Few companies have contributed more to the cloud computing movement than Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). But Google is not perfect, by any means, when it comes to cloud services.
Last week, the Consumer Watchdog lobbying group asked the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate what it calls Google’s “misrepresentations about its ‘cloud computing’ services as the Internet giant has tried to sell them to the federal government, as well as state and municipal governments.”
The group’s accusation specifically stems from recent disputes surrounding the rollout of Google Apps in Los Angeles, where Google claimed its Government Cloud service had Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification, a claim that customer representatives claimed was not true, though Google disputes that.
But the real issue is that a growing number of public agencies and commercial businesses that have adopted Google Apps as a cheaper alternative to Microsoft Office and other on-premise applications seem to be discontented with the quality of Google’s cloud service and its limited customer support.
No one can deny that Google has done more than any other company in pioneering the cloud computing movement. Its search engine service made the Web accessible and useful to everyone. Its Googleplex has become the prototype for scalable computing. Google has also fostered numerous open-source innovations, including the Android operating system.
Google Apps has been instrumental in opening the door for a proliferation of software-as-a-service (SaaS) alternatives to traditional packaged applications. The success of Google Apps has forced Microsoft to re-architect its software products and re-vamp its go-to-market strategies.
Google Apps has also encouraged organizations of all sizes, across nearly every industry, to reconsider whether they really need to operate their own software and servers to perform day-to-day tasks, such as email. It has made these same organizations aware of the tremendous productivity improvements that can be gained by employing Web-based solutions that encourage greater collaboration among increasingly dispersed workers.
What makes these achievements even more impressive is that Google has been able to accomplish these feats while steadfastly maintaining a relatively faceless corporate persona in which it’s virtually impossible to make contact with a human to ask a question or resolve a problem.
If you read Ken Auletta’s book Googled, it's easy to understand how the company’s origins and current corporate culture can be a double-edged sword. The company’s founders, and much of its current staff, are brilliant engineers driven to solve the most complex problems with flawless computer-generated processes that eliminate market inefficiencies to get the best economic value.
In this world, removing as much human content as possible from traditional business processes is a necessity in order to reap the greatest profit. It is for this reason that Google can be a difficult company to do business with because it doesn’t have the mechanisms or personnel for interacting with customers or partners face-to-face, or even by phone.
It is this corporate culture that is coming back to haunt Google, and it could have implications for cloud vendors attempting to follow Google’s lead.
Also, there seem to be complaints from resellers and other channel organizations that have been very disappointed with the reliability of Google’s services and downright angry at Google about its poor partner support program.
These issues could be considered part of an isolated case caused by the corporate ineptitude of an individual vendor. But because they involve the biggest player in the cloud industry, they're extra significant.
It would be great to see Google regain a positive position in the marketplace. But if Google’s problems persist, organizations may not only abandon Google Apps but also lose faith in the overall value of cloud computing solutions.
Fortunately, the other leading cloud providers seem to be meeting their customers’ expectations, and demand for cloud services is accelerating. But Google’s current problems should serve as a lesson for cloud vendors, customers, and partners alike: Optimizing the operating efficiencies of the cloud should not come at the expense of quality services and support.
— Jeff Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies and founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace. He can be reached at email@example.com.