting service and Hangouts Chat is an enterprise messaging service that competes with Slack and Microsoft's Teams. Google also introduced @meet, a bot that automates the scheduling of meetings.
A popular announcement was also the launch of Jamboard, a 55-inch touch-screen digital whiteboard. The price of this rival to Microsoft's $8,999 Surface Hub starts at $4,999 plus a $600 annual management and support fee.
Google could be accused of playing catch-up in some areas of G Suite, but it is also showing leadership in areas such as app integrations, search, artificial intelligence and automation. One in eight e-mail replies in business use of Gmail are now automated, for instance, saving workers on average 14 minutes a day according to the firm.
Infrastructure as a Service: Google Cloud Platform
The most important aspect of Google Cloud's portfolio is its infrastructure-as-a-service offering, Google Cloud Platform. It saw more than 30 announcements at Next '17, including the unveiling of three new data centre regions, bringing the planned total to 17 locations, up from six today.
One of the highlights was an agreement with SAP to develop and integrate Google's cloud and machine-learning services with SAP's enterprise applications. The partnership is a big vote of confidence for Google Cloud Platform, showing that mission-critical enterprise applications and workloads are moving to its computing platform.
The event also revealed that Google customers are increasingly buying into the entire Google computing environment, from end points with Chrome and Android, to G Suite and the Google Cloud Platform.
Google introduced the concept of "connected workspaces" to present the value of Google's architecture in a vertical market context such as retail. It showcased Coca Cola, showing how it used Chromebooks and Google Cloud services to enable smart digital signage for contextual advertising.
Google also stated that more than 20 million students are now using Chromebooks in schools.
Perhaps most importantly, Next '17 showed important attempts at improving the awareness levels of Google's security credentials.
Customers uneducated about Google's enterprise business will typically perceive security and trust as major weaknesses. Part of this has to do with misguided notions about Android and the fact that Google is predominantly a search and advertising company. But there is also a general lack of awareness of Google's security credentials. Google has preferred to market its security through white papers and technical blogs in the past, which do not quite cut through the noise surrounding cyber-security at the moment, especially for business leaders.
Security highlights at Next '17 focused on identity, data loss prevention and encryption. Google also presented its new security silicon, Titan, a purpose-built chip to establish hardware root of trust for machines and peripherals on its cloud infrastructure.
The elevated importance placed on security at Next '17 is an important first step, but Google will need to further heighten and centralise its security messaging and capabilities in 2017. New security domains are opening up that also give Google a chance of seizing market leadership. They include contextual security, analytics and machine learning-based protection.
Just two years ago, many argued Google lacked relevancy and credibility in the enterprise market. Today, however, Google's critics are quieting. With huge investment, threefold growth in partners and customers, several acquisitions under its belt and new executives, Google is becoming a real player in enterprise cloud services.
In our opinion, Next '17 removed any scepticism about Google's commitment to the enterprise. Both Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt and Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared on stage at the event, and Mr Schmidt's closing words were telling: "We are here and for real. This is an incredibly serious mission for Google. We have the money and commitment to build the next platform for computation globally".
Although gaps remain, including in hybrid cloud strategies, security, the Internet of things and G Suite's adoption in large enterprises, a more open and attentive Google is emerging, with a clear willingness to engage and partner with business customers as it catches up with rivals. We expect it to make more acquisitions in 2017, and it will also need to boost its marketing and awareness of its services. The next two years are critical for Google on this journey and Next '17 was a positive first step.