Look, I understand that enterprise customers bring in the big bucks and that Google needs those companies on board if it expects its cloud business to be huge. However, I also understand that a company has to be what a company really is—what’s in its DNA—and Google has innovation encoded in its DNA.
Do you remember a few years ago, when Google co-founder Sergey Brin skydived onto the roof of the Moscone Center, live-streaming the fall via Google Glass? That’s Google. That’s the kind of vision I expect to hear from every Google business, even when the ultimate audience might be CIOs instead of consumers.
So it was a little awkward when Google Cloud SVP Diane Greene kicked off the opening keynote of the company’s Next conference on Wednesday by gushing over a new partnership with SAP (as if it doesn’t also have partnerships with AWS and Microsoft). And then trotting out enterprise customer after enterprise customer
, none of which (save for maybe HSBC) had anything particularly interesting to say about what it’s doing or why it could only do this in Google’s cloud. Colgate-Palmolive employees are sharing files in Google Drive? Mind. Blown.
And then when Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt came out and actually shared Google’s broader vision for cloud, exhorting companies to “just get to the cloud now"—like in months instead of years. He gave the first mention of Google’s Cloud Spanner service that generated so much buzz last month
, and the first meaningful mention of Kubernetes, and of Snap’s engineering accomplishments on Google App Engine.
(Unless there’s some big surprise waiting in the wings, Cloud Spanner’s announcement generated more excitement than, I would predict, everything that Google will announce at Next on Thursday combined. Why not save that for your flagship cloud event to really get folks excited? In fact, a lot of really cool Google services—including ones that would be very good for enterprises, like Customer Reliability Engineering
—get dribbled out via blog post and probably don’t get the attention they deserve.
On a related note, why was a Q&A with Vint Cerf and Marc Andreessen on the future of computing relegated to a lunchtime affair instead of being part of the keynote? )
I wrote last week that I believe Microsoft and Google can challenge AWS over the next few years
, but that will require each company staying true to itself and giving customers an easy way to distinguish why they’re different and better than AWS. AWS is still the 800-pound gorilla in cloud computing and a very clear vision for enterprises, as well as for the army of startups—some of which became very successful running on AWS—that built AWS into the juggernaut it is today. Just go and watch the keynotes from its re:Invent conference
You don’t win that fight by standing toe to toe and trading blows. If Google’s big advantage is its kick-ass infrastructure, engineers and computer scientists, then now is the time to hear about them. CIOs know they can run their basic workloads on Google Cloud, that’s not up for debate. Want to wow them? Show how customers are using Google’s expertise to drive efficiency and reliability to levels they couldn’t pull of anywhere else.
And certainly use your time in the limelight to highlight all the innovative, next-generation stuff Google Cloud can power for companies that want to change the world, not just for those that want to save a few bucks on opex or sell a few more hammers. That’s the kind of vision I would have expected to see, because that’s Google’s DNA.
I’ve never really been one to judge a company on a conference keynote but, then again, I don’t recall ever seeing one that felt so incongruous to the company itself. If I were a developer or a startup entrepreneur—someone, say, trying to build the next Snap or, as Andreessen discussed in the Q&A, the next big breakthrough in genomics—I’m not sure Wednesday would have delivered the message that I’m part of Google Cloud’s target audience.
P.S. As I’m getting ready to hit "publish” on this, Google’s Urs Hölzle is on stage talking about Cloud Spanner and announcing new cloud-instance types and billing models. Not exactly visionary stuff, but the customer case study from Schlumberger about doing HPC with GPUs is pretty cool (even if it’s for oil exploration).