Google Launches Google Compute Engine (GCE) IaaS Offering To Compete With Amazon Web Services

On Thursday, Google announced the availability of the Google Compute Engine (GCE), an Infrastructure as a Service offering that allows users to provision Linux Virtual Machines from the same technical infrastructure that powers Google’s fleet of servers. GCE was created in response to requests by Google customers for an IaaS offering that can be leveraged alongside parallel Google products such as the Google App Engine, Google Cloud Storage and Google BigQuery. In a blog post, Craig McLuckie, Google Compute Engine’s Product Manager, noted that GCE is differentiated from other IaaS offerings by way of its scalability, performance and pricing. Given that GCE is built from the same cloth as the infrastructure that indexes billions of web pages a day, its architecture takes advantage of Google’s years of experience delivering computing capability at a high degree of performance, in environments requiring the ability to scale.

Key features of the Google Compute Engine (GCE) include the following:

• The ability to provision virtual machines based on the Ubuntu 12.04 or CentOS 6.2 distributions of Linux. In other words, GCE does not currently support virtualization on Windows machines in addition to Linux boxes the way Amazon Web Services does, for example.
• Virtualization is achieved by means of the KVM hypervisor. For the time being, Google’s decision to support only the KVM hypervisor means that other hypervisors from Microsoft, Citrix and VMware will not be available to customers with such hypervisor preferences.
• Integration with RightScale, PuppetLabs,OpsCode, Numerate, Cliqr and MapR.
Pricing starts at $0.145/hour for a 1 core, 3.75 GB RAM virtual machine.
• The Google APIs Console project provides a one stop shopping ground for the management of a customer’s projects in GCE. A project is defined by Google products and services, resources, team members and billing details.

Some preliminary benchmarks and user experience stories speak highly of GCE, both in terms of its raw computing performance but in regard to its user interface as well. Joe Masters Emison, VP of BuildFax, reflected on the user friendliness of the GCE ssh line as follows:

GCE provides a very nice command-line utility for interacting with its API. Both the utility and the GCE API highlight annoyances that exist with Amazon’s variety of different command-line programs. GCE’s “ssh” command is fabulous: after launching a virtual machine, you can call the GCE API and have it create a user, private key, and related authorized_keys entry for that VM with a single, easy command-line call. In contrast, AWS requires specifying one private key for root at launch, and then requires that you keep that key safe and remember where it is to log into the VM.

After noting how GCE enables users to “create a user, private key, and related authorized_keys entry for that VM with a single, easy command-line call,” Emison commented on GCE’s performance in a private Beta as follows:

In real-world benchmarks, using full copies of my company’s production database and replicas of our application servers, we found that VMs on GCE—in this private beta period—had more consistent performance than comparable servers on AWS.

Similarly, Invite Media tested GCE against a well known IaaS provider, with the following results:

An early user, Hamza Kaya, software engineer of Invite Media, said his firm must process 400,000 ad requests a second and was doing so on a well-known IaaS provider. Tests indicated it could run its operation more efficiently on Compute Engine. In two weeks, it was able to move its operations into the Google cloud, where it found each server was processing an average of 650 ad queries per second instead of the previous 350. In each case it commissioned eight-CPU servers, but found it needed 140 in Compute Engine compared to 284 from its previous supplier.

As everyone knows, however, benchmarks are notoriously difficult to appraise, so the IaaS world will need to wait for customer feedback on a larger scale as it trickles in over the next few months. For now, though, IaaS computing has a new, significant player in the form of Google and the allure presented by streamlined access to its other products such as Google App Engine and Google BigQuery. Rest assured, however, that the IaaS market share dominance had by Amazon Web Services is likely to continue, although its second outage in less than a month on Friday, June 29 is almost certain to set alarm bells ringing across the enterprise. In the latest Amazon Web Services outage, affected customers included such high profile names as such as Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix and Heroku, all of which suffered downtime due to thunderstorms that caused a “power event” in the Northern Virginia data center. The timing of the outage could not be better for Google, which will hope to capitalize on the outage by onboarding customers eager to experiment with another credible IaaS service provider alternative to Amazon Web Services.

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