Google’s gigantic data centers are temples of the information age. Designed for consumer services that reach billions of people, they also serve as a platform for the company’s search drive toward cloud computing, a market that could one day be even larger than its advertising business.
This week, however, Google tried a different tack. In its latest attempt to catch up with Amazon and Microsoft on cloud computing, it took a step beyond its own data centers. In the process, he highlighted two of the biggest trends shaping the future of cloud computing and, by extension, much of the IT world.
One of these is known as multiple clouds. As the name suggests, it involves leveraging the resources of several different public clouds to handle a computing task. For customers, it reduces the risk of being blocked by a single cloud provider, while for Google, it could open the way to become a more serious player in a market it was late to attack.
At the moment, the search company ranks a distant third in cloud computing. Its Google Cloud Platform has become one of the company’s most promising businesses: Jefferies analysts estimate that its revenue will increase 56 percent this year, to $ 10.4 billion. But that will still leave it far behind the estimated $ 61 billion from Amazon Web Services and $ 37 billion from Microsoft’s Azure.
Google’s latest gamble for relevance came at its annual cloud conference this week, with the general launch of a data warehousing service that leverages data stored in several different clouds, not just its own. If customers already have much of their data stored on Amazon’s S3 storage service, then this is one way that Google can access and use it for one of its own services.
Breaking the boundaries of the cloud like this could turn data storage into a commodity or, more precisely, prevent storage from becoming something that ties customers to other, higher-value services from a cloud provider.
It also highlights where Google’s best opportunity may be in the cloud wars. The search company likes to promote the efficiency and security of its own IT infrastructure. But its real advantage may lie in higher-value services like data analytics and artificial intelligence that have been honed in on its gigantic consumer services.
The other major trend highlighted by Google this week is bringing the cloud closer to customers. Rather than centralizing computing in large data centers, this means setting up smaller facilities to handle some of the work locally, creating something known as a distributed cloud.
The same software and a single interface are used to control these remote computing resources, but customers have the convenience of keeping their data locally and response times are faster. The forces pushing computing to the edge of the network are likely to grow as demand increases to process ever-increasing volumes of data in real time.
AWS and Microsoft came up with this idea first, with well-known services, respectively, like Outposts and Azure Stack. Yet cloud computing is still estimated to only account for 5-10 percent of the global IT market – it is still relatively early in this slow-moving revolution, with plenty of time for all three to create giant companies in around the idea.
Bringing data storage and processing closer to customers could seed a new market for smaller local operators in what is known as “edge” computing.
Instead of giant, monolithic clouds dominating the future of computing, this could support a more diverse collection of local players, although the software that orchestrates these more disparate networks would still come from a handful of dominant operators.
For Google, which has always displayed a high level of technological security (some would call it arrogance), this all marks a significant change. His initial strategy for the cloud – building the best technology and assuming customers would make their way to his door – didn’t work. Adapting to the realities of a more heterogeneous IT world, where customers already depend on multiple vendors, has opened a new avenue.
“Google has always been a driver of innovation; what we’re seeing now is a much more external approach,” says Ed Anderson, an analyst at Gartner.
At their own annual cloud events in the coming weeks, Microsoft and AWS will no doubt have a lot more to say on these topics as well. As they pit themselves against each other in cloud computing, this is at least one market where some of the big tech giants are facing fierce competition with each other.