Google Cloud Platform: A Comprehensive Guide and Tips

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Nov 4, 2019

This comprehensive guide covers the history of Google Cloud Platform, the products and services GCP offers, and where it fits in the overall cloud market.




Google Cloud Platform (GCP) is a portfolio of cloud computing services that grew around the initial Google App Engine framework for hosting web applications from Google’s data centers. Since the launch of Google App Engine in 2008, GCP has grown into one of the premier cloud computing platforms on the market, though it still trails Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure in terms of market share. That said, Google continues to hold its own in the cloud wars and continues to make investments in GCP to make it competitive with other public cloud providers, and more attractive to big customers. (Note: This article about the Google Cloud Platform is also available as a free PDF download.)

To help CXOs, IT leaders, operations administrators, and developers better understand Google’s role as a cloud provider, we’ve put together the most important details and resources in this cheat sheet. This is a “living” article that will be updated and refreshed as new, relevant information becomes public.


Executive summary (TL;DR)

  • What is Google Cloud Platform? Google Cloud Platform, as the name implies, is a cloud computing platform that provides infrastructure tools and services for users to build applications and services on top of.
  • Why does Google Cloud Platform matter? Google Cloud Platform is regarded as the third biggest cloud provider in terms of revenue behind AWS in first place and Microsoft Azure in second.
  • Who does Google Cloud Platform affect? Any organization in need of cloud computing should consider Google Cloud Platform for their needs–especially SMBs, which the platform was initially geared toward.
  • When was Google Cloud Platform announced? Google announced its first cloud tool, Google App Engine, back in 2008, and it continued to add more tools and services until they collectively became known as the Google Cloud Platform later on.
  • How can I use Google Cloud Platform? Google has provided documentation for getting started and a frequently asked questions page for developers and IT leaders to investigate the platform.

What is Google Cloud Platform?

To capture the growing interest in web applications, Google App Engine was launched in April 2008 as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) resource allowing developers to build and host apps on Google’s infrastructure. App Engine came out of preview in September 2011, and the Google Cloud Platform name was formally adopted in 2013.

Since the introduction of Google App Engine, the company subsequently released a variety of complementary tools, such as its data storage layer, and its Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) component known as the Google Compute Engine, which supports the use of virtual machines. After growing as an IaaS provider, Google added additional products including a load balancer, DNS, monitoring tools, and data analysis services, bringing GCP closer to feature parity with AWS and Azure, making it better able to compete in the cloud market.

Google Cloud Platform products span the following categories:

  1. Artificial intelligence & machine learning: AI Hub (beta), Cloud AutoML (beta), Cloud TPU, Cloud Machine Learning Engine, Diagflow Enterprise Edition, Cloud Natural Language, Cloud Speech-to-Text, Cloud Text-to-Speech, Cloud Translation, Cloud Vision, Cloud Video Intelligence, Cloud Inference API (alpha), and more
  2. API management: API Analytics, API Monetization, Cloud Endpoints, Developer Portal, Cloud Healthcare API
  3. Compute: Compute Engine, Shielded VMs, Container security, App Engine, Cloud Functions, GPU, and more
  4. Data analytics: BigQuery, Cloud Dataflow, Cloud Dataproc, Cloud Datalab, Cloud Dataprep, Cloud Composer, and more
  5. Databases: Cloud SQL, Cloud Bigtable, Cloud Spanner, Cloud Datastore, Cloud Memorystore
  6. Developer tools: Cloud SDK, Container Registry, Cloud Build, Cloud Source Repositories, Cloud Tasks, and more, as well as Cloud Tools for IntelliJ, PowerShell, Visual Studio, and Eclipse
  7. Internet of Things (IoT): Cloud IoT Core, Edge TPU (beta)
  8. Hybrid and multi-cloud: Google Kubernetes Engine, GKE On-Prem, Istio on GKE (beta), Anthos Config Management, Serverless, Stackdriver, and more
  9. Management Tools: Stackdriver, Monitoring, Trace, Logging, Debugger, Cloud Console, and more
  10. Media: Anvato, Zync Render
  11. Migration: Cloud Data Transfer, Transfer Appliance, BigQuery Data Transfer Service, Velostrata, VM Migration, and more
  12. Networking: Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), Cloud Load Balancing, Cloud Armor, Cloud CDN, Cloud NAT, Cloud Interconnect, Cloud VPN, Cloud DNS, Network Service Tiers, Network Telemetry
  13. Security: Access Transparency, Cloud Identity, Cloud Data Loss Prevention, Cloud Key Management Service, Cloud Security Scanner, and more
  14. Storage: Cloud Storage, Persistent Disk, Cloud Filestore, and more

Google provides other cloud services, which are not strictly part of Cloud Platform. G Suite, a collection of productivity and collaboration apps, competed with Microsoft Office 365. Firebase is a mobile and web application development platform. Google Maps Platform is a collection of mapping services for integration into other products such as ridesharing apps and Pokémon Go. Google Cloud Identity is an identity management service, similar to Okta. Apigee provides API management across cloud providers, and Orbitera manages multi-cloud billing and cost management.

 

Google Cloud Platform is primarily a public cloud provider, though Google has dramatically increased its focus on hybrid and multi-cloud workloads using Anthos, allowing users to manage workloads on GCP and Google Kubernetes Engine (and GKE On-Prem) as well as on AWS and Azure. Though the cloud price wars have cooled over the last few years, Google follows its own pricing pattern and routinely boasts that it offers the lowest cost of the top three providers. However, Google really differentiates itself in its services.

Why does Google Cloud Platform matter?

Whether or not Google Cloud Platform will matter to your organization depends on the type of tools and functionality workloads in your organization, which need to operate efficiently.

Google Cloud Platform offers the same core data storage and virtual machine functionality of AWS and Azure, or any other cloud provider. Google’s strength lies in big data processing tools, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning initiatives, and container support.

Google’s BigQuery and Dataflow bring strong analytics and processing capabilities for companies that work heavily with data, while Google’s Kubernetes container technology allows for container cluster management and eases container deployment. Google’s Cloud Machine Learning Engine and various machine learning APIs make it easier for businesses to leverage AI in the cloud.

Google is a company that thrives on the collection and subsequent leveraging of data. Whether that is user data, machine data, or geographic data is irrelevant–if an enterprise wants to experiment with data, Google Cloud Platform may be a good option as a cloud provider.

Data privacy and security features are also very mature in Google Cloud Platform. Access Transparency creates near-real time logs of when GCP support representatives or system engineers interact with your data. Similarly, Access Approval–available in beta–allows clients to actively approve or deny access to stored data or configurations to Google administrators.

By popular demand, Google offers managed instances of open-source software from partners including MongoDB, Confluent, DataStax, Elastic, InfluxData, Neo4j, and Redis Labs.

Google is also rapidly developing serverless computing infrastructure to stay competitive against competing serverless platforms such as AWS Lambda. Google Cloud Platform boasts serverless solutions across app development, analytics, and more. It also has an integration with Elastic Cloud to support open source search and analytics.

 

Who does Google Cloud Platform affect?

As with many of Google’s innovations, the set of tools that Google Cloud Platform comprises were originally internal tools built for internal use. This eventually proved problematic. Google originally targeted cloud services for startups and SMBs, offering up to $100,000 of Cloud Platform and Firebase credits to startups. However, limited uptake prompted Google to make GCP more adaptable for diverse use cases.

At the outset, Google expected users to build apps the same way Google did, though this philosophy is counter to the way enterprise app development tends to occur. In 2016, Google pivoted, admitting this was the wrong approach, with then-Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt stating that “We decided to meet you where you are, as opposed to where we think you should be.”



Google subsequently added more utilities to ease the transition to Cloud Platform, making the platform more accessible to businesses of any size looking to decommission some or all of their data centers.

It seems that large corporations are paying attention. In 2016, Google added big names to its Cloud Platform roster, including Disney, Coca-Cola, Spotify, Apple, Colgate-Palmolive, and Home Depot, among others, proving that it can cater to the needs of major players. In 2018, Twitter announced its adoption of Google Cloud Platform, migrating 300 petabytes of data to the platform. Accenture and Deloitte announced expansions of their GCP alliances in 2019, with Google focusing on GCP capabilities to transform shopping experiences.

Many of these companies also use other platforms such as AWS or Azure, which means that GCP could also act as a complementary provider for existing AWS or Azure customers who need additional capabilities or flexibility.

Since it is a platform on which applications are built and hosted, the choice of a cloud provider also affects developers. For developers, Google Cloud Platform supports Go, Node.js, Python, Ruby, PHP, .NET, and Java. Developers should make sure they are involved in any conversations about selecting a cloud provider to ensure it is a platform that they, and their team, are comfortable working in.

 

When was Google Cloud Platform announced?

As mentioned, Google’s first foray into cloud services was the Google App Engine back in 2008. Two years later, Google announced that it was adding a storage layer and, in 2012, the company began its partner program for the platform. Then came BigQuery, the Compute Engine, Cloud SQL, and the rest of the tools that make up today’s Google Cloud Platform.

However, like all providers, Google constantly adds new tools and features in preview, alpha, or beta, which will likely make it to the general public.

Some of the latest products added to Google Cloud Platform are Cloud Inference API, allowing developers to run large-scale correlations over datasets, Shielded VMs, Cloud Tasks, Cloud IoT Edge, Cloud AutoML, and the AI Hub, allowing developers to share and deploy AI technologies on Google Cloud.

At Google Cloud Next 2019, further enhancements to GCP’s AI capabilities were announced. AI Platform allows developers, data scientists, and data engineers to collaborate on machine learning projects. New capabilities were added to Cloud AutoML, now allowing for data from structured tables and video content to be classified automatically. Likewise, the existing AutoML Vision has and edge computing variant.

 

How can I use Google Cloud Platform?

Since Google Cloud Platform is a publicly-available product, it’s not very difficult to acquire its services. The bigger issue is two-fold: Deciding whether or not the platform is the best option for your business, and planning your migration.

To effectively compare Google Cloud Platform against the other options out there, you need to do your research. If you are looking at comparing it against AWS and Microsoft Azure, try starting with our other smart person’s guides for AWS and Microsoft Azure, respectively. A list of other good cloud vendors can be found in this list of 15 of the top hybrid cloud vendors.

As your organization begins to plan its deployment, start by making a list of questions you have about the service and check them against the FAQ section on the Google Cloud Platform website. To understand the specifics of a GCP deployment, make sure you familiarize yourself with the proper documentation.

Google does offer a free tier for Cloud Platform, as well as a free 12-month trial with credit for organizations that may need to dip their toes in the water. Google offers free credits to select startups working with affiliated investors, incubators, or accelerators through the Google Cloud for Startups promotion. A tool for live migrations is also offered (simply titled Live Migration), which allows a virtual machine instance to keep running even during a host system event.

Additional tutorials and a quick start guide are available here.

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