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.

Oracle Acquires RightNow Technologies for $1.43 Billion

Less than a week after its $1.1 billion acquisition of Big Data player Endeca, Oracle announced plans to acquire RightNow Technologies for $1.43 billion. RightNow Technologies delivers a cloud based technology platform that enables enterprises to deliver enhanced customer experiences with a product via the web, social media and call centers. The RightNow Technologies “Contact Center” platform empowers service representatives with data and solution options for customers calling with questions or complaints. Similarly, the RightNow Technologies web solution empowers companies to optimize the web experience of their customers to optimize conversions and obtain optimal web support. The Boston based company’s Social Experience offering enables enterprises to monitor and refine their branding on Facebook and other social media sites.

The deal represents Oracle’s largest acquisition since Sun Microsystems in 2010 for $7.4 billion. Oracle’s acquisition of RightNow Technologies consolidates its emerging public cloud offering and positions it to compete squarely against Salesforce.com, the market leader in sales management technology that leverages cloud based solutions. In September, Gartner positioned RightNow Technologies within the leader quadrant of its Magic Quadrant for CRM Web Customer Service.

Amazon Web Services and the Large Scale Enterprise Space

In a December 2010 article titled “Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service and Web Hosting”, Gartner positioned Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a visionary within its Magic Quadrant in the Cloud Computing Space. Within the “Visionary” category, Amazon was joined by GoGrid, CSC, Joyent and IBM whereas the “Leaders” box was occupied by Savvis, AT&T, Rackspace, Verizon Business and Terremark Worldwide. Gartner’s designation of AWS as a visionary was widely controversial given its first mover advantage in the cloud computing space, its dominance of cloud computing market share and the unparalleled depth of its features and functionality. In its critique of AWS, Gartner noted that Amazon lacked managed services that catered to the needs of customers who required customized management of data and applications that have been transferred to the cloud. Moreover, Gartner claimed that Amazon lacked colocation and dedicated non-virtualized servers, charged separately for items that are often bundled for free in the offerings of its competitors, and was fundamentally developer-centric, rather than enterprise oriented.

This article claims that Gartner’s criticisms about Amazon’s “lack of managed services” are misguided and reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of its business model and strategic objectives. On one hand, Gartner is right to claim that Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing service lacks managed services that provide enterprise customers with the personalized attention to which they have been accustomed when purchasing IT services from vendors such as IBM, SAP or Siemens Soarian. That having been said, Amazon’s cloud computing business model is designed to eschew the personalized attention specific to the procurement process and subsequent customized management of its cloud computing services. Amazon’s EC2 platform provides the most flexible, easily configurable, streamlined process for deploying software applications in the cloud computing space, today. In exchange for Amazon’s low pricing and array of applications for provisioning servers and associated applications with a few clicks of the mouse, enterprise customers will need to abandon the expectation that they will receive customized attention from their cloud computing vendor. Just as Wal-Mart bifurcated the department store experience into those stores that compete in price and those that offer customers personalized attention during the shopping process, Amazon intends the same in the cloud computing market: take advantage of its low pricing and bevy of applications for streamlining the deployment experience such as Hadoop, Elastic Beanstalk and CloudFormation, or go elsewhere. Gartner is right to claim that Amazon is fundamentally developer-centric, but it misses the reality that Amazon’s business model conflates developer-centric with enterprise oriented by providing large scale enterprises with unparalleled ease of deployment and application management experience. To repeat: for Amazon Web Services, developer-centric is enterprise oriented, but in a way that departs from the traditional model by which large-scale enterprises have been used to procuring IT services by receiving customized pricing, product demonstrations and walk-throughs for C-level stakeholders, negotiation about customized features and functionality, and customized management of services, post-signing. Instead, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, its CTO Werner Vogels and the rest of AWS’s executive team have thrown the ball into the court of C-level executives at the enterprise level and its development managers, daring them to take or leave the flexibility of its deployment platform and attractive pricing.

Our next postings will elaborate more on precisely how Amazon’s product functionalities and 2011 product roadmap simplifies and streamlines the development experience for large scale enterprises. We will examine Elastic Beanstalk, CloudFormation, its VMWare Plug-in, integration of Zeus Load Balancer and its premium support services in more detail.