Although public cloud is often framed as a two-horse race between AWS and Azure, a third player appears to be sneaking up on the rails.
Google's cloud ambitions were given a boost earlier this month when global IT services giant Atos made the search giant its preferred public cloud provider. The pact will see Atos create three R&D centres in Europe and North America, focusing on machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Google may be smaller than AWS and Azure, but it is growing more rapidly than its two larger peers, Gartner data suggests.
According to the market watcher, Google clocked up IaaS public cloud sales of $500m in 2016, handing it a 2.3 per cent market share. Although this is dwarfed by the respective 44 and 7.1 per cent share AWS and Azure pocketed, neither could touch Google's 100 per cent growth rate.
Rival analyst house Canalys, meanwhile, had Google and Azure's cloud infrastructure services revenues growing at a similar rate - 89 and 93 per cent, respectively - in its Q1 2018 spending data. AWS grew at 49 per cent, with the top three controlling 55 per cent of a wider market that grew 46.8 per cent to $16.9bn.
The Atos partnership will have many partners questioning whether they too should add Google as an option, and, if the answer is yes, on which user cases Google might offer a better option over AWS or Azure.
On a conference call following the deal's announcement, Eric Grall, head of global operations at Atos, cited the fact that a quarter of worldwide traffic goes through the Google cloud platform as a key rationale for plumping for Google.
"It means it offers the highest performance and lowest latency through their communication platform," Grall said, with his opposite number at Google on the call, Paul-Henri Ferrand, boasting that Google delivers "the highest-security cloud in the world".
AI and analytics are a key component of the alliance, and Phil Starrett, CTO of hybrid IT at HPE UK and Ireland, saw this as an area of strength for Google over its competitors. HPE recently bolstered its hybrid cloud capabilities by acquiring UK Azure partner RedPixie.
"Google are renowned for their IP [intellectual property] behind their analytics and all the investment they have made in that side of things," Starrett told CRN.
"It comes back to the services you want to consume. What Google do very well is in the analytics and big data space. That is their bread and butter; that's what they've built on over the years and that's what they've invested in. So they would have great knowledge and expertise in the big data and AI space, but so do Azure. But they're slightly different in terms of what you want to consume and how to integrate it. Microsoft realised that there's an on-premise/off-premise requirement and that's why they have Azure Stack as well as Azure to bridge that gap."
Chris Bunch, head of Cloudreach Europe, a public cloud migration specialist that partners with AWS, Azure and Google, said the Atos deal shows the headway Google has made in the enterprise space.
"One thing Google have always been criticised for over the years is their ability to sell into the enterprise and attract large organisations to their technology and it's something they've been open about accepting historically and acting on it over the last few years," he said. "This is probably interesting as a barometer of starting to see some success. Having Atos throw their weight around Google is a positive step for Google."
However, Bunch questioned whether the alliance would be successful given its focus is on hybrid, rather than public, cloud. Atos has said it will use Google Cloud Platform as its preferred public cloud platform for its Canopy Orchestrated Hybrid Cloud offering.
"Atos aren't regarded as the world's foremost thinkers in public cloud, much like some of the other large global SIs who already have quite profitable contracts around on-premise datacentres," Bunch said.
"I don't think it's the right move for the long term, personally. But they've naturally focused their attentions on hybrid cloud. It's not something we believe is going to change the world, but I understand for some organisations with heavily vested interests it is going to make sense to picture a hybrid cloud approach and model. The Canopy solution and hybrid cloud does not excite me."
Bunch also said he is reserving judgement on Atos' AI plans with Google, but agreed that Google has a "very strong offering in the world of data, which leads into machine learning and AI".
"Historically, Google has been the natural choice for organisations looking to do anything around data and machine learning," he said. "But without being inside Atos, it's hard to see how much they are going to back it."
Dan Scarfe, founder of Microsoft Azure partner New Signature, also questioned the Google-Atos tie-up, dubbing it a "strange combination".
"Atos is focused on patch-ups for legacy application workloads and Google is focused on the new application workloads so it seems a strange marriage," he said.
"Google is very capable in certain, specific areas, so it's absolutely a contender for areas that touch those workloads. The advantage of AWS and Azure is that they are much broader platforms so there's a lot more stuff you can do on them, they're legacy IT and they're new IT, whereas Google is really only focused on new IT," continued Scarfe, adding that Atos perhaps made the decision in order to differentiate itself from its competitors.
"For us, Azure delivers everything that we need from all the stuff Google does to all the stuff AWS does. It certainly wouldn't persuade us to reconsider, but other providers who want to carve out a niche in one particular area might look at it," he said.
Google should not be discounted and is definitely an emerging player in the market, according to Sid Nag, research director at Gartner.
He attributes this change in fortune to the appointment in 2015 of Diane Greene, former VMware founder, as CEO of Google Cloud. "They've really focused on changing the company culture to be more partner orientated, so they've built a pretty strong ecosystem of marketing partners and technology alliances," explained Nag.
"They are very focused on cloud-native technologies. They were born in that particular mindset from the get-go," said Nag, but warned that the firm's competitors in the public cloud space are catching up on those fronts.
Bunch also sees Google as a genuine contender in the long term, but stressed the frenetic growth of public cloud -which analyst Synergy Research Group said accelerated to 46 per cent in Q4 - should ensure the numbers are heading north for all the main providers.
"Most people aren't running in the true public cloud and that will change in the next five years," he said.
"Google have some impressive technology. They are very aggressively scaling the things that will help them sell to enterprise. They're hiring high-calibre salespeople, they're listening to enterprise customers and adding the features that they want. Do I believe they will be successful? I do. I think they have a long way to go before they are to overtake AWS in terms of public cloud scale. It's a huge, huge way for them to go.
"But that doesn't mean they can't be successful. Even if they remained smaller than Amazon, in five years they could still be 10 or 20 times their current size in terms of cloud revenue.
"I don't think there will be one cloud lord to rule them all. I think there will remain multiple cloud providers in the western world. I don't think in the long term one would want to rule out the Chinese with Alibaba."
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