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Customers and partners come first at the new Google Cloud

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian speaks at Google Cloud Next 2021

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Google Cloud had two big messages this week during its Google Cloud Next event: It has big-name customers, and it's super easy to contact its sales team.

That's where Google Cloud — which has struggled to keep up with AWS and Microsoft — finds itself almost three years after CEO Thomas Kurian took over the division. The longtime knock on Google Cloud prior to Kurian's arrival was that its engineering-driven organization didn't understand how to work with the average enterprise customer. It's clearly trying to dispel that notion.

Google put the enterprise front and center this week, emphasizing the breadth and depth of its customer base while tweaking its two main rivals in the process.

  • Kurian, joined by Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, opened the virtual event by praising Walmart Chief Technology Officer Suresh Kumar, and the business-synergy lovefest just spread from there.
  • One of the great mysteries of modern life is how quickly many Amazon-obsessed Americans have forgotten about Walmart, which recorded $559 billion in revenue last year, making it the largest company in the world by that measure.
  • Walmart has been a prominent partner for Microsoft's cloud business over the last few years, helping it set up a retail-focused cloud practice for customers worried about giving Amazon fuel by using AWS.
  • But Kumar listed several Google Cloud services that Walmart has adopted recently, emphasizing its AI work during one of the most prominent pieces of Google's airtime during the conference.

It also put the spotlight on several partnerships with other enterprise tech companies, part of a years-long jockeying for position between the Big Three infrastructure cloud providers and the biggest names in data and enterprise software.

  • Google announced expanded partnerships with Databricks and Fivetran, two cloud-friendly data-management companies that have seen a great deal of activity over the last year.
  • It introduced several new integrations between Looker, the data analytics company acquired by Google early last year, and Tableau, a similar company that was run by current AWS CEO Adam Selipsky before it was acquired by Salesforce in 2019.
  • Atlassian will make its ubiquitous issue-tracking Jira software available with Google Workspace through a new integration for Chat and Spaces users.
  • And Google Cloud launched a new security initiative in partnership with CrowdStrike and Palo Alto Networks for companies that are far behind the times.

Wanted the next killer cloud service? Sorry, not this week. In terms of exciting stuff that Google Cloud was actually planning to ship, this was a light event.

  • The most interesting new service was probably Google Distributed Cloud, a combination of hardware and software that companies can purchase to run Google Cloud services in their own data centers. Still, AWS and Microsoft already offer something similar in Outposts and Azure Stack, respectively.
  • The company made a big push around a new sustainability service that allows cloud customers to see how much energy their applications are using and take action to reduce that footprint. Microsoft made sure to remind everyone a day later that it had already unveiled the same idea.

The emphasis at Google Cloud these days is clear: The company is looking to meet customers and partners where they are, and to work together in ways that make the most sense. As Pichai and Kurian spoke, it was almost impossible to miss the giant "Contact sales" button underneath the YouTube stream of the event.

  • Cloud customers are overwhelmed with options for their applications in 2021, especially later arrivals who want to maintain some of their data centers.
  • While there will always be customers who want to replicate every last possible action they could engineer in those data centers on cloud servers, there are lots who just want their cloud providers to make it simple.
  • Will a stripped-down focus on customers be enough to catch AWS and Microsoft? Probably not on its own.
  • But Google has shown more of a long-term commitment to cloud and enterprise computing the past couple of years than it had signaled in the past, and there is still a lot of cloud business to be won.

And pretty soon, it will be possible to attend one of these events in person and hear firsthand, in the moment, how enterprise buyers are responding to Google Cloud's strategy.

— Tom Krazit

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Like so many businesses stuck on mainframes and even paper records, financial institutions have decades' worth of legacy technology to overcome when it comes to building global payment systems. Join Protocol's Owen Thomas next Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 10 a.m. PT with Priya Sanger, deputy general counsel and director at Patreon, and Ryan Zagone, head of Americas at Wise for Banks, for a discussion on the challenges and opportunities ahead, as well as the launch of the first Protocol Fintech Power Index. RSVP here.

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