Google had some big announcements at its I/O conference last week, but one of the biggest was Google Compute Engine, which is now available in preview with a host of new features. The Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering doesn’t have the flash and dazzle of a new Android tablet or even a Google Glass headset, but it does offer Google the chance to do something remarkable: seize a considerable chunk of the Big Data market for its own ends.
At least for the moment, Amazon is the reigning champ of cloud-based IaaS. Analysts at Macquarie Securities estimate Amazon Web Services’ earnings at $3.8 billion this year, a number that could explode to $8.8 billion by 2015. In its seven years of operation, AWS has established a considerable infrastructure base, and it’s remained diligent about updating its offerings and capabilities on a regular basis. A number of major companies, including Netflix and Reddit, have used AWS to handle IaaS needs.
That’s not to say that AWS lacks competition. Microsoft is making a sizable play for the IaaS space with its Windows Azure Infrastructure Services, which offers virtual machines, scalable on-demand infrastructure, development modules, and other features; in a bid to pull a large number of customers away from AWS, Microsoft came out of the proverbial gate with a somewhat-aggressive pricing scheme. VMware and other IT companies also have public IaaS platforms in the works, although many lack the resources of IT giants such as Microsoft and Amazon.
But Google is a particularly dangerous competitor to Amazon. For one thing, the search-engine giant is well-schooled in everything having to do with IT infrastructure, data analytics, and the cloud: indeed, its whole business model is built on optimizing all those segments. Second, while Amazon dominates online retail, Google has its fingers in pretty much everything else—search, social networking, online advertising, operating systems, and cloud-based software. If Google wants to make a big play for the world’s public-cloud IaaS business, it’s already in a prime position to do so; many other IaaS providers have needed to build their infrastructure and brand-name recognition from scratch.
And Google has given every indication of being “all in” with regard to cloud infrastructure. In addition to announcing that Google Compute Engine is now open to everyone who wants to process a massive dataset or run some high-performance computing, Google also used I/O to announce improvements to Google App Engine (such as a Limited Preview of PHP runtime) and introduce Google Cloud Datastore (built for non-relational data, with features such as ACID transactions and SQL-like queries). Google wouldn’t have used its annual conference to announce these things if it didn’t intend to back them with lots of development and infrastructure support.
If Google does succeed in this latest endeavor, then it opens the possibility of an IaaS world split between it and Amazon, much in the same way that the smartphone arena is largely divided between Google Android and Apple’s iOS. That’s not to discount the contributions of other companies to the space; but with Google intent on making itself a major player, the breathing room in that space has been severely reduced.