Google ‘distant third’ in cloud computing, as chief resigns

The decision follows a three-year effort by Google Cloud to catch up with market-leaders AWS and Microsoft Azure.
20 November 2018

Diane Greene will step down in January 2019. Source: AFP

Google Cloud’s Chief Executive Officer, Diane Greene, is to step down from her post early next year to be succeeded by former Oracle executive Tomas Kurian.

Greene’s decision follows some three years steering Alphabet’s efforts to catch up with cloud market-leaders Amazon and Microsoft; It’s a goal which has remained somewhat elusive, despite her significantly expanding the business, bolstering its salesforce and investing hundreds of millions into data infrastructure.

Google Cloud is seen by many in the industry as a ‘distant third’ (in actuality, it’s more of a fourth), behind leader Amazon Web Services (AWS)— which comprises over a third of the cloud infrastructure services market— Microsoft Azure and IBM.  

This lacking market share has been contributed to Greene’s focus on equipping Cloud customers with the advanced AI and machine learning capabilities powering Google’s other services. These had their place in running sophisticated workloads, while the bigger chunks of money for core infrastructure— or the “boring lift-and-shift business”— were going to AWS and Azure.

Commentators also note that Greene’s tenure lacked the kind of large-scale acquisition that could have helped close the gap with competitors. While it was suggested from inside Google that GitHub could be a prize, a hesitance to sign off on the deal saw the code repository snapped up by Microsoft for US$7.5bn.

That’s not to say the acquisitions were non-existent; under Greene’s leadership, Google Cloud acquired API management firm Apigee for US$625 million— inheriting its established enterprise footprint— as well as further purchases in API.AI. Qwiklabs, Kaggle, Bitium, Velostrata, and Cask.

It’s also worth noting that AWS and Azure had some eight years’ head start on Google’s cloud efforts, which began in 2016, and Greene’s appointment saw its campaign quickly gather pace, securing multiple, high-profile enterprise wins, including Spotify, Snap, 20th Century Fox, eBay, and The Home Depot, among no shortage of others.

According to The Information, however, the Google Cloud chief’s faced frequent internal disagreements over efforts to pair her department with other Alphabet units. In one example, sources said that Greene would attempt to make other Google business partnerships and advertising deals “contingent on a deal of some kind with the company’s cloud unit”— including one with Salesforce.

That sometimes frustrated other department chiefs who felt her unit didn’t have the clout to justify those kinds of requests, these people said,” read the report.  

Reflecting on her time leading Google Cloud, Greene praised staff and commented on the “enormous opportunity ahead” in the cloud space. She’ll continue to run the business until January, remaining as a director on the Alphabet board thereafter.  

It remains to be seen how Google Cloud will fare under Kurian, a software veteran with two-decades experience at Oracle under his belt, including the former title of president of product development. The new CEO will be faced with the same diplomatic challenges faced with his predecessor so, among other factors, the division’s future success against competitors will rely on his ability to manage internal conflicts.