Cloud Landscape

GCP NEXT 2016: Not Boring Enough

GCP NEXT 2016, the Google Cloud Platform global user conference has come and gone. Inevitably, the expo floor was buzzing with comparisons between NEXT and re:invent, the well established AWS yearly conference. So, how did NEXT stack up?

The show opened with the “What’s next for cloud” keynote, high-caliber speakers such as Diane Greene, Eric Schmidt and Google CEO Sundar Pichai came on stage to talk about the cutting edge of cloud, and the incredible things that the cloud powers. They talked about Machine Learning, A.I, even driverless cars. They talked about how the Coca-Cola world cup “Happiness Flag” marketing campaign was powered by GCP, it was all extremely, undoubtedly cool.

And that seemed to be the issue for a lot of people on the floor. It was cool. It was novelty.

Google is known for living in the future and every once in awhile throwing a piece of technology our way, so we could see what the future is like. So no one was surprised to hear about things that make you go “Wow, that’s awesome!”.

While standing around at the Scalr booth on the expo floor, I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people. Most of them kept asking the same thing: where’s the boring stuff?

Where’s the bank that runs mission critical operations on GCP? Where’s the retailer that can run transactions faster on GCE than on EC2?

I’ve been using GCE, the compute component of the Google Cloud Platform for a while now. I can wholeheartedly say it has two distinct advantages over EC2. It’s faster, and it’s cheaper. If you want an in-depth examination of why GCE beats EC2, read this great article about why Quizlet moved to GCP.

I’m making the point about GCE being better than EC2 because I, like many other people who attended GCP NEXT 2016, was surprised not to hear more about it. Give me facts, give me data, give me a boring graph that shows how performance is slightly better under extreme load.

I’m not saying we should skip the cool stuff all together, this is a Google conference after all, cool stuff is part of the brand. I’m saying that GCP is young, and people need the practical, day-to-day data that will show them Google’s cloud is a true competitor in the market.

On the subject of cool Google stuff, they had something called Google Vision API, where they took a picture of you, and then colored the photo according to the emotions found on your face:


Oliver on the left, Ron on the right. The Scalr marketing powerhouse.

The Story

Another issue some people seem to have is with the Google story.

It’s something along the lines of “We invented something amazing for our own internal use, and we decided to share it with the world”.

The problem is, that’s also Amazon’s story. The first datacenters that comprise what we now know as AWS were built for Amazon’s internal use. They got better and better at cloud computing until they decided to make a business out of it. Just like Google.

There’s no doubt about both Google and Amazon being good at what they do, but exactly because of that fact, the answer “because we’re Google” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

“Why is GCP’s Machine Learning better than Amazon’s and Microsoft’s?” “Because we’re Google and they are not”.

“Why is GCP more secure than AWS?” “Because GCP is Google, and AWS is not”.

The air of arrogance in the keynotes and responses seemed to rub many attendees the wrong way. The Twitter handle @cloud_opinion pretty much captured it with this tweet:

Breaking: Our reporter leaked keynote slides from #GCPNext

— ~ (@cloud_opinion) March 23, 2016

The Google story and the “because we’re Google” responses simply aren’t enough. GCP is a great platform, but a shift to some more practical messaging is needed to climb the mountain of enterprise adoption.

The Show

GCP NEXT 2016 was not re:invent or OpenStack Summit. It was significantly smaller and less extravagant and did not allow vendors to show off their marketing budgets.

All booths were the same size, and no collateral or swag was handed out. From a logistics standpoint, this was great. All we had to do was show up with our laptop and we were good to go. But the maze of logos and obscure vendors made it difficult for attendees to learn about new solutions that might help them.

Often I would spot frustrated conferences-goers trying to Google a vendor before approaching the booth since there was not much to disclose what it is that the vendor does.

The egalitarian style of the conference was not without advantages though, the no-swag rule made sure that if someone attended a demo, it was because they wanted to learn more about the product or have a conversation about cloud, not because they wanted a t-shirt (we’ll have t-shirts at OpenStack Austin, by the way!).

In Conclusion

Andy Green, Scalr’s Director of Western Regional Sales, who spent what I imagine to be years of his life at trade shows, said that GCP NEXT 2016 reminded him of the early OpenStack Summit conferences.

While I only jumped on the cloud bandwagon after OpenStack was well established, I agree that NEXT reflected a young product. Next year, I hope to see more re:invent style practical sessions, and perhaps a solution that will keep the sleek style of the expo, while making it easier for attendees to learn more about vendors before the dreaded phase of human interaction and awkward lead-scanning.