Given The General Availability Of Google Compute Engine, Is Amazon Web Services Destined To Meet Its Match?

On Monday, Google announced the general availability of Google Compute Engine, the Infrastructure as a Service public cloud platform that Google first announced in June 2012. Unlike many of Google’s product offerings, which are not targeted toward enterprise customers, Google Compute Engine comes with 24/7 customer support and a 99.95% SLA. Moreover, the platform boasts encryption of data at rest in an effort to respond to customer concerns about data security, particularly given Google’s vaunted reputation for mining every piece of data touched by its hardware and range of software applications. Monday’s general availability release features a 10% price reduction on standard, server instances and a 60% price reduction in storage pricing per gigabyte for its persistent disk service.

At the level of functionality, the GA release of Google Compute Engine claims the following three notable features:

Expanded Support for Operating Systems

Whereas Google Compute Engine supported the Linux distributions Debian and Centos in preview mode, the GA version supports a range of Linux distributions including SELinux, CoreOS, SUSE and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (limited preview). This release also features support for Docker containers that enable users to spin up containers instead of virtual machines to accelerate automated testing, continuous integration and deployment.

Transparent, automated maintenance and live migration

Google Compute Engine is now the beneficiary of ongoing, transparent maintenance routines and processes in order to ensure the effective functioning of the GCE infrastructure. Transparent maintenance operates by working on “only a small piece of the infrastructure in a given zone” such that “Google Compute Engine automatically moves your instances elsewhere in the zone, out of the way of the maintenance work” with the help of live migration technology. Customer instances continue to operate as usual while maintenance is performed.

Three New 16 Core Instances

In order to serve the needs of customers that require greater computational power, Google Compute Engine now boasts three 16 core instances for the standard, high memory and high CPU instance types. Use cases for the computing power delivered by these instances include advanced simulations and NoSQL platforms that require high degrees of scalability and performance.

Gartner analyst Lydia Leong reflected on a comparison between GCE and Amazon Web Services in a blog post and concluded:

GCE still lags AWS tremendously in terms of breadth and depth of feature set, of course, but it also has aspects that are immediately more attractive for some workloads. However, it’s now at the point where it’s a viable alternative to AWS for organizations who are looking to do cloud-native applications, whether they’re start-ups or long-established companies. I think the GA of GCE is a demarcation of market eras — we’re now moving into a second phase of this market, and things only get more interesting from here onwards.

Leong sees the general availability of Google Compute Engine as the “second phase” of the IaaS market, whereby Google and AWS stand poised to out-innovate each other and subsequently push each other to new technological heights. The challenge for Google, however, as Leong rightly suggests elsewhere in her blog post, is that it will need to earn the trust of enterprise customers. The industry will not expect Google to deliver the “fanatical support” which became the hallmark and differentiator of Rackspace, for example, but it will expect degrees of white glove support and professional services that are not familiar parts of the Google apparatus, just yet.

Moreover, as part of the project of gaining the support of the enterprise, Google will need to deliver more explicit guarantees of the safety of data hosted within its IaaS platform from the prying eyes of its repertoire of tools for analyzing structured and unstructured data stored in every conceivable format and structure. Finally, Google will ultimately need an outward facing CTO comparable to Amazon’s Werner Vogels that can evangelize the platform and sell customers on a roadmap that ultimately achieves feature parity, if not superiority, as compared to Amazon Web Services. Technology and innovation has never been Google’s problem. Capturing the confidence of the enterprise, however, has been a different story entirely for Google, although as Leong notes, Monday’s announcement may signal a fork in the road for the IaaS space and the Mountain View-based, search engine and technology behemoth. Current GCE customers include Snapchat, Evite and Wix.

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