Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Google Next: Enterprise, ML/AI, open source, and hybrid

Things I learned at Google Next (or at least I think I did). Think of these as preliminary observations based on sessions I watched, people I spoke with, or tweets I read/replied to.

One thing about the show reminded me of an AWS re:Invent from four or so years ago. Earlier re:Invents mostly trotted the usual suspects up on stage: Netflix, SmugMug, other startups that probably are no longer with us. Suddenly, we had NASDAQ and other well-known large enterprise customers who demanded mission-critical out of their infrastructure. This year at Google Next saw a similar transformation. There were young companies doing cool stuff; Indonesia's Go-Jek made a particular splash. But there were also plenty of speakers from companies like Nielsen and Target (which is leaving AWS in favor of Google). [ADDED: At least that was the image projected from the main tent stage. As a colleague correctly noted to me, the show floor told a much more startup-centric story relative to where AWS and Microsoft Azure are today.]

I'm not sure I heard any direct, or even oblique, references to competitors but I think it was pretty clear where Google thinks its differentiation lies. The most prominent area was ML and AI which was omnipresent. There were some explicit announcements of ML services, mostly aimed at making ML more accessible to the millions of developers who are not data scientists. But elements of AI/ML were pervasive whether as part of Google Maps or GSuite. The second area was open source. Open source as a central strategy was strongly reflected in the small Community day I was invited to (and gave a lightning talk at) on Monday but it was also front-and-center on the opening day keynotes as well.

Google announced that Cloud Functions was GA and took the covers off Knative. (Knative essentially helps create a common building block for serverless on top of Kubernetes across hybrid clouds. My colleague William Markito Oliveira has a nice piece up that discusses FaaS, serverless, and Knative in more detail.) Google sort of soft-pedaled serverless (which I'll use as the general term even if I don't like it) though. They announced Knative on Day 1 in press release. But serverless only got a short segment in the Day 2 keynote. I'm not sure what to make of it. One theory I heard, which I sort of like, is that given AWS' FaaS time-to-market and mindshare lead with Lambda, Google is taking advantage of Kubernetes' container mindshare to enter the market through that door rather than take on Lambda directly.

To expand on the previous point slightly, here's a quote from the Day 2 keynote: "Containers are the universal platform for cloud." I'm pretty sure neither Microsoft nor AWS would make that statement. And I think I'm not over-analyzing to say that Google views serverless as part-and-parcel of a broader container infrastructure and cloud-native app dev environment as opposed to a discrete technology. For what it's worth, I agree with this view. I think there's too much drawing of hard lines between these different approaches to writing and running services going on--but that's a topic for another day.

Finally, the hybrid thing. Google announced an on-prem version of its Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). First of all, I think I should be getting royalties for some of their messaging; it sounds a lot like various things I've written over the years. But I digress. It's a good story and one with which I obviously agree. There's clearly an appetite for being able to run workloads portably across different environments. But I'd just observe that this is very new territory for Google. Enterprise customers bring a lot of quirks, integration needs, and customization requests to their in-house infrastructure. Heck, if they are happy with a fully standardized offering, they probably should be looking at just using a public cloud. So, strategically this makes sense. But it's not really in Google's wheelhouse and they may find this sort of offering less amenable to the sort of technical solution they're accustomed to creating.

More to come but these are some observations after the first couple of days.

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