Five Companies Shaping Cloud Computing: Who Wins?: Page 5

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Google: A Giant Work in Progress

Since cloud computing takes place over the Web, a vendor with its own browser holds a natural advantage. Microsoft gains from the ubiquitous Internet Explorer, and the only other competitor so equipped is Google, which launched Chrome in the summer of 2008.

Conversely, one cloud tool that Google has that Microsoft is now just building is sprawling mega-datacenters. Google has many of these facilities, placed strategically around the globe and harnessing the power of countless servers. The company is the king of Internet infrastructure. It’s also, of course, the king of Internet service as its search portal aids zillions of users each day. Its technical strength combined with its Web brand name gives it awesome potential in cloud computing.

“One thing that Google has going for it is economy of scale,” Mann says. “I think they have the ability and the understanding of exceedingly large scale environments that they’re going to able to leverage.”

“They have a very good understanding of how to do load balancing and scalability, geographical balancing, for widely distributed applications. I think that lends strong advantages to a large international Web application presence.”

The two-pronged core of its cloud effort is Google Apps, a suite of office tools (calendar, word processing, spreadsheet, etc.), and App Engine, a scaleable development and hosting platform. App Engine, launched in the spring of 2008, is similar to Amazon’s AWS in that it offers storage, virtual servers and a database. For developers it’s a pre-built support structure from which to sell their software.

Users can tap into software hosted on App Engine, perhaps accessing software that’s custom designed for them by independent developers. And since it’s hosted by the giant Google the network infrastructure is muscular enough to withstand the heaviest tsunami of user traffic.

That all sounds promising but in reality Google’s cloud success has been modest, given the company’s vast resources. Although App Engine was launched to considerable fanfare, it has so far largely been underwhelming. Developers grumble that it’s limited to the Python programming language – an odd limitation given Google’s fondness for open platforms. (The company says an additional language will be added soon.) It’s unclear how many truly high profile applications are being coded on App Engine. Look at Google’s own gallery of App Engine success stories and you’ll see they tout BuddyPoke, Pixverse and CloudStatus – while they may be promising applications, they’re not yet Fortune 500 favorites.

Google Apps, too, has a lackluster record. On the plus side, it’s popular in schools, and in October the District of Columbia became one of its biggest accounts with 38,000 seats. On the other hand, Zoho, a small player whose office apps resemble Google’s, recently won the GE account, with its 40,000 seats. The Zoho win “was a real poke in the eye for Google,” says Lindsay.

Google Apps’ greatest weakness is its difficulty in attracting lucrative enterprise customers. “Google will succeed in the cloud in so far as there’s consumer-driven demand for cloud services,” Greenbaum says. “I don’t believe they have an enterprise bone in their body.”

Adds Lindsay: “Google Apps is losing accounts because what they’re not understanding is that when you have enterprise clients they want very, very specific functionality. And you have to be very responsive otherwise they’ll take their business somewhere else.”

“I think the problem for the Internet-based players, particularly Google, is that they don’t have the full enterprise responsiveness and the sales force to service these customers. Microsoft does, IBM does, and new players like Zoho do, and so does”

“I think the way Google’s going to go is that they’re going to try and glom into Salesforce and try and learn from them,” Lindsay says. (Again, the desirability of Salesforce helps fuel talk of its acquisition.)

Despite the naysaying about Google’s cloud prospects, it’s probable the company’s position will grow stronger than it now appears. Cloud computing is a Web-based activity and Google’s culture lives, breathes, eats and sleeps the Internet. While the search giant is clearly experiencing growing pains in the cloud, this young and very wealthy company can’t be counted out.

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