P(Greene)R

The cult of personality is alive and well this week, as evidenced in the reporting around Diane Greene’s appointment to head up Google’s enterprise cloud business. Everyone thinks that magically, all the challenges that GCE has faced will vanish. 

Or that Amazon’s 10-year head start will suddenly evaporate or, just like that, Microsoft Azure will become Afar. The fact is, this isn’t an easy game for Google to play, let alone win. Developers don’t think about Google, and younger ones go for Amazon. (Remember Steve Ballmer saying, “Developers, developers, developers”? He was right. We no longer live in the IT-driven world of the 2000s. It’s a dev-first world.)There is a school of thought that Google has build a vast fiber network and, thanks to its engineering- and infrastructure-focused culture, an amazing distributed computing platform. The engineering and operational excellence of the company is nonpareil. However, that awesomeness hasn’t resulted in real gains, and Google has slipped behind in the race. The hardware- and network-based differentiation isn’t enough. Both Amazon and Azure are established platforms. Amazon is the equivalent of the Windows ecosystem of the cloud, its reach starting at the bare metal and extending all the way to the application layer.

Some companies have shifted to GCE (probably to save money,) but overall, the massive AWS developer ecosystem has enough advantages that a growing number of developers are embracing it. There are courses being taught that teach you how to build on top of AWS. More and more developers know how to get the most out of Amazon. It has thus an amazing and astonishing headstart. 

How will the arrival of one person to Google change that? There is a myth that one person can fix everything. Come on, we are too grown up to buy any of that.

“Greene will lead a new team combining all our cloud businesses, including Google for Work, Cloud Platform, and Google Apps,” writes Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, in his blog post. “This new business will bring together product, engineering, marketing and sales and allow us to operate in a much more integrated, coordinated fashion.” To me his words translate into: “We’ve got problems, nothing is cohesive and no wonder GCE is a laggard!”

Greene is a well-liked and well-known executive with elite Silicon Valley insider status, and her new appointment generates good and feel good headlines. It is assumed she will help establish the cloud platform, focus Google cloud efforts and figure out a way to sell to enterprises (a.k.a. corporations). If this happens as planned (and life and business rarely go according to plan), it will still be a couple years before it all comes together. It will be a couple MORE years for Amazon to push deeper into developer and IT ecosystems. Microsoft has a natural developer base that it can count on. But the problem for Google is that it is hard to define Google’s natural base!  

And let’s not forget what happened on Greene’s watch at VMware: The company missed the boat on the cloud. Meanwhile AWS became a big catalyst for non-VMware hypervisors. At VMware, there was an obsession with the tool, not what the tool can do. Respectfully, VMware invented a product and had no competition, and it sold it at a time when there was not much effort needed to win. When competition did show up, things changed remarkably for the company. Today’s world is more competitive, and the two big boys aren’t pushovers. Let’s also not forget IBM (the consulting business) which is going to be pushing its own corporate agenda. I suspect Greene’s Google Cloud will be slugging it out with those kind of competitors as well. 
Look, I am not hating on Greene. Instead, I am asking that the so-called tech media take a more practical and realistic view of the situation, add some balance and don’t forget that the guys in Seattle simply have a better game, a better plan and are obsessed with staying focused. No one asked the Google PR machine, “So what’s the plan here?” What did she say in her job interview that made the management say, “OK, this will solve our ‘laggard’ problem”?

I haven’t read one piece about Greene that isn’t puffy — and that is a shame, for this is such a great business battle.

New York City, November 20, 2015

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