Google’s Scalability Day

In May 1997, Microsoft held a big press event dubbed Scalability Day. Microsoft was a relatively new arrival to enterprise computing and was beset by criticism it wasn’t “enterprise ready”. The goal of the event was to once and for all refute those criticisms and get the industry to accept that Microsoft would be a major factor in the enterprise (because, of course, that was what the company wanted…).

Microsoft at the time was an extremely engineering-centric company, so it processed all the criticisms through a technical lens. Soft, cultural, customer, and go-to-market issues were discarded as they did not readily compute and the broader case against Microsoft’s enterprise maturity was distilled down to the concrete and measurable issue of scalability. The company assumed some benchmarks plus updated product roadmaps would clear up any remaining “misunderstandings” about Microsoft and the enterprise.

The event was a disaster and served to underscore that all the criticism was true. It was a technical response to non-technical issues and showed that the company didn’t even know what it didn’t know about serving enterprise customers. Internally, the event served as a painful wake-up call that helped the company realize that going after the enterprise was going to be a long slog and would require lots of hard and not very exciting work. It took over a decade of very concentrated focus and investment for Microsoft to really become a credible provider to the enterprise. Enterprise credibility is not a feature set that gets delivered in a single release, but is acquired over a long time through the experience and trust built up working with customers.

I couldn’t help but think about Scalability Day while watching Google’s #GCPNext event today. After telling us for months that this event would demonstrate a step function in their ability to compete for the enterprise, it was a technology fest oblivious to the elephant in the room: does Google have any interest in or actual focus on addressing all the boring and non-product issues required to level up and serve enterprise customers?

As is their norm, Google showed amazing technology and highlighted their unrivaled infrastructure. And they have as much as admitted they’ve been living in an Ivory Tower since Google Compute Platform was announced in 2012 and “need to talk to customers more often”. Recognizing you have a problem is always the first step, but beyond throwing the word “enterprise” and related platitudes around, they did little to convince us they are committed to traveling the long and painful road to really serving enterprise customers.

Some may wonder why Google needs to focus on the enterprise at all. Isn’t it just legacy? Couldn’t they just focus on startups and position themselves for the future and not worry about the messy past or present? Unfortunately not, as it is the shift of enterprise IT into the cloud that makes cloud so interesting. As the enterprise moves, you have a jackpot on the order of a trillion dollars of TAM. To play to win big in cloud, you have to serve the enterprise (and serve it well).

Google has many intangibles to overcome if it wants to be a serious enterprise player. They still seem to believe every potential customer wants to be like Google. The vast majority of companies aren’t Google, can’t ever be Google and don’t even want to be Google. SnapChat and Spotify are not exactly emblematic enterprises. Culturally, Google starts with even less experience with enterprise customers than Microsoft had at the time of Scalability Day and arguably an even more engineering-driven culture with even less appreciation for the cognitive foibles of the median human. Unlike a Microsoft that had building an enterprise business as its top priority, Google the advertising company and Alphabet the technology conglomerate have many other (and frankly way cooler) priorities. It isn’t clear that a mundane investment in say 5,000 enterprise sales and support people will get the nod over the moonshot de jour (Drones! Robots! Life Extension! Board Game Championships! Squirrel! Space Elevators!).

It is great that Google has woken up, now recognizes the magnitude of the commercial cloud opportunity and wants to chase it. But we’re still waiting to see signs Google understands what that entails and will actually make the vast commitment and investment in activities beyond mere technology required for success.

4 thoughts on “Google’s Scalability Day”

  1. Google doesn’t have a good reputation amongst people building solutions either. An example is looking at posts on Hacker News such as one today about the Google speech api. Comments immediately remind people not to depend on Google, and give several examples why.

    The examples fall into discontinued products (eg they can’t even maintain a RSS reader?), abrupt pricing and functionality changes (eg maps), and an unease at being unable to communicate with people at Google (eg them using automation everywhere, providing no other access, or not responding when you do find something). Heck the public Android bug has many serious issues (serious in the sense of how they affect many developers), also with Google avoiding communication.

    The overall vibe that comes across is an overall disinterest in Google’s customers, except as a large aggregate whole. As an individual, startup or company, do you want to gamble on Google being there for you when you need it?

    Certainly all their behaviour is not like this, they often have admirably long migration/shutdown windows an example, but they don’t seem to realise that behaviour across Google informs people earning the reputation above.

    Contrast to AWS and note how rare these kind of complaints/vibes are. It is also very clear that the Amazon retail empire depends on their own services, and there isn’t much more to it.

  2. I always thought the right play here was to buddy up with IBM rather than do it themselves. Let IBM run enterprise account management and support on top of Google infrastructure level products and then IBM can end its capex free public cloud fantasies.

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