Is Google’s Cloud Strategy the Ultimate Trojan Horse?

Two things in particular struck me about the recent Google Cloud Next event in San Francisco.

First, the cloud provider’s new leader Thomas Kurian is working overtime in his efforts to boost Google Cloud’s clout with enterprise customers.

And second, Google’s new strategy to win enterprise cloud customer seem to be saying we’re OK with being your No. 2 choice. We know enterprises are already using Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure as their No. 1 cloud provider, and we’re OK with that. While Amazon and Microsoft tout customers going all-in on AWS and Azure, Google has embraced hybrid cloud.

Kurian replaced former Google Cloud CEO Diane Green in January. He joined the cloud provider after 22 years at Oracle, where he reportedly clashed with that company’s founder and CTO Larry Ellison over Oracle’s cloud strategy. Kurian, it seems, wanted Oracle’s software to run in rival public clouds like AWS and Azure.

Kurian resigned from Oracle on Oct. 1, 2018, a month after abruptly leaving to take “extended time off” from the software company. In November 2018 he resurfaced at Google Cloud. And it’s noteworthy that in his first Cloud Next keynote, Kurian focused on Google’s hybrid cloud strategy — which it sounds like he unsuccessfully championed at Oracle, a vendor that has been steadily losing cloud market share.

Meanwhile, Google over the past few years has been struggling to bring more corporate customers over to its public cloud. Oracle’s stronghold in the enterprise is legendary, largely because of its database software running in data centers. So Kurian seemed like a good choice to boost Google’s reputation with businesses.

This bet seems to be paying off. In the lead-up to Cloud Next, Kurian told The Wall Street Journal that he already simplified contracts for businesses instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. He’s also put more predictable pricing in place, and intends to hire more Google Clouds sales and support staff.

“He [Kurian] was hired to bring that customer focus and building out the sales team to make the Google Cloud a more enterprise-geared offering,” said Gartner analyst Sid Nag. “Those have been his key areas of focus in the few months he’s been on the job.”

Tigera CEO Ratan Tipirneni, in a conversation on the sidelines of Cloud Next, said his company is growing its partnership with Google because his enterprise customers are asking for more Google Cloud options.

“There’s definitely an uptick we saw starting about six months back and becoming more pronounced in the last three months,” Tipirneni said. “That’s the first reason we’re leaning into Google.”

Tigera provides network security and compliance for Kubernetes platforms across clouds (AWS, Azure, Google, and IBM) as well as in on-premises data centers. At the event the company announced that its technology is embedded in Anthos, Google’s new on-premises and hybrid-cloud play.

The second reason is Kurian himself. Tipirneni said he got to know him in an advisory role when Kurian was at Oracle. “I have a lot of respect for him and I know he’s going to make a big change, specifically with the go to market,” he said.

It looks like Kurian’s already changed Google Cloud’s go-to-market strategy judging from the 30-plus technology partnerships announced at Cloud Next that will give Google another entry point into enterprise data centers. For example, Anthos will integrate with hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) software stacks and servers from Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Dell EMC, and VMware, along with SD-WAN from Cisco and VMware, among other vendors. And these vendors’ technologies will also give enterprise customers a direct link to Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

Google’s biggest challenge has been simply landing enterprise customers, Tipirneni said. “If you ask any enterprise customer, they’ll tell you that technology-wise [Google] is probably a decade ahead of anyone else,” he said. “That has never been their problem. Enterprise customers have some very complex and messy problems and you need to meet them on their turf.”

Also under Kurian’s leadership the cloud provider appears to be taking a somewhat surprising approach in embracing openness and hybrid cloud. Google realizes either AWS or Azure is going to be an enterprise’s No. 1 cloud — at least for now. It’s essentially saying “let us be your No. 2.” To that end new tools like Anthos work with other clouds, and Kurian repeatedly acknowledged that it’s a multi-cloud world.

“It’s an interesting strategy: get in there, be humble, admit you are a second cloud, and adopt a Trojan Horse strategy of providing capabilities that [Google] excels at, then slowly land and expand,” Gartner’s Nag said, adding that this isn’t an admission of defeat. “It’s an admission of a client’s need and the realities of the market. [Google] doesn’t want to go in and replace the incumbent — that’s much harder than to play nice with the incumbent. Technically speaking they are very confident of their cloud. It’s more how do we get revenue velocity, and how do we build that out and approach the market in a different way.”

And this — revenue — is going to be the real answer as to whether Google’s cloud strategy is winning. It’s easy enough to parade enterprise customers onstage and on a big screen during keynotes. Honestly, I would have preferred more talk about the technology rather than the customer wins. But the financial numbers will tell the real story and be the ultimate measure of Google Cloud’s — and Kurian’s — success.


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