Jul
25
2018
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Google launches a standalone version of Drive for businesses that don’t want the full G Suite

If you are a business and want to use Google Drive, then your only option until now was to buy a full G Suite subscription, even if you don’t want or need access to the rest of the company’s productivity tools. Starting today, though, these businesses will be able to buy a subscription to a standalone version of Google Drive, too.

Google says that a standalone version of Drive has been at the top of the list of requests from prospective customers, so it’s now giving this option to them in the form of this new service (though to be honest, I’m not sure how much demand there really is for this product). Standalone Google Drive will come with all the usual online storage and sharing features as the G Suite version.

Pricing will be based on usage. Google will charge $8 per month per active user and $0.04 per GB stored in a company’s Drive.

Google’s idea here is surely to convert those standalone Drive users to full G Suite users over time, but it’s also an acknowledgement on Google’s part that not every business is ready to move away from legacy email tools and desktop-based productivity applications like Word and Excel just yet (and that its online productivity suite may not be right for all of those businesses, too).

Drive, by the way, is going to hit a billion users this week, Google keeps saying. I guess I appreciate that they don’t want to jump the gun and are actually waiting for that to happen instead of just announcing it now when it’s convenient. Once it does, though, it’ll become the company’s eighth product with more than a billion users.

Jul
25
2018
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Google takes on Yubico and builds its own hardware security keys

Google today announced it is launching its own hardware security keys for two-factor authentication. These so-called Titan Security Keys will go up against similar keys from companies like Yubico, which Google has long championed as the de facto standard for hardware-based two-factor authentication for Gmail and other services.

The FIDO-compatible Titan keys will come in two versions. One with Bluetooth support for mobile devices and one that plugs directly into your computer’s USB port. In terms of looks and functionality, those keys look quite a lot like the existing keys from Yubico, though our understanding is that these are Google’s own designs.

Unsurprisingly, the folks over at Yubico got wind of today’s announcement ahead of time and have already posted a reaction to today’s news (and the company is exhibiting at Google Cloud Next, too, which may be a bit awkward after today’s announcement).

“Yubico strongly believes there are security and privacy benefits for our customers, by manufacturing and programming our products in USA and Sweden,” Yubico founder and CEO Stina Ehrensvard writes, and goes on to throw a bit of shade on Google’s decision to support Bluetooth. “Google’s offering includes a Bluetooth (BLE) capable key. While Yubico previously initiated development of a BLE security key, and contributed to the BLE U2F standards work, we decided not to launch the product as it does not meet our standards for security, usability and durability. BLE does not provide the security assurance levels of NFC and USB, and requires batteries and pairing that offer a poor user experience.”

It’s unclear who is manufacturing the Titan keys for Google (the company spokesperson didn’t know when asked during the press conference), but the company says that it developed its own firmware for the keys. And while Google is obviously using the same Titan brand it uses for the custom chips that protect the servers that make up its cloud, it’s also unclear if there is any relation between those.

No word on pricing yet, but the keys are now available to Google Cloud customers and will be available for purchase for anyone in the Google Store, soon. Comparable keys tend to sell for around $20 to $25.

Jul
25
2018
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Google brings its search technology to the enterprise

One of Google’s first hardware products was its search appliance, a custom-built server that allowed businesses to bring Google’s search tools to the data behind their firewalls. That appliance is no more, but Google today announced the spiritual successor to it with an update to Cloud Search. Until today, Cloud Search only indexed G Suite data. Now, it can pull in data from a variety of third-party services that can run on-premise or in the cloud, making the tool far more useful for large businesses that want to make all of their data searchable by their employees.

“We are essentially taking all of Google expertise in search and are applying it to your enterprise content,” Google said.

One of the launch customers for this new service is Whirlpool, which built its own search portal and indexed more than 12 million documents from more than a dozen services using this new service.

“This is about giving employees access to all the information from across the enterprise, even if it’s traditionally siloed data, whether that’s in a database or a legacy productivity tool and make all of that available in a single index,” Google explained.

To enable this functionality, Google is making a number of software adapters available that will bridge the gap between these third-party services and Cloud Search. Over time, Google wants to add support for more services and bring this cloud-based technology on par with what its search appliance was once capable of.

The service is now rolling out to a select number of users. Over time, it’ll become available to both G Suite users and as a standalone version.

Jul
25
2018
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Google Cloud introduces shielded virtual machines for additional security

While we might like to think all of our applications are equal in our eyes, in reality some are more important than others and require an additional level of security. To meet those requirements, Google introduced shielded virtual machines at Google Next today.

As Google describes it, “Shielded VMs leverage advanced platform security capabilities to help ensure your VMs have not been tampered with. With Shielded VMs, you can monitor and react to any changes in the VM baseline as well as its current runtime state.”

These specialized VMs run on GCP and come with a set of partner security controls to defend against things like rootkits and bootkits, according to Google. There are a whole bunch of things that happen even before an application launches inside a VM, and each step in that process is vulnerable to attack.

That’s because as the machine starts up, before you even get to your security application, it launches the firmware, the boot sequence, the kernel, then the operating system — and then and only then, does your security application launch.

That time between startup and the security application launching could leave you vulnerable to certain exploits that take advantage of those openings. The shielded VMs strip out as much of that process as possible to reduce the risk.

“What we’re doing here is we are stripping out any of the binary that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. We’re ensuring that every binary that is there is signed, that it’s signed by the right party, and that they load in the proper sequence,” a Google spokesperson explained. All of these steps should reduce overall risk.

Shielded VMs are available in Beta now

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 goes all-in on hybrid with its new Cloud Services Platform

The cloud isn’t right for every business, be that because of latency constraints at the edge, regulatory requirements or because it’s simply cheaper to own and operate their own data centers for their specific workloads. Given this, it’s maybe no surprise that the vast majority of enterprises today use both public and private clouds in parallel. That’s something Microsoft has long been betting on as part of its strategy for its Azure cloud, and Google, too, is now taking a number of steps in this direction.

With the open-source Kubernetes project, Google launched one of the fundamental building blocks that make running and managing applications in hybrid environments easier for large enterprises. What Google hadn’t done until today, though, is launch a comprehensive solution that includes all of the necessary parts for this kind of deployment. With its new Cloud Services Platform, though, the company is now offering businesses an integrated set of cloud services that can be deployed on both the Google Cloud Platform and in on-premise environments.

As Google Cloud engineering director Chen Goldberg noted in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement, many businesses also simply want to be able to manage their own workloads on-premise but still be able to access new machine learning tools in the cloud, for example. “Today, to achieve this, use cases involve a compromise between cost, consistency, control and flexibility,” she said. “And this all negatively impacts the desired result.”

Goldberg stressed that the idea behind the Cloud Services Platform is to meet businesses where they are and then allow them to modernize their stack at their own pace. But she also noted that businesses want more than just the ability to move workloads between environments. “Portability isn’t enough,” she said. “Users want consistent experiences so that they can train their team once and run anywhere — and have a single playbook for all environments.”

The two services at the core of this new offering are the Kubernetes container orchestration tool and Istio, a relatively new but quickly growing tool for connecting, managing and securing microservices. Istio is about to hit its 1.0 release.

We’re not simply talking about a collection of open-source tools here. The core of the Cloud Services Platform, Goldberg noted, is “custom configured and battle-tested for enterprises by Google.” In addition, it is deeply integrated with other services in the Google Cloud, including the company’s machine learning tools.

GKE On-Prem

Among these new custom-configured tools are a number of new offerings, which are all part of the larger platform. Maybe the most interesting of these is GKE On-Prem. GKE, the Google Kubernetes Engine, is the core Google Cloud service for managing containers in the cloud. And now Google is essentially bringing this service to the enterprise data center, too.

The service includes access to all of the usual features of GKE in the cloud, including the ability to register and manage clusters and monitor them with Stackdriver, as well as identity and access management. It also includes a direct line to the GCP Marketplace, which recently launched support for Kubernetes-based applications.

Using the GCP Console, enterprises can manage both their on-premise and GKE clusters without having to switch between different environments. GKE on-prem connects seamlessly to a Google Cloud Platform environment and looks and behaves exactly like the cloud version.

Enterprise users also can get access to professional services and enterprise-grade support for help with managing the service.

“Google Cloud is the first and only major cloud vendor to deliver managed Kubernetes on-prem,” Goldberg argued.

GKE Policy Management

Related to this, Google also today announced GKE Policy Management, which is meant to provide Kubernetes administrators with a single tool for managing all of their security policies across clusters. It’s agnostic as to where the Kubernetes cluster is running, but you can use it to port your existing Google Cloud identity-based policies to these clusters. This new feature will soon launch in alpha.

Managed Istio

The other major new service Google is launching is Managed Istio (together with Apigee API Management for Istio) to help businesses manage and secure their microservices. The open source Istio service mesh gives admins and operators the tools to manage these services and, with this new managed offering, Google is taking the core of Istio and making it available as a managed service for GKE users.

With this, users get access to Istio’s service discovery mechanisms and its traffic management tools for load balancing and routing traffic to containers and VMs, as well as its tools for getting telemetry back from the workloads that run on these clusters.

In addition to these three main new services, Google is also launching a couple of auxiliary tools around GKE and the serverless computing paradigm today. The first of these is the GKE serverless add-on, which makes it easy to run serverless workloads on GKE with a single-step deploy process. This, Google says, will allow developers to go from source code to container “instantaneously.” This tool is currently available as a preview and Google is making parts of this technology available under the umbrella of its new native open source components. These are the same components that make the serverless add-on possible.

And to wrap it all up, Google also today mentioned a new fully managed continuous integration and delivery service, Google Cloud Build, though the details around this service remain under wraps.

So there you have it. By themselves, all of those announcements may seem a bit esoteric. As a whole, though, they show how Google’s bet on Kubernetes is starting to pay off. As businesses opt for containers to deploy and run their new workloads (and maybe even bring older applications into the cloud), GKE has put Google Cloud on the map to run them in a hosted environment. Now, it makes sense for Google to extend this to its users’ data centers, too. With managed Kubernetes from large and small companies like SUSE, Platform 9, containership is starting to become a big business. It’s no surprise the company that started it all wants to get a piece of this pie, too.

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
23
2018
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Google Cloud’s partnership network begins paying dividends

When Google Cloud brought Diane Greene on board at the end of 2015, one of her goals was to expand the division’s partnership network, an approach she found worked quite well when she was running VMware in the early 2000s. It appears to be working at Google too.

This week at Google Next, the company’s annual cloud conference, they announced the partner program had grown significantly since the beginning of last year. “Since the start of 2017, we’ve increased the number of technology partners by 10x and we’ve more than doubled our team supporting these partners,” Google’s Nan Boden and Nina Harding wrote in a blog post on partner program progress.

Google is partnering with a variety of large enterprise vendors from Cisco to SAP to NetApp to Diane Greene’s old company, VMware. In addition, they are also working with the traditional systems integrators like Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG and others.

All of this is enabling Google Cloud customers to work through familiar channels while helping Google to build out its cloud business and gain more traction in the enterprise. Partners in general help customers work with a platform like Google Cloud more easily by providing integrations that might not otherwise exist.

One thing Google has going for it, especially on the G Suite side of the house, which includes Gmail, Docs, Drive and Calendar, is sheer numbers with millions of users. It benefits the partner to work with a company like Google Cloud to help all their common users, and perhaps attract new ones, and it benefits Google because it makes their cloud services all the more valuable to the customer.

The company sees Software as a Service in particular as a key area for growth and they announced out a new partnership program this week with access to more Google personnel and marketing funding to help encourage more interaction with SaaS partners on the platform. They already have multiple agreements in place with popular SaaS vendors including Salesforce, Box, MongoDB, Zenoss, Elastic, RedisLabs, JFrog, BetterCloud, DialPad, and many others

Cloud computing has always been different from traditional enterprise computing because cooperation has always been the watch word. Even companies like Salesforce and DialPad and Cisco and SAP that could be competing with Google on some levels see the benefits of working with them (and other cloud providers). It’s what their customers want, and cooperation when it makes sense, benefits all parties involved.

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