Google Compute Engine Trumps Amazon Drones for Enterprise Innovation

NEWS ANALYSIS: Amazon's package delivery drones are getting a lot of attention. But Google's Compute Engine has a better chance of delivering near-term benefits to enterprise IT planners.

What’s more important for the enterprise, Amazon’s (very) early disclosure of its ideas to deliver your Amazon Prime purchases via airborne drones or Google finally moving its Compute Engine as a service from beta to prime time?

It's easy to answer that question for anyone concerned with their corporate computing infrastructure for 2014. Google has now officially joined the club of cloud computing providers pitching their version to the enterprise.

Over the past year, the cloud club has become crowded with IBM, Microsoft, Rackspace, and Hewlett-Packard jumping in. Nearly all and perhaps every one of these very traditional tech vendors are contending that their flavor of cloud computing is just what your company needs. Then of course there is Amazon Web Services—the cloud infrastructure granddaddy at eight years old—adding features and services at a feverish pace.

The Google Compute Engine has its own particular flavor of infrastructure as a service. Google’s experience in building huge web-scale computing is a match for anyone. Furthermore, unlike a lot of the traditional IT vendors, Google doesn’t have the fundamental conflict of earning high margin revenues from selling and servicing on-premise equipment while also pitching low margin, subscription-based servers, storage and networks available on demand in the cloud.

The Google Compute Engine has also cleaned up some of the problems that appeared in the beta program. The Google offering now includes persistent disks replacing scratch disks. The Google developer blog has a good explanation of the disk types. Also there is expanded Linux OS support—although no Microsoft operating systems yet. In addition the Compute Engine now has improved migration and infrastructure resilience features. And, oh yes, prices were cut by ten percent.

Gartner analyst Lydia Leong has a good blog on Compute Engine (GCE). In it she notes, “Amazon Web Services (AWS) remains the king of this space and is unlikely to be dethroned anytime soon, although Microsoft Windows Azure is clearly an up-and-coming competitor due to Microsoft’s deep established relationships with business customers. GCE is more likely to target the cloud-natives that are going to AWS right now—companies doing things that the cloud is uniquely well-suited to serve.”

Those companies she refers to and the ones Google itself mentions in its blog about the general availability of Compute Engine tend to be start-ups with applications designed from the start to be Webcentric. Snapchat, Cooladata, Mendelics and Evite are highlighted in the Google blog.

If you are working at a long-established enterprise, you probably won’t find your company’s name in that list because your applications were developed before phones got smart and tablets started computing. However, as Lydia Leong states in her blog, the barriers for Google moving into mainstream enterprise companies have a lot more to do with history, trust and marketing expectations than with technology barriers.

As the end of 2013 approaches, Enterprise CIOs and business managers have moved from a dearth of cloud infrastructure choices (pretty much just Amazon Web Services) to a universe of vendors all offering cloud infrastructure as a service.

This range of choices doesn't even include those other two big cloud markets: platform as a service and software as a service. And if you were lucky you spent 2013 preparing and training your staff for the transition to cloud computing. Well, that probably didn’t happen in this era of tight budgets and business department managers that signed up for their own cloud services without consulting the IT department.

The best advice is to take another look at that 60 Minutes piece on the Amazon drone. The purpose of the drone (at least according to my interpretation) was to position Amazon as a company that is still all about innovation. Even if the Amazon drone never gets off the ground, the company showed that its can think differently about how to deliver packages.

You need to get your CEO and friends to sit down, skip the PowerPoint presentation and discuss where the company is headed during the next five to 10 years. Once you have an outline of the future, you can think about what type of cloud computing infrastructure is right for your company.