SAN FRANCISCO—To hear its executives explain it, Google has been doing cloud computing a long time. The company just waited until recently to build a business around it.
For years, Google was doing fine running the world's biggest search engine and raking in billions of dollars in advertising. But as it grew it realized it needed a new architecture that was fast, scalable, flexible and manageable enough to handle vast amounts of data. The problem was the technology didn't exist to do that, so Google had to build it from scratch.
In the early 2000s, "Google was exactly like today's enterprise," Brendan Burns, senior software engineer at Google, said here at the Google Cloud Platform Next 2016 conference. "Every app had its own machine, it was hard to scale and painful to operate."
Google built leading-edge technology to run its business and contributed much of it to the open-source community. Now Google sees the opportunity to bring it to customers. "We have finally invented the Internet operating system by meeting you [the enterprise] where you are," said Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent Alphabet.
The story isn't that much different from Amazon, which originally built out Amazon Web Services from the technology running its retail business. The difference is that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw a business opportunity where Google didn't—or didn't yet have to.
Now AWS, Microsoft, Salesforce, IBM and Oracle have forced Google's hand. Although the technology powering its data centers is the best in the world, Google is way behind all of them in customers and revenue. It will take time to show results, but Google will catch up eventually. More to the point, the enterprise will catch up to Google.
Despite what Schmidt said, most enterprises are not ready for what Google is offering, which is massively scalable and based on containers. We have seen this already with AWS. Customers cannot simply "lift and shift" to the cloud, not without help from trained consultants like Cloud Technology Partners (CTP).
There is no magic fairy dust to move an enterprise into the cloud. The specialists who have been moving customers into AWS know this. It takes good old-fashioned business strategy to make it work. "You need to start with a proven method, start small, iterate and learn," said Mike Kavis, vice president and principal architect at CTP, speaking on a panel here.
What Google Cloud can do very well right now for customers is run large, data-intensive, scalable applications, such as big data or digital effects processing. Two special effects companies, ConductorIO and Atomic Fiction, used Google Cloud to render images of the World Trade Center and New York City in the Oscar-nominated movie "The Walk," about Philippe Petit's famous high-wire act between the Twin Towers in 1974.