Apr
11
2019
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Google Cloud makes some strong moves to differentiate itself from AWS and Microsoft

Google Cloud held its annual customer conference, Google Cloud Next, this week in San Francisco. It had a couple of purposes. For starters, it could introduce customers to new CEO Thomas Kurian for the first time since his hiring at the end of last year. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it could demonstrate that it can offer a value proposition that is distinct from AWS and Microsoft.

Kurian’s predecessor, Diane Greene, was fond of saying that it was still early days for the cloud market, and she’s still right, but while the pie has continued to grow substantially, Google’s share of the market has stayed stubbornly in single digits. It needed to use this week’s conference as at least a springboard to showcase its strengths.

Its lack of commercial cloud market clout has always been a bit of a puzzler. This is Google after all. It runs Google Search and YouTube and Google Maps and Google Docs. These are massive services that rarely go down. You would think being able to run these massive services would translate into massive commercial success, but so far it hasn’t.

Missing ingredients

Even though Greene brought her own considerable enterprise cred to GCP, having been a co-founder at VMware, the company that really made the cloud possible by popularizing the virtual machine, she wasn’t able to significantly change the company’s commercial cloud fortunes.

In a conversation with TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois, Kurian talked about missing ingredients, like having people to talk to (or maybe a throat to choke). “A number of customers told us ‘we just need more people from you to help us.’ So that’s what we’ll do,” Kurian told Lardinois.

But, of course, it’s never one thing when it comes to a market as complex as cloud infrastructure. Sure, you can add more bodies in customer support or sales, or more aggressively pursue high-value enterprise customers, or whatever Kurian has identified as holes in GCP’s approach up until now, but it still requires a compelling story, and Google took a big step toward having the ingredients for a new story this week.

Changing position

Google is trying to position itself in the same way as any cloud vendor going after AWS. They are selling themselves as the hybrid cloud company that can help with your digital transformation. It’s a common strategy, but Google did more than throw out the usual talking points this week. It walked the walk too.

For starters, it introduced Anthos, a single tool to manage your workloads wherever they live, even in a rival cloud. This is a big deal, and if it works as described, it does give that new beefed-up sales team at Google Cloud a stronger story to tell around integration. As my colleague, Frederic Lardinois described it:

So with Anthos, Google will offer a single managed service that will let you manage and deploy workloads across clouds, all without having to worry about the different environments and APIs. That’s a big deal and one that clearly delineates Google’s approach from its competitors’. This is Google, after all, managing your applications for you on AWS and Azure.

AWS hasn’t made made many friends in the open-source community of late, and Google reiterated that it was going to be the platform that is friendly to open-source projects. To that end, it announced a number of major partnerships.

Finally, the company took a serious look at verticals, trying to put together packages of Google Cloud services designed specifically for a given vertical. As an example, it put together a package for retailers that included special services to help keep you up and running during peak demand; tools to suggest if you like this, you might be interested in these items; contact center AI; and other tools specifically geared toward the retail market. You can expect the company will be doing more of this to make the platform more attractive to a given market space.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images

All of this and more, way too much to summarize in one article, was exactly what Google Cloud needed to do this week. Now comes the hard part. They have come up with some good ideas and they have to go out and sell it.

Nobody has ever denied that Google lacked good technology. That has always been an inherently obvious strength, but it has struggled to translate that into substantial market share. That is Kurian’s challenge. As Greene used to say, in baseball terms, it’s still early innings. And it really still is, but the game is starting to move along, and Kurian needs to get the team moving in the right direction if it expects to be competitive.

Apr
10
2019
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With consumer G+ dead, Currents hopes to make waves in the enterprise

Google today announced that Google+ in G Suite, the last remaining remnants of what was once Google’s attempt to rival Facebook and Twitter, will now be called Currents. We don’t need to belabor the fact that Google+ was a flop and that its death was probably long overdue. We’ve done that. Now it’s time to look ahead and talk about what’s next for Currents. To do that, I sat down with David Thacker, the VP of Product Management for G Suite, at Google’s Cloud Next conference.

As Thacker told me, Google has shifted its resources to have the former Google+ team focus on Currents instead. But before we get to what that teams plans to do, let’s talk about the name first. Currents, after all, was also the name of the predecessor of Google Play Newsstand, the app that was the predecessor of the Google News app.

The official line is that “Currents” is meant to evoke the flow of information. Thacker also noted that the team did a lot of research around the name and that it had “very low recognition.” I guess that’s fair. It also allows Google to reuse an old trademark without having to jump through too many hoops. Since the Google+ name obviously now carries some baggage, changing the name makes sense anyway. “The enterprise version is distinct and separate now and it was causing confusion among our customers,” said Thacker.

“This allows us to do new things and move much faster in the enterprise,” Thacker explained. “To run a consumer social network at the scale of consumer G+ requires a lot of resources and efforts, as you can imagine. And that’s partially the reason we decided to sunset that product, as we just didn’t feel it was worth that investment given the user base on that. But it basically frees up that team to focus on the enterprise vision.”

Now, however, with consumer G+ gone, the company is going to invest in Currents. “We’re moving consumer resources into the enterprise,” he said.

The plan here clearly isn’t to just let Currents linger but to improve it for business users. And while Google has never publicly shared user numbers, Thacker argues that those businesses that do use it tend to use it expensively. The hope, though, surely, is to increase that number — whatever it may be — significantly over time. “If you look at our top G Suite customers, most of them use the product actively as a way to connect really broad organizations,” Thacker said.

Thacker also noted that this move now removes a lot of constraints since the team doesn’t have to think about consumer features anymore. “When Google+ was first designed, it was never designed for that [enterprise] use case, but organizations had the same need to break down silos and help spread ideas and knowledge in their company,” Thacker explained. “So while Google+ didn’t succeed as a consumer product, it will certainly live on in the enterprise.”

What will that future look like? As Thacker told me, the team started with revamping the posting workflow, which was heavily focused on image sharing, for example, which isn’t exactly all that important in a business context.

But there are other features the team is planning to launch, too, including better analytics. “Analytics is a really important part of it,” said Thacker. “When people are posting on Currents, whether it’s executives trying to engage their employee base, they want to see how that’s resonating. And so we built in some pretty rich analytics.”

The team also built a new set of administrative controls that help manage how organizations can control and manage their usage of Currents.

Going forward then, we may actually see a bit of innovation in Currents — something that was sorely lacking from Google+ while it was lingering in limbo. Google Cloud’s CEO Thomas Kurian told me that he wants to make collaboration one of his focus areas. Currents is an obvious fit there, and there are plenty of ways to integrate it with the rest of G Suite still.

Apr
10
2019
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Google Cloud takes aim at verticals starting with new set of tools for retailers

Google might not be Adobe or Salesforce, but it has a particular set of skills, which fit nicely with retailer requirements and can over time help improve the customer experience, even if that means just simply making sure the website or app is running, even on peak demand. Today, at Google Cloud Next, the company showed off a package of solutions as an example its vertical strategy.

Just this morning, the company announced a new phase of its partnership with Salesforce, where it’s using its contact center AI tools and chatbot technology in combination with Salesforce data to produce a product that plays to each company’s strengths and helps improve the customer service experience.

But Google didn’t stop with a high profile partnership. It has a few tricks of its own for retailers, starting with the classic retailer Black Friday kind of scenario. The easiest way to explain the value of cloud scaling is to look at a retail event like Black Friday when you know servers are going to be bombarded with traffic.

The cloud has always been good at scaling up for those kind of events, but it’s not perfect, as Amazon learned last year when it slowed down on Prime Day. Google wants to help companies avoid those kinds of disasters because a slow or down website translates into lots of lost revenue.

The company offers eCommerce Hosting, designed specifically for online retailers, and it is offering a special premium program, so retailers get “white glove treatment with technical architecture reviews and peak season operations support…” according to the company. In other words, it wants to help these companies avoid disastrous, money-losing results when a site goes down due to demand.

In addition, Google is offering real-time inventory tools, so customers and clerks can know exactly what stock is on hand, and it’s applying its AI expertise to this, as well with tools like Google Contact Center AI solution to help deliver better customer service experiences or Cloud Vision technology to help customers point their cameras at a product and see similar or related products. They also offer Recommendations AI, a tool, that says, if you bought these things, you might like this too, among other tools.

The company counts retail customers like Shopify and Ikea. In addition, the company is working with SI partners like Accenture, CapGemini and Deloitte and software partners like Salesforce, SAP and Tableau.

All of this is about creating a set of services created specifically for a given vertical to help that industry take advantage of the cloud. It’s one more way for Google Cloud to bring solutions to market and help increase its marketshare.

Apr
10
2019
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Google Cloud announces Traffic Director, a networking management tool for service mesh

With each new set of technologies comes a new set of terms. In the containerized world, applications are broken down into discrete pieces or micro services. As these services proliferate, it creates a service mesh, a network of services and the interactions that take place as they interact. For each new technology like this, it requires a management layer, especially for the network administrators to understand and control the new concept, in this case, the service mesh.

Today at Google Cloud Next, the company announced the Beta of Traffic Director for open service mesh, specifically to help network managers understand what’s happening in their service mesh.

“To accelerate adoption and reduce the toil of managing service mesh, we’re excited to introduce Traffic Director, our new GCP-managed, enterprise-ready configuration and traffic control plane for service mesh that enables global resiliency, intelligent load balancing, and advanced traffic control capabilities like canary deployments,” Brad Calder, VP of engineering for technical infrastructure at Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post introducing the tool.

Traffic Director provides a way for operations to deploy a service mesh on their networks and have more control over how it works and interacts with the rest of the system. The tool works with Virtual Machines, Compute Engine on GCP, or in a containerized approach, GKE on GCP.

The product is just launching into Beta today, but the road map includes additional security features and support for hybrid environments, and eventually integration with Anthos, the hybrid management tool the company introduced yesterday at Google Cloud Next.

Apr
10
2019
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Google launches new security tools for G Suite users

Google today launched a number of security updates to G Suite, its online productivity and collaboration platform. The focus of these updates is on protecting a company’s data inside G Suite, both through controlling who can access it and through providing new tools for prevening phishing and malware attacks.

To do this, Google is announcing the beta launch of its advanced phishing and malware protection, for example. This is meant to help admins protect users from malicious attachment and inbound email spoofing, among other things.

The most interesting feature here, though, is the new security sandbox, another beta feature for G Suite enterprise users. The sandbox allows admins to add an extra layer of protection on top of the standard attachment scans for known viruses and malware. Those existing tools can’t fully protect you against zero-day ransomware or sophisticated malware, though. So instead of just letting you open the attachment, this tool executes the attachment in a sandbox environment to check if there are any security issues.

With today’s launch, Google is announcing the beta launch of its new security and alert center for admins. These tools are meant to create a single services that features best practice recommendations, but also a unified notifications center and tools to triage and take actions against threats, all with focus on collaboration among admins. Also new is a security investigation tool that mostly focuses on allowing admins to create automated workflows for sending notifications or assigning ownership to security investigations.

Apr
10
2019
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Google launches its coldest storage service yet

At its Cloud Next conference, Google today launched a new archival cold storage service. This new service, which doesn’t seem to have a fancy name, will complement the company’s existing Nearline and Coldline services for storing vast amounts of infrequently used data at an affordable low cost.

The new archive class takes this one step further, though. It’s cheap, with prices starting at $0.0012 per gigabyte and month. That’s $1.23 per terabyte and month.

The new service will become available later this year.

What makes Google cold storage different from the likes of AWS S3 Glacier, for example, is that the data is immediately available, without millisecond latency. Glacier and similar service typically make you wait a significant amount of time before the data can be used. Indeed, in a thinly veiled swipe at AWS, Google directors of product management Dominic Preuss and Dave Nettleton note that “unlike tape and other glacially slow equivalents, we have taken an approach that eliminates the need for a separate retrieval process and provides immediate, low-latency access to your content.”

To put that into context, a gigabyte stored in AWS Glacier will set you back $0.004 per month. AWS offers another option, though: AWS Glacier Deep Archive. This service recently went live, at the cost of $0.00099 per gigabyte and month, though with significantly longer retrieval times.

Google’s new object storage service uses the same APIs as Google’s other storage classes and Google promises that the data is always redundantly stored across availability zones, with eleven 9’s of annual durability.

In a press conference ahead of today’s official announcement, Preuss noted that this service mostly a replacement for on-premise tape backups, but now that many enterprises try to keep as much data as they can to then later train their machine learning models, for example, the amounts of fresh data that needs to be stored for the long term continues to increase rapidly, too.

With low latency and the promise of high availability, there obviously has to be a drawback here, otherwise Google wouldn’t (and couldn’t) offer this service at this price. “Just like when you’re going from our standard [storage] class to Nearline or Coldline, there’s a committed amount of time that you have to remain in that class,” Preuss explained. “So basically, to get a lower price you are committing to keep the data in the Google Cloud Storage bucket for a period of time.”

Correction: a previous version of the post said that AWS Glacier Deep Archive wasn’t available yet when it actually went live two weeks ago. We changed the post to reflect this. 

Apr
10
2019
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Salesforce and Google want to build a smarter customer service experience

Anyone who has dealt with bad customer service has felt frustration with the lack of basic understanding of who you are as a customer and what you need. Google and Salesforce feel your pain, and today the two companies expanded their partnership to try and create a smarter customer service experience.

The goal is to combine Salesforce’s customer knowledge with Google’s customer service-related AI products and build on the strengths of the combined solution to produce a better customer service experience, whether that’s with an agent or a chatbot..

Bill Patterson, executive vice president for Salesforce Service Cloud, gets that bad customer service is a source of vexation for many consumers, but his goal is to change that. Patterson points out that Google and Salesforce have been working together since 2017, but mostly on sales- and marketing-related projects. Today’s announcement marks the first time they are working on a customer service solution together.

For starters, the partnership is looking at the human customer service agent experience.”The combination of Google Contact Center AI, which highlights the language and the stream of intelligence that comes through that interaction, combined with the customer data and the business process information that that Salesforce has, really makes that an incredibly enriching experience for agents,” Patterson explained.

The Google software will understand voice and intent, and have access to a set of external information like weather or news events that might be having an impact on the customers, while Salesforce looks at the hard data it stores about the customer such as who they are, their buying history and previous interactions.

The companies believe that by bringing these two types of data together, they can surface relevant information in real time to help the agent give the best answer. It may be the best article or it could be just suggesting that a shipment might be late because of bad weather in the area.

Customer service agent screen showing information surfaced by intelligent layers in Google and Salesforce

The second part of the announcement involves improving the chatbot experience. We’ve all dealt with rigid chatbots, who can’t understand your request. Sure, it can sometimes channel your call to the right person, but if you have any question outside the most basic ones, it tends to get stuck, while you scream “Operator! I said OPERATOR!” (Or at least I do.)

Google and Salesforce are hoping to change that by bringing together Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence layer and Google Natural Language Understanding (NLU) in its Google Dialogflow product to better understand the request, monitor the sentiment and direct you to a human operator before you get frustrated.

Patterson’s department, which is on a $3.8 billion run rate, is poised to become the largest revenue producer in the Salesforce family by the end of the year. The company itself is on a run rate over $14 billion.

“So many organizations just struggle with primitives of great customer service and experience. We have a lot of passion for making everyday interaction better with agents,” he said. Maybe this partnership will bring some much needed improvement.

Apr
10
2019
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Google makes the power of BigQuery available in Sheets

Google today announced a new service that makes the power of BigQuery, its analytics data warehouse, available in Sheets, its web-based spreadsheet tool. These so-called “connected sheets” face none of the usual limitations of Google’s regular spreadsheets, meaning there are no row limits, for example. Instead, users can take a massive data set from BigQuery, with potentially billions of rows, and turn it into a pivot table.

The idea here, is to enable virtually anybody to make use of all the data that is stored in BigQuery. That’s because from the user’s perspective, this new kind of table is simply a spreadsheet, with all of the usual functionality you’d expect from a spreadsheet. With this, Sheets becomes a front end for BigQuery — and virtually any business user knows how to use a spreadsheet.

This also means you can use all of the usual visualization tools in Sheets and share your data with others in your organization.

“Connected sheets are helping us democratize data,” says Nikunj Shanti, chief product officer at AirAsia. “Analysts and business users are able to create pivots or charts, leveraging their existing skills on massive data sets, without needing SQL. This direct access to the underlying data in BigQuery provides access to the most granular data available for analysis. It’s a game changer for AirAsia.”

The beta of connected sheets should go live within the next few months.

In this context, it’s worth mentioning that Google also today announced the beta launch of BigQuery BI Engine, a new service for business users that connects BigQuery with Google Data Studio for building interactive dashboards and reports. This service, too, is available in Google Data Studio today and will also become available through third-party services like Tableau and Looker in the next few months.

“With BigQuery BI Engine behind the scenes, we’re able to gain deep insights very quickly in Data Studio,” says Rolf Seegelken, senior data analyst at Zalando. “The performance of even our most computationally intensive dashboards has sped up to the point where response times are now less than a second. Nothing beats ‘instant’ in today’s age, to keep our teams engaged in the data!”

Apr
10
2019
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What’s left of Google+ is now called Currents

Google+ for consumers is officially dead, but it’s still alive for enterprise users. Only a few days after completely shutting down the public version of Google+, Google today announced that it is giving the enterprise version a new name. It’s now called Currents.

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Google once offered another service called Currents, a social magazine app with Google+ integrations that was later replaced by Google Play Newsstand. That history clearly bodes well for the new Currents.

Like before, Google+/Currents is meant to give employees a place to share knowledge and provide them with a place for internal discussions.

Google is probably doing the right thing by completely eliminating the Google+ moniker. The fact that there was still a version of Google+ for the enterprise created a bit of confusion when it announced the shutdown of the consumer version. Maybe this move will also allow the remaining developers on the project to leave the failed legacy of Google+ behind and try something new. As the only focus is now on business users, that should be fairly easy, even though the code base surely still reflects a time when Google’s leadership thought that social search was the future.

Apr
10
2019
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Hangouts Chat is coming to Gmail for G Suite users

The least said about Google’s messaging strategy, the better. But for better or worse, Hangouts Chat and Meet for G Suite, Google’s work-focused text and video chat tools, are here to stay, given that the one area where Google’s messaging strategy is clear is in the enterprise. With the end of the old Hangouts experience drawing nearer, the company today announced it is now essentially replacing classic Hangouts with its business-focused Hangouts Chat tool in Gmail.

That’s a pretty sensible move, and doesn’t come as a major surprise, but this marks the first time that Google has clearly laid out its strategy for how it will replace Hangouts in Gmail for its business users.

The experience, as far as we can tell, will be very similar to the current Hangouts. Unsurprisingly, Hangouts Meet in Gmail will not just feature people, but also rooms and bots, two of the key differentiators between the old and new Hangouts. One difference worth mentioning, though, is that rooms will open into a full-screen experience with threads, which will make for a slightly different experience compared to what you’re probably used to from the classic Hangouts.

For now, this new feature isn’t quite ready to launch yet. Google is asking businesses that want to participate in the beta to register their interest here.

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