Google Cloud issued a promise Monday to current and potential customers that it's safe to build a business around its core technologies, another step in its transformation from an engineering playground to a true enterprise tech vendor.
Starting Monday, Google will designate a subset of APIs across the company as Google Enterprise APIs, including APIs from Google Cloud, Google Workspace and Google Maps. APIs selected for this category — which will include "a majority" of Google Cloud APIs according to Kripa Krishnan, vice president at Google Cloud — will be subject to strict guidelines regarding any changes that could affect customer software built around those APIs.
"It is built on the principle that no feature may be removed or changed in a way that is backwards incompatible for as long as customers are actively using it," Krishnan said. "If a deprecation or breaking change of an API is unavoidable, then we are saying that the burden is on us to make the experience as effortless and painless as possible to our customers."
The announcement is clear recognition of widespread feedback from Google Cloud customers and outright derision in several corners of the internet regarding Google's historic reputation for ending support for its APIs without sufficient notice or foresight. The canonical example was probably the company's decision to shutter Google Reader in 2013 with just a couple of months' notice, which led to a torrent of criticism that persists today.
But while it's one thing to discontinue free consumer-facing services like Reader that Google thinks aren't used widely enough to justify ongoing support, it's quite another to adopt that stance with paying business customers. Even if they're one of only a few customers using a particular service, cloud customers need to know that service will be available and stable far into the future.
"We're striving to leave no dead ends in our products and leave no customer behind, even if this adds significant costs to us," Krishnan said.
"It was pretty apparent to us from many sources on the internet that we were not doing well," she allowed.
Over the last several years, Google Cloud has been trying to shed a well-earned reputation as an engineering-driven organization that considered itself the foremost authority on web-scale infrastructure computing, regardless of what its customers actually wanted to do with its tools. That mindset — bordering on arrogance — really stood out against competitors like AWS, which won the trust of developers and CIOs with its early commitment to cloud customers, and Microsoft, which has nurtured business relationships with nearly every company on the planet over the last several decades.
This mentality began to change in early 2019 after CEO Thomas Kurian was brought in from Oracle to teach Google Cloud how to be an enterprise tech vendor. Kurian hired legions of enterprise salespeople to develop closer relationships with cloud buyers, and also began to steer Google Cloud's product-development culture into a more humble posture.
"Pride is a trap for the unwary, and it has ensnared many a Google team into thinking that their decisions are always right, and that correctness (by some vague fuzzy definition) is more important than customer focus," wrote Steve Yegge, a former software engineer at both Google and Amazon, in an epic post last August excoriating Google's approach to supporting its tools.
Google Cloud has heard that feedback loud and clear, Krishnan said.
"It was not that we didn't have [a deprecation] policy before, it just didn't work for us at scale. It worked much better when you were small, and you have contained customer units or users that you interact with daily," she said. "It absolutely did not work at the scale of cloud, so we had to rethink it."
Under the new Google Enterprise API policy, the company is promising that it won't kill or alter APIs that are being "actively used" by its customers, although it's not exactly clear how "active use" is defined. Should Google decide it needs to deprecate or make a change that will force customers to make substantial alterations to their own software, it will give at least one year's notice of the impending change.
Safe for business
The new program should remove some objections that cloud buyers might have had about Google, but the frequency at which Google makes changes to its APIs under this program will be scrutinized against similar decisions at AWS and Microsoft. Industry watchers believe the two leading cloud providers have made far fewer changes to their services over the past several years compared to Google.
Cloud infrastructure computing is in the late-majority phase of the adoption cycle, and the companies that frantically purchased cloud services amid the pandemic last year are companies that tend to be more risk averse than cloud early adopters. The new API policy will also give current Google Cloud customers a little more assurance that they won't have to repeat all the work it took to move to the cloud a few years down the road if Google decided it no longer wanted to support a service that was critically important to their business.
"These tenets are a much deeper construct that really strikes at the root of how we do work in Google Cloud," Krishnan said. "It's really a shift in the mindset of the organization as we pivot more and more towards doing right by our customers."
More details on the Google Enterprise API policy are available here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Cody Ogden's name. This story was updated on July 26, 2021.