Analyst opinion

Google has made a complete about-face on the enterprise. It took so long that if you were watching all the time you probably didn’t notice it, but it has turned through 180 degrees.

Thinking back four years to my last major Google event, it was a strange experience. For a whole day I sat there listening to tales of how everything everyone was doing in mainstream business was wrong. We were using all the wrong tools and generally had no idea how to function effectively in the modern world. And corporate IT teams weren’t helping either. They were wasting their time pointlessly running datacentres, and dragging their feet on the move to the cloud – which was obviously the answer to literally everything. Google was going to show us the way and save us all.

Maybe it wasn’t said exactly like that, but it sums up the tone and spirit of what I heard. I came away with two big impressions. The first was that Google execs thought the rest of us were all a bit dim. The second was that Google had very little understanding of real-world complexities, especially in relation to enterprise IT.

Now wind the clock forward to October 2018 and the Google Cloud Next event in the UK, and the change is astonishing. This time I sat there being briefed on how on-premise computing is still the centre of gravity for enterprise IT, and legitimately so. There was clear acknowledgement of the reasons why CIOs continue to invest in the datacentre – proximity, control, compliance and even cost – yes, on-prem systems can be cheaper if you have the scale and the skills.

A full range of cloud choices is essential

Against this background, the big message now is that Google is committed to bringing the benefits of its cloud environment to customers regardless of location – your own datacentre, private hosting, and/or public cloud. A key component here is GKE – the Google Kubernetes Engine – which was recently made available as a fully supported on-prem solution to enable private and/or hybrid cloud platforms. The idea is that you can move applications and workloads seamlessly between physical environments – and even run them in tandem in a fully coordinated manner. This is a key requirement that we have been hearing consistently from IT leaders pretty much since the term ‘cloud’ was originally coined in relation to technology. Google goes even further by highlighting the ease with which a workload can be moved from GKE to a generic Kubernetes environment, thus further reducing the risk of lock in.

Together with some strong and credible viewpoints on business transformation, security and compliance, plus a clear perspective on the role of partners, this real-world take on enterprise requirements came across as very convincing from the main stage and during breakout sessions. The question is though, can Google walk the walk as well as talk the talk? After all, IT vendor executives have been known to exaggerate, spin, and generally tell people what they want to hear, even when there’s little substance to back it up.

My judgement here is that Google’s ‘born again enterprise vendor’ positioning is not just an act, but a genuine transformation. I formed this opinion after speaking less formally with a number of key Google people, some of whom I knew from their previous roles with other technology vendors. The more conversations I had, the more it became obvious that the change in understanding and attitude is at least partly a result of hiring talent and experience into the company from more traditional enterprise IT players. But I have to say that even the long-serving Googlers I chatted with generally talked about mainstream business needs empathetically, in a way that’s hard to fake. The notion that Google now ‘gets it’ was also corroborated by the customers I encountered at the event.

So, what a difference four years has made. In my mind Google has successfully metamorphosed from an idealistic enterprise wannabe to a serious mainstream contender. With the cloud platform and service market actually still very young, and other cloud players also waking up to the hybrid imperative, the next couple of years could get really interesting.

Originally published on Freeform Dynamics’ Computer Weekly Blog – Write Side Up

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