Google has acquired Qwiklabs, the company behind an educational platform geared toward helping users understand cloud computing and how to write cloud-native applications. Launched in 2012, Qwiklabs has focused on helping users obtain training for Amazon Web Services, but Google plans to adapt it to facilitate the delivery of education related to the Google Cloud Platform and its associated G-Suite of applications. Google’s acquisition of Qwiklabs underscores the heterogeneity of products and services surrounding the cloud computing revolution and illustrates the urgency of the tech industry’s need for quality training and educational products specific to cloud computing and big data. Expect educational platforms related to cloud computing to proliferate as cloud adoption continues to skyrocket and fuel a need for educational materials that can facilitate the training of end users used on the rapidly evolving space of cloud technologies and platforms. Qwiklabs claims that over 500,000 users have received 5 million hours of training on its platform thus far. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Amazon reported earnings per share of 52 cents on Thursday, missing the earnings target of 78 eps predicted by analysts by a margin that, in combination with other data points from the earnings report, subsequently sent the stock plummeting by 5% in trading on Friday. For the quarter ending September 30, 2016, the company reported revenue of $32.71 billion that slightly exceeded Wall Street estimates of $32.69 billion. Meanwhile, Amazon’s revenue guidance for the fourth quarter between $42 billion and $45.5 billion leaned toward the lower side of the spectrum of Wall Street’s expectation of $44.58 billion. To make matters even more worrisome for investors, Amazon projected operating income of between zero and $1.25 billion for the fourth quarter, whereas Wall Street had projected $1.62 billion. On a positive note, the company’s cloud services business unit, Amazon Web Services, claimed revenue of $3.23 billion, an increase of 55% in comparison to the $2.08 billion from the third quarter of last year that surpassed Wall Street’s expectation of $3.17 billion. Amazon explained its less than stellar earnings report by noting its heavy investments in original video content for Amazon Prime as well as fulfillment centers. Nevertheless, Amazon’s earnings per share miss and third quarter results more generally raised eyebrows in both the technology and investor community after a year of impressive growth and the preservation of its lead in the cloud computing space despite intensified competition. Axcient CEO Justin Moore remarked on Amazon’s recent earnings miss as follows:
Despite the Q3 EPS miss, over the longer-term, Amazon will continue to be a dominant force in both e-commerce and enterprise infrastructure – an incredible feat given that the customer sets are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Amazon has been very clear that it will continue to focus on growth and not profitability. Investors have signed up for this approach for years so the blip in the stock will be tempered. Bezos has Amazon ‘primed’ for a dominant push to 2020 – and beyond. AWS and Prime continue to be Amazon’s primary growth and revenue drivers as the Seattle company broadens its lead in online commerce and cloud-computing services. The only real question for Amazon comes down to two factors: 1) its ability to appease investors appetite for ongoing record growth and 2) can it continue to maintain its lead over Microsoft, Google and Oracle who are equally committed to winning the cloud and have the benefit of being second mover which can be a benefit in these situation as infrastructure ages out and size and scale become inhibitors to innovation and performance. Expect to see all leverage M&A to acquire their way to technical leadership and hold an edge over the competition. That said, while there is plenty of startup talent to be bought at a premium, I don’t see Amazon losing this race anytime soon.
Here, Moore opines that Amazon’s ability to manage investor expectations and shake off the “second mover” advantage had by competitors such as Microsoft, Google and Oracle will determine whether it can continue the dominance in “e-commerce and enterprise infrastructure” that it has delivered, to date. Moore also notes that second movers stand to benefit from their ability to outpace the “size and scale” of their competitors with enhanced agility and innovation. Herein lies the stakes of Bezos’s gamble on innovation and investment in Amazon’s infrastructure: if Amazon can, indeed, afford to innovate on the rapidly expanding scale of its business and cloud operations with the agility of its competitors by re-investing resources acquired through its meteoric growth to date, Amazon stands poised to radically reconfigure the technology landscape over the next ten years in ways analogous to the disruption that Amazon Web Services brought to the cloud computing landscape. But in the event that the size and complexity of Amazon’s infrastructure mitigates against its ability to continue to deliver innovation, the chances of competitors such as Oracle and Google catching up to it, at least on the cloud services front, increase dramatically. According to Amazon’s CFO, Brian Olsavsky, Amazon built 18 new fulfillment centers in the third quarter while investing heavily in video content to enable Amazon Prime’s video services offerings to compete with Netflix. With respect to Amazon Web Services, however, one obvious question investors may have following last week’s earnings report concerns how Amazon intends to invest in AWS in response to Google’s rebranding of its cloud-based products and services coupled with Google’s aggressive emphasis on professional services for the enterprise.
Google today announced details of Jamboard, a “cloud-first” approach to the whiteboard marked by a 55 inch, 4 K touchscreen that allows team members to interact with another via an Android or iOS mobile device. Team members can observe “jam sessions” using a laptop or desktop but require mobile apps to contribute directly to the conversation. Users participating in a jam can submit Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and photos as well as add text and create digital sticky notes during the process of interacting with the Jamboard. Intended to spark collaboration and creativity, Google’s Jamboard competes with digital whiteboards such as Microsoft’s Surface Hub and the Hitachi FX-79E1 but differentiates by foregrounding the rebranded G-suite of cloud-based products and services as the foundation for all work. The results of jam sessions are saved to Google Drive to underscore the value of the G-suite for enterprise collaboration and communication.
Google has announced a rebranding and restructuration of select products from its portfolio under the rubric “Google Cloud”. Google Cloud encompasses the Google Cloud Platform, Google’s productivity apps such as Gmail and Google Docs as well as its suite of machine learning tools and mapping applications. All Android devices and Chromebooks are now part of the Google Cloud as well. Importantly, the Google Cloud brand also features services that propel the digital transformation of enterprises by providing consultative and engineering support and professional services to help organizations transform their digital persona in collaboration with Google’s suite of cloud and machine learning products. The restructuration of a multitude of Google’s products under the Google Cloud umbrella, in conjunction with its foregrounding of service offerings geared toward digital transformation, marks a significant first step with respect to Google’s rebranding as a cloud product and service geared toward the digital needs of the contemporary enterprise. With the unveiling of the new Google Cloud brand, Google squarely positions itself as a partner of companies actively engaged in digital transformation and extends the tentacles of its products and services deeper into the enterprise.
On September 8, Google announced its intent to acquire Apigee, a company that specializes in application programming interface (API) management. APIs are used to connect data from different applications, systems and databases to one another, thereby enhancing the ability of applications to share data and collaborate. Walgreens, for example, uses Apigee to empower developers to build apps using Walgreen APIs marked by the ability to use mobile apps to order photographs at the store of their choosing or submit prescription refills. Google’s acquisition of Apigee expands its ability to integrate APIs into the Google Cloud Platform, thereby enabling the Google Cloud Platform to integrate with a greater variety of applications and infrastructures. For starters, Google’s acquisition of Apigee positions the Google Cloud Platform to seamlessly integrate with Apigee’s impressive roster of customers including AT&T, Burberry and First Data, in addition to Walgreens. The acquisition of Apigee underscores Google’s commitment to building a developer-friendly cloud computing platform that empowers developers to create APIs either for new apps or to enrich existing the capability of existing apps. By giving developers freedom with respect to their choice of a development framework, in addition to an API marked by a battle-tested degree of security and stability, Apigee stands to augment the ease with which Google Cloud Platform and its constituent portfolio of products can integrate with the broader app development and infrastructure ecosystem. In a blog post, Diane Greene, the head of Google’s Cloud Business, noted that Google Cloud Platform plans to deepen its integration with Kubernetes in a further indication that Google plans to augment its efforts to court developers by enriching their experience with, and range of options associated with the Google Cloud Platform. Google will acquire Apigee for $625M or $17.40/share.
Editorial note: This article was authored by Scott Jeschonek, Director of Cloud Solutions, Avere Systems. The opinions expressed below are those of the author, Scott Jeschonek.
Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once wrote that battles are won or lost before they are ever fought, but can the same be said for the cloud wars? Though many industry thought leaders have made projections, the future of how the battle between public cloud providers will unfold remains hazy. Despite projections that global IT spending will fall in 2016, investment in public cloud services is expected to grow 16% this year, fueling the fire of the on-going war. Most industry experts would agree that AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud Services are the key players to watch, however many CIOs still struggle with determining which cloud service provider is right for them.
The table stakes for becoming the top public cloud provider are only getting higher with each passing quarter, and at the same time, the rise of a multi-cloud strategy is shaking things up. So, how will the cloud wars play out and how can enterprises that want to embrace the cloud choose the right CSP (or combination of CSPs) for their organizations?
When the technical features of the four hottest CSPs put them on relatively even playing field, it is the brand personalities and customer experience that can help organizations evaluate which cloud provider is most suitable for their needs. Below is a breakdown of how each CSP’s culture and decades-long experience with their respective specialties has influenced their approach to building and selling cloud offerings.
Launched officially in 2006, AWS is the oldest among the major CSPs and draws strongly from its foundations as an online marketplace to provide ease-of-use and a seamless on-demand experience. In the cloud wars landscape, AWS is like the U.S. military of the public cloud – bigger than all the others combined. AWS is very streamlined in how it offers its products, how they can be purchased and how fulfillment is handled. AWS’s ability to provide a user-friendly e-commerce experience isn’t a surprise, because, after all, AWS is Amazon. Just like you can buy a book or a suitcase from Amazon.com, you can buy compute time or storage. AWS also boasts sophisticated large-scale data base products, APIs and control structures, including AWS Lambda, which lets customers run code without provisioning or managing servers. Given Amazon’s core value of customer service, the rapid growth of AWS and its ease of use make sense.
Google Cloud Platform
While Google’s cloud offering is newer on the scene, its recent enterprise investment makes it one to watch. The company’s history of being forward-thinking and cutting edge is carried throughout its cloud platform value prop. At its NEXT conference in March, Google focused its keynotes on the sophistication of its technology, and how savvy developers could take advantage of Google Cloud Platform’s dynamic point-to-point networking, artificial intelligence and machine learning offerings. Google arguably has the most sophisticated developer cloud on the market, which makes sense as one of the large-scale inventors of web scale, or scale-out computing.
IBM, which combined its July 2013 acquisition of SoftLayer Technologies with its IBM SmartCloud to form the IBM Cloud Services Division, is building on its historical strength as a provider of consulting and computer services. Professional services and consulting is not necessarily top of mind for AWS or GCP, so IBM’s global cloud platform appeals to those customers looking for a stronger engagement model. Professional services is part and parcel to IBM, and it can combine its cloud offerings and consulting capabilities with other technologies such as Watson.
Rounding out the four, Microsoft’s Azure has a strong and steady history in the CSP market. Though it offers many of the same features as the other three “big guns,” it has stood out by intelligently leveraging its long-standing strength in the enterprise and bridging its existing enterprise capabilities with its newer cloud offerings. Customers can run other Microsoft software offerings such as Exchange, SQL Server or Active Directory both in the cloud or on premises. Microsoft also offers licensing incentives for existing enterprises customers as an option to help them embrace Azure.
If your organization is, for example, a next-generation application outfit and has been in the cloud from the get-go, then AWS or GCP will suit you just fine. If you’re generating an Internet-of-Things-based application with a mobile front end, for instance, that will run on Android and iOS and you’re storing a lot of data, any one of the four will handle the job admirably.
But here’s where it gets a little tricky: if you’re an enterprise customer with your own (or leased) data center(s) and Microsoft applications and backoffice applications processing lots of data (a bank, for example), it’s a much bigger proposition to move to the public cloud. This type of customer is currently a challenge for all four of the major CSPs. For organizations with a more traditional IT infrastructure, it’s not a matter of simply copying and pasting their applications and technology into the cloud and calling it a day.
A Demilitarized Zone: The Rise of the Multi-cloud Strategy
Partly in response to these complexities, we’ve seen the rise of hybrid cloud and multi-cloud architectures and approaches. Multicloud, in particular, has been an unexpected twist in enterprise cloud adoption. CSPs catalyzed enterprise cloud adoption by driving prices lower and enhancing the sophistication of their offerings, yet now this very same competitive dynamic is allowing businesses to choose different clouds for different workloads based on the strength of each CSP.
There’s also the age-old concern about having a single supplier and being subject to vendor lock-in. By adopting a multi-cloud approach, enterprises can avoid the “data gravity” problem: as data accumulates there is a greater likelihood that more and more additional services and applications will be attracted to this data. By keeping data in different clouds, enterprises can avoid arduous and difficult data migration while taking advantage of differing pricing structures among the CSPs.
In the end, yes, we’re going to see an intensification of the cloud wars among the four big public cloud providers – Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft – and that’s a good thing for enterprises moving to the cloud. This competition is at once driving down prices, increasing buyer options and inspiring innovations in IT architecture that will ultimately lead to more freedom of choice and the ability to purpose-build cloud environments for enterprises who are looking to the cloud(s).
Google recently announced details of a chip specifically built for machine learning in the form of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) that has operated in stealth mode within Google’s data centers for over a year. TPU delivers superior performance for machine learning use cases by processing “more operations per second into the silicon” and is designed to work with TensorFlow, Google’s open source library of machine learning applications. TPU requires fewer transistors per operation and can optimize performance per watt by an order of magnitude for machine learning applications and use cases in what amounts to “fast-forwarding technology about seven years into the future (three generations of Moore’s Law),” according to a Google blog post. TPU currently powers applications such as Google Street View, RankBrain as well as Google Maps and powerfully illustrates not only Google’s commitment to machine learning technologies but also its competitive differentiation as a vendor with the ability to design and operationalize hardware optimized for machine learning applications.