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Oracle and Google Write a Tale of Two Clouds

Google Senior Vice President Diane GreeneGoogle Senior Vice President Diane Greene
Google Senior Vice President Diane GreenePhoto: Arthur Petrillo

In two cities 2,800 miles apart, two very different vendors pitched two divergent takes on cloud computing. But both companies—Oracle and Google—had the same goal: To show businesses that their respective clouds are ready for work.

In Washington, Oracle (ORCL) execs including Thomas Kurian, president of product development, continued to talk up the need of customers to run their Oracle applications and databases in Oracle’s cloud—even if that’s a cloud that actually running in the customers’ own data centers.

On Thursday, the database leader announced something called Oracle Cloud at Customer which is all about putting Oracle hardware and a full complement of Oracle software into the customers’ data center in what is called a private cloud.

Here’s what Oracle senior vice president Amit Zavery told IDG News Service:

We bring in a cloud machine, which is basically a replica of our public cloud services, and install it at the customer site…. Customers can get the infrastructure, the database, all the public cloud services, but behind the firewall.

What makes this cloud-like is that the customer can expand and contract workloads as needed and pay for resources as they are used, rather than writing a huge check for a yearly enterprise software license. Oracle talked about this deployment option at its Oracle OpenWorld show last year.

No doubt there are some customers who may find that attractive, but when most businesses think cloud, they think about an Amazon (AMZN) Web Services-style public cloud in which they rent servers, storage, and networking from the provider, and pay only for what they use, while they are using it. The cloud provider takes care of both hardware and networking maintenance as well as physical security.

Amazon’s Cloud is not Enterprise Ready Says Oracle Cloud Chief

An Oracle spokeswoman also said that the company’s AWS-style self-service compute capability is also available as of today, but no one I knew could figure out how to enter a credit card number and actually buy an hour or two of Oracle computing time. Fortune reached out to Oracle for comment and will update accordingly.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Google (GOOG) spent two days pitching Google Cloud Platform as a set of massive, secure resources capable of running customers’ precious applications, if that’s their desire. But, for the (many) big companies that want to keep running some applications internally, Google also showcased the open-source Kubernetes tool. With Kubernetes, a company can move applications to its own servers as well as to servers in Google’s or someone else’s cloud.

Some new security perks should also help Google win over big risk-averse business, said IDC analyst Larry Carvalho. He cited news that customers can now supply their own encryption keys for Google Cloud Storage letting them control their own encryption. Another major plus: Google has also added the ability to control access to cloud resources based on a user’s given role. So an admin can’t gain access to, say, payroll files.

Security is among big customers’ largest concerns about moving to the cloud, so anything cloud providers can do to make it safer is attractive.

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Forrester (FORR) Research analyst Paul Miller summed up Google’s conundrum. On the plus side, it has compelling and innovative services. This week’s news that Home Depot (HD) is aboard helps make the case that those services are of interest to big companies. But, “Google’s big problem has long been that it thinks its way of doing cloud (and computing) is the right way,” Miller said via email.

It was refreshing, Miller said, to hear Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet (GOOGL) admit that the company needs meet customers where they are, rather than where Google thinks they should be.

“There’s a lot of work to do, to spread that realization throughout the company, and to have engineers and others believe it as they build services and interact with the world outside Google’s data centers,” Miller said.

Both Google and Oracle face a dilemma. If Oracle is bound up in the old enterprise software world of expensive hands-on sales and support, Google is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Google needs to be more aware of how big companies buy software or, in this case, software services. Where Oracle has entire teams of sales and consultants in nice suits who work with customers, that’s foreign territory for Google.

Neither extreme is pertinent in today’s world. Both companies have to come to the middle in their sales strategy, provide enterprise-friendly sales and support without breaking the customers’ bank.

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Google senior vice president Diane Greene noted that the company will bulk up customer-facing services toward that end, but the jury’s out on that effort and how well the enterprise sales model will percolate through the whole rank-and-file of a company that is besotted with technology, if not customers.

“I think Diane’s hand on the helm is an indicator that this is being built up,” said IDC analyst Al Hilwa. “Whether it can be done to the needed level without acquiring an established enterprise player is to be determined, but it does require a higher level of execution.”

There is no doubt that Oracle is as focused on big, Fortune 500 accounts, as it has been for decades. What’s more questionable is whether it can offer the type of flexible, low-cost cloud services that are coming online seemingly by the day from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Those services include the ability to run Oracle, or some other database, on Google’s or Amazon’s or Microsoft’s cloud. That is Oracle’s nightmare.

Meanwhile, there’s still some question as to whether Google cares about those Fortune 500 accounts. After all it earns most of its billions on search and advertising, and often seems distracted by moonshot projects like self-driving cars.

But this week Schmidt and Google chief executive Sundar Pichai (if not co-founders Larry Page or Sergey Brin) were on stage singing the praises of Google Cloud Platform. So for now it looks like a priority.

But perhaps most tellingly, Urs Hölzle, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, made a bold statement on Wednesday, though he said it so quietly it barely registered at the time. Hölzle said cloud is:

…the fastest growing business inside of Google. If we were a separate company we would be a very, very prominent startup, and our growth rate is accelerating. I’ve been coy about saying this, but cloud could be larger than ads. The IT opportunity in these services is huge.”

Emphasis is mine.