Jul
31
2018
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The Istio service mesh hits version 1.0

Istio, the service mesh for microservices from Google, IBM, Lyft, Red Hat and many other players in the open-source community, launched version 1.0 of its tools today.

If you’re not into service meshes, that’s understandable. Few people are. But Istio is probably one of the most important new open-source projects out there right now. It sits at the intersection of a number of industry trends, like containers, microservices and serverless computing, and makes it easier for enterprises to embrace them. Istio now has more than 200 contributors and the code has seen more than 4,000 check-ins since the launch of  version 0.1.

Istio, at its core, handles the routing, load balancing, flow control and security needs of microservices. It sits on top of existing distributed applications and basically helps them talk to each other securely, while also providing logging, telemetry and the necessary policies that keep things under control (and secure). It also features support for canary releases, which allow developers to test updates with a few users before launching them to a wider audience, something that Google and other webscale companies have long done internally.

“In the area of microservices, things are moving so quickly,” Google product manager Jennifer Lin told me. “And with the success of Kubernetes and the abstraction around container orchestration, Istio was formed as an open-source project to really take the next step in terms of a substrate for microservice development as well as a path for VM-based workloads to move into more of a service management layer. So it’s really focused around the right level of abstractions for services and creating a consistent environment for managing that.”

Even before the 1.0 release, a number of companies already adopted Istio in production, including the likes of eBay and Auto Trader UK. Lin argues that this is a sign that Istio solves a problem that a lot of businesses are facing today as they adopt microservices. “A number of more sophisticated customers tried to build their own service management layer and while we hadn’t yet declared 1.0, we hard a number of customers — including a surprising number of large enterprise customer — say, ‘you know, even though you’re not 1.0, I’m very comfortable putting this in production because what I’m comparing it to is much more raw.’”

IBM Fellow and VP of Cloud Jason McGee agrees with this and notes that “our mission since Istio’s launch has been to enable everyone to succeed with microservices, especially in the enterprise. This is why we’ve focused the community around improving security and scale, and heavily leaned our contributions on what we’ve learned from building agile cloud architectures for companies of all sizes.”

A lot of the large cloud players now support Istio directly, too. IBM supports it on top of its Kubernetes Service, for example, and Google even announced a managed Istio service for its Google Cloud users, as well as some additional open-source tooling for serverless applications built on top of Kubernetes and Istio.

Two names missing from today’s party are Microsoft and Amazon. I think that’ll change over time, though, assuming the project keeps its momentum.

Istio also isn’t part of any major open-source foundation yet. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of Kubernetes, is backing linkerd, a project that isn’t all that dissimilar from Istio. Once a 1.0 release of these kinds of projects rolls around, the maintainers often start looking for a foundation that can shepherd the development of the project over time. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before we hear more about where Istio will land.

Jul
26
2018
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Amazon’s AWS continues to lead its performance highlights

Amazon’s web services AWS continue to be the highlight of the company’s balance sheet, once again showing the kind of growth Amazon is looking for in a new business for the second quarter — especially one that has dramatically better margins than its core retail business.

Despite now running a grocery chain, the company’s AWS division — which has an operating margin over 25 percent compared to its tiny margins on retail — grew 49 percent year-over-year in the quarter compared to last year’s second quarter. It’s also up 49 percent year-over-year when comparing the most recent six months to the same period last year. AWS is now on a run rate well north of $10 billion annually, generating more than $6 billion in revenue in the second quarter this year. Meanwhile, Amazon’s retail operations generated nearly $47 billion with a net income of just over $1.3 billion (unaudited). Amazon’s AWS generated $1.6 billion in operating income on its $6.1 billion in revenue.

So, in short, Amazon’s dramatically more efficient AWS business is its biggest contributor to its actual net income. The company reported earnings of $5.07 per share, compared to analyst estimates of around $2.50 per share, on revenue of $52.9 billion. That revenue number fell under what investors were looking for, so the stock isn’t really doing anything in after-hours, and Amazon still remains in the race to become a company with a market cap of $1 trillion alongside Google, Apple and Microsoft.

This isn’t extremely surprising, as Amazon was one of the original harbingers of the move to a cloud computing-focused world, and, as a result, Microsoft and Google are now chasing it to capture up as much share as possible. While Microsoft doesn’t break out Azure, the company says it’s one of its fastest-growing businesses, and Google’s “other revenue” segment that includes Google Cloud Platform also continues to be one of its fastest-growing divisions. Running a bunch of servers with access to on-demand compute, it turns out, is a pretty efficient business that can account for the very slim margins that Amazon has on the rest of its core business.

Jul
25
2018
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Google is rolling out a version of Google Voice for enterprise G Suite customers

Google today said it will be rolling out an enterprise version of its Google Voice service for G Suite users, potentially tapping a new demand source for Google that could help attract a whole host of new users.

Google voice has been a long-enjoyed service for everyday consumers, and offers a lot of benefits beyond just having a normal phone number. The enterprise version of Google Voice appears to give companies a way to offer those kinds of tools, including AI-powered parts of it like voicemail transcription, that employees may be already using and potentially skirting the guidelines of a company. Administrators can provision and port phone numbers, get detailed reports and set up call routing functionality. They can also deploy phone numbers to departments or employees, giving them a sort of universal number that isn’t tied to a device — and making it easier to get in touch with someone where necessary.

All of this is an effort to spread adoption of G Suite among larger enterprises as it offers a nice consistent business for Google. While its advertising business continues to grow, the company is investing in cloud products as another revenue stream. That division offers a lot of overhead while Google figures out where the actual total market capture of its advertising is and starts to work on other projects like its hardware, Google Home, and others.

While Google didn’t explicitly talk about it ahead of the conference today, there’s another potential opportunity for something like this: call centers. An enterprise version of Google Voice could give companies a way to provision out certain phone numbers to employees to handle customer service requests and get a lot of information about those calls. Google yesterday announced that it was rolling out a more robust set of call center tools that lean on its expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and getting control of the actual numbers that those calls take in is one part of that equation.

There’s also a spam filtering feature, which will probably be useful in handling waves of robo-calls for various purposes. It’s another product that Google is porting over to its enterprise customers with a bit better controls for CTOs and CIOs after years of understanding how normal consumers are using it and having an opportunity to rigorously test parts of the product. That time also gives Google an opportunity to thoroughly research the gaps in the product that enterprise customers might need in order to sell them on the product.

Google Voice enterprise is going to be available as an early adopter product.

Jul
24
2018
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Google’s Cloud Functions serverless platform is now generally available

Cloud Functions, Google’s serverless platform that competes directly with tools like AWS Lambda and Azure Functions from Microsoft, is now generally available, the company announced at its Cloud Next conference in San Francisco today.

Google first announced Cloud Functions back in 2016, so this has been a long beta. Overall, it also always seemed as if Google wasn’t quite putting the same resources behind its serverless play when compared to its major competitors. AWS, for example, is placing a major bet on serverless, as is Microsoft. And there are also plenty of startups in this space, too.

Like all Google products that come out of beta, Cloud Functions is now backed by an SLA and the company also today announced that the service now runs in more regions in the U.S. and Europe.

In addition to these hosted options, Google also today announced its new Cloud Services platform for enterprises that want to run hybrid clouds. While this doesn’t include a self-hosted Cloud Functions option, Google is betting on Kubernetes as the foundation for businesses that want to run serverless applications (and yes, I hate the term ‘serverless,’ too) in their own data centers.

Jul
24
2018
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Google announces a suite of updates to its contact center tools

As Google pushes further and further into enterprise services, it’s looking to leverage what it’s known for — a strong expertise in machine learning — to power some of the most common enterprise functions, including contact centers.

Now Google is applying a lot of those learnings in a bunch of new updates for its contact center tools. That’s basically leaning on a key focus Google has, which is using machine learning for natural language recognition and image recognition. Those tools have natural applications in enterprises, especially those looking to spin up the kinds of tools that larger companies have with complex customer service requests and niche tools. Today’s updates, announced at the Google Cloud Next conference, include a suite of AI tools for its Google Cloud Contact Center.

Today the company said it is releasing a couple of updates to its Dialogflow tools, including a new one called phone gateway, which helps companies automatically assign a working phone number to a virtual agent. The company says you can begin taking those calls in “less than a minute” without infrastructure, with the rest of the machine learning-powered functions like speech recognition and natural language understanding managed by Google.

Google is adding AI-powered tools to the contact center with agent assistant tools, which can quickly pull in with relevant information, like suggested articles. It also has an update to its analytics tools, which lets companies sift through historical audio data to pull in trends — like common calls and complaints. One application here would be to be able to spot some confusing update or a broken tool based on a high volume of complaints, and that helps companies get a handle on what’s happening without a ton of overhead.

Other new tools include sentiment analysis, correcting spelling mistakes, tools to understand unstructured documents within a company like knowledge base articles — streaming that into Dialogflow. Dialogflow is also getting native audio response.

Jul
24
2018
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Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene: ‘We’re playing the long game here’

Google is hosting its annual Cloud Next conference in San Francisco this week. With 25,000 developers in attendance, Cloud Next has become the cloud-centric counterpart to Google I/O. A few years ago, when the event only had about 2,000 attendees and Google still hosted it on a rickety pier, Diane Greene had just taken over as the CEO of Google’s cloud businesses and Google had fallen a bit behind in this space, just as Amazon and Microsoft were charging forward. Since then, Google has squarely focused on bringing business users to its cloud, both to its cloud computing services and to G Suite.

Ahead of this year’s Cloud Next, I sat down with Diane Greene to talk about the current state of Google Cloud and what to expect in the near future. As Greene noted, a lot of businesses first approached cloud computing as an infrastructure play — as a way to get some cost savings and access to elastic resources. “Now, it’s just becoming so much more. People realize it’s a more secure place to be, but really, I feel like in its essence it’s all about super-charging your information to make your company much more successful.” It’s the cloud, after all, where enterprises get access to globally distributed databases like Cloud Spanner and machine learning tools like AutoML (and their equivalent tools from other vendors).

When she moved to Google Cloud, Greene argued, Google was missing many of the table stakes that large enterprises needed. “We didn’t have all the audit logs. We didn’t have all the fine-grained security controls. We didn’t have the peer-to-peer networking. We didn’t have all the compliance and certification,” she told me.

People told her it would take Google ten years to be ready for enterprise customers. “That’s how long it took Microsoft. And I was like, no, it’s not 10 years.” The team took that as a challenge and now, two years later, Greene argues that Google Cloud is definitely ready for the enterprise (and she’s tired of people calling it a ‘distant third’ to AWS and Azure).

Today, when she thinks about her organization’s mission, she sees it as a variation on Google’s own motto. “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information,” she said. “Google Cloud’s mission then is to supercharge our customers’ information.”

When it comes to convincing large enterprises to bet on a given vendor, though, technology is one thing, but a few years ago, Google also didn’t have the sales teams in place to sell to these companies. That had to change, too, and Greene argues that the company’s new approach is working as well. And Google needed the right partners, too, which it has now found with companies like SAP, which has certified Google’s Cloud for its Hana in-memory database, and the likes of Cisco.

A few months ago, Greene told CNBC she thought that people were underestimating the scale of Google’s cloud businesses. And she thinks that’s still the case today, too. “They definitely are underestimating us. And to some extent, maybe that hurt us. But we love our pipeline and all our engagements that we have going on,” she told me.

Getting large businesses on board is one thing, but Greene also argued that today is probably the best time ever to be an enterprise developer. “I’ve never seen companies so aggressively pursuing the latest technology and willing to adopt this disruptive technology because they see the advantage that can give them and they see that they won’t be competitive if the people they compete with adopt it first,” Greene told me. “And because of this, I think innovation in the enterprise is happening right now, even faster than it is in consumer, which is somewhat of a reversal.”

As for the companies that are choosing Google Cloud today, Greene sees three distinct categories. There are those that were born in the cloud. Think Twitter, Spotify and Snap, which are all placing significant bets on Google Cloud. Not shy to compare Google’s technology prowess to its competitors, Greene noted that “they are with Google Cloud because they know that we’re the best cloud from a technology standpoint.”

But these days, a lot of large companies that preceded the internet but were still pretty data-centric are also moving to the cloud. Examples there, as far as Google Cloud customers go, include Schlumberger, HSBC and Disney. And it’s those companies that Google is really going after at this year’s Next with the launch of the Cloud Services Platform for businesses that want or need to take a hybrid approach to their cloud adoption plans. “They see that the future is in the cloud. They see that’s where the best technology is going to be. They see that through using the technology of the cloud they can redeploy their people to be more focused on their business needs,” Greene explained.

Throughout our conversation, Greene stressed that a lot of these companies are coming to Google because of its machine learning tools and its support for Kubernetes. “We’re bringing the cloud to them,” Greene said about these companies that want to go hybrid. “We are taking Kubernetes and Istio, the monitoring and securing of the container workflows and we’re making it work on-prem and within all the different clouds and supporting it across all that. And that way, you can stay in your data center and have this Kubernetes environment and then you can spill over into the cloud and there’s no lock-in.”

But there’s also a third category, the old brick-and-mortar businesses like Home Depot that often don’t have any existing large centralized systems but that now have to go through their own digital transformation, too, to remain competitive.

While it’s fun to talk about up-and-coming technologies like Kubernetes and containers, though, Greene noted the vast majority of users still come to Google Cloud because of its compute services and data management and analytics tools like BigQuery. Of course there’s lot of momentum behind the Google Kubernetes Engine, too, as well as the company’s machine learning tools, but enterprises are only now starting to think about these tools.

But Greene also stressed that a lot of customers are looking for security, not just in the cloud computing side of Google Cloud but also when it comes to choosing the G Suite set of productivity tools.

“Companies are getting hacked and Google, knock on wood, is not getting hacked,” she noted. “We are so much more secure than any company could ever contemplate.”

But while that’s definitely true, Google has also faced an interesting challenge here because of its consumer businesses. Greene noted that it sometimes takes people a while to understand that what Google does with consumer data is vastly different from what it does with data that sits in Google Cloud. Google, after all, does mine a good amount of its free users’ data to serve them more relevant ads.

“We’ve been keeping billions of people’s data private for almost 20 years and that’s a lot of hard work, but a cloud customer’s data is completely private to them and we do have to continually educate people about that.”

So while Google got a bit of a late start in getting enterprises to adopt its Cloud, Greene now believes that it’s on the right track. “And the other thing is, we’re playing the long game,” she noted. “This thing is early. Some people estimate that only 10 percent of workloads are in the big public clouds. And if it’s not in a public cloud, it is going to be in a public cloud.”

Jul
12
2018
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Google’s Apigee teams up with Informatica to extend its API ecosystem

Google acquired API management service Apigee back in 2016, but it’s been pretty quiet around the service in recent years. Today, however, Apigee announced a number of smaller updates that introduce a few new integrations with the Google Cloud platform, as well as a major new partnership with cloud data management and integration firm Informatica that essentially makes Informatica the preferred integration partner for Google Cloud.

Like most partnerships in this space, the deal with Informatica involves some co-selling and marketing agreements, but that really wouldn’t be all that interesting. What makes this deal stand out is that Google is actually baking some of Informatica’s tools right into the Google Cloud dashboard. This will allow Apigee users to use Informatica’s wide range of integrations with third-party enterprise applications while Informatica users will be able to publish their APIs through Apigee and have that service manage them for them.

Some of Google’s competitors, including Microsoft, have built their own integration services. As Google Cloud director of product management Ed Anuff told me, that wasn’t really on Google’s road map. “It takes a lot of know-how to build a rich catalog of connectors,” he said. “You could go and build an integration platform but if you don’t have that, you can’t address your customer’s needs.” Instead, Google went to look for a partner who already has this large catalog and plenty of credibility in the enterprise space.

Similarly, Informatica’s senior VP and GM for big data, cloud and data integration Ronen Schwartz noted that many of his company’s customers are now looking to move into the cloud and this move will make it easier for Informatica’s customers to bring their services into Apigee and open them up for external applications. “With this partnership, we are bringing the best of breed of both worlds to our customers,” he said. “And we are doing it now and we are making it available in an integrated, optimized way.”

Jul
03
2018
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Google Cloud’s COO departs after 7 months

At the end of last November, Google announced that Diane Bryant, who at the time was on a leave of absence from her position as the head of Intel’s data center group, would become Google Cloud’s new COO. This was a major coup for Google, but it wasn’t meant to last. After only seven months on the job, Bryant has left Google Cloud, as Business Insider first reported today.

“We can confirm that Diane Bryant is no longer with Google. We are grateful for the contributions she made while at Google and we wish her the best in her next pursuit,” a Google spokesperson told us when we reached out for comment.

The reasons for Bryant’s departure are currently unclear. It’s no secret that Intel is looking for a new CEO and Bryant would fit the bill. Intel also famously likes to recruit insiders as its leaders, though I would be surprised if the company’s board had already decided on a replacement. Bryant spent more than 25 years at Intel and her hire at Google looked like it would be a good match, especially given that Google’s position behind Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud wars means that it needs all the executive talent it can get.

When Bryant was hired, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene noted that “Diane’s strategic acumen, technical knowledge and client focus will prove invaluable as we accelerate the scale and reach of Google Cloud.” According to the most recent analyst reports, Google Cloud’s market share has ticked up a bit — and its revenue has increased at the same time — but Google remains a distant third in the competition and it doesn’t look like that’s changing anytime soon.

Jun
26
2018
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With Cloud Filestore, the Google Cloud gets a new storage option

Google is giving developers a new storage option in its cloud. Cloud Filestore, which will launch into beta next month, essentially offers a fully managed network attached storage (NAS) service in the cloud. This means that companies can now easily run applications that need a traditional file system interface on the Google Cloud Platform.

Traditionally, developers who wanted access to a standard file system over the kind of object storage and database options that Google already offered had to rig up a file server with a persistent disk. Filestore does away with all of this and simply allows Google Cloud users to spin up storage as needed.

The promise of Filestore is that it offers high throughput, low latency and high IOPS. The service will come in two tiers: premium and standard. The premium tier will cost $0.30 per GB and month and promises a throughput speed of 700 MB/s and 30,000 IOPS, no matter the storage capacity. Standard-tier Filestore storage will cost $0.20 per GB and month, but performance scales with capacity and doesn’t hit peak performance until you store more than 10TB of data in Filestore.

Google launched Filestore at an event in Los Angeles that mostly focused on the entertainment and media industry. There are plenty of enterprise applications in those verticals that need a shared file system, but the same can be said for many other industries that rely on similar enterprise applications.

The Filestore beta will launch next month. Because it’s still in beta, Google isn’t making any uptime promises right now and there is no ETA for when the service will come out of beta.

Jun
07
2018
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Google Cloud announces the Beta of single tenant instances

One of the characteristics of cloud computing is that when you launch a virtual machine, it gets distributed wherever it makes the most sense for the cloud provider. That usually means sharing servers with other customers in what is known as a multi-tenant environment. But what about times when you want a physical server dedicated just to you?

To help meet those kinds of demands, Google announced the Beta of Google Compute Engine Sole-tenant nodes, which have been designed for use cases such a regulatory or compliance where you require full control of the underlying physical machine, and sharing is not desirable.

“Normally, VM instances run on physical hosts that may be shared by many customers. With sole-tenant nodes, you have the host all to yourself,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing the new offering.

Diagram: Google

Google has tried to be as flexible as possible, letting the customer choose exactly what configuration they want in terms CPU and memory. Customers can also let Google choose the dedicated server that’s best at any particular moment, or you can manually select the server if you want that level of control. In both cases, you will be assigned a dedicated machine.

If you want to play with this, there is a free tier and then various pricing tiers for a variety of computing requirements. Regardless of your choice, you will be charged on a per-second basis with a one-minute minimum charge, according to Google.

Since this feature is still in Beta, it’s worth noting that it is not covered under any SLA. Microsoft and Amazon have similar offerings.

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