Watch Out, Amazon: Google Eyes the Cloud as its Next Frontier

The cloud, to hear Google tell it, is all about attacking the corporate bureaucracy of Fortune 500 companies. Oh, and also improving internet security, going carbon neutral, creating magical creatures, catching Pokemon, and even automatically generating news stories.

In fact, at its Cloud Next conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Google made a case for why pretty much any company connected to the internet should use its cloud computing offerings, which estimates suggest are significantly smaller than competitive services from Amazon and Microsoft, and dwarfed by the revenue of Google's own advertising business.

Perhaps Google's most convincing sales pitch is that its cloud offerings have already attracted many companies: marquee customers who have started using Google's cloud offerings over the past year include Verizon, HSBC, and eBay, which showed off a new cloud-powered Google Home app that can tell you how much money you can expect when you sell an old electronic gadget.

But Google's ability to move a bunch of data from a company's existing servers into the cloud isn't revolutionary: Microsoft and Amazon have been doing it for years, and Google really only started in earnest last September, when it created the new Google Cloud division. So its sales pitch also focuses on associating the company's traditional areas of expertise—especially the popularity of its consumer products among millennials—with the cloud.

"It's Google's time to bring what we have to the enterprise," Diane Greene, senior vice president and head of Google Cloud, said at Cloud Next. "The young people so rejoice when G Suite gets rolled out," she said, referring to versions of Gmail and Google Docs for the enterprise, so why not move the rest of the IT department to Google's servers, too?

If companies decide to do that, they'll be able to access a slew of new tools that Greene and her colleagues announced today. Businesses that already run SAP applications will now be able to access them directly from the cloud platform. There's also a new engineering division that can provide round-the-clock support for challenges. (Google began to implement dedicated support last summer, when its teams helped Pokemon Go creator Niantic achieve "painless scaling," according to Greene).

Finally, there are a few new nifty mission-specific tools that some Cloud customers will find useful, including the ability to use Google's artificial intelligence to identify animals and objects in videos hosted on Google Cloud servers. That tool, called the Video Intelligence API, is essentially the same as the vision-recognition models that let you find cat videos on YouTube.

So why is Google building up its cloud business to compete with Amazon Web Services (which, as we know from its high-profile failure last week, hosts the images of a huge number of popular websites)? Google CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured above) pointed to the cloud as a natural fit given the company's focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

"Machine learning finds previously hidden patterns in data," Pichai said. Greene, meanwhile, pointed to the untapped potential of data that's trapped in old fashioned databases and servers. "Ninety-five percent of the world's data is not in the cloud," she told the Wall Street Journal.

But Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google's parent company Alphabet, offered a simpler explanation. He suggested at Cloud Next that Google is embarking on a journey to the cloud simply because it can. "We have the means, commitment, and money" to pull off a new cloud platform for everyone who needs it, he said.

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