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Google's cloud-based platform aims machine learning, AI at enterprise

Google's enterprise cloud platform is starting to become a factor in business IT thanks to strong data preparation, machine learning and AI capabilities.

When Google's CEO Sundar Pichai declared the company would shift to an AI-first strategy in May, a lot of people probably assumed he was talking primarily about Google's consumer offerings. There was a lot of discussion about how AI would influence things like search, computer vision and voice recognition.

However, it turns out that strategy is influencing what Google is doing in its enterprise offerings through its cloud platform, which hosts tools for businesses to analyze text sentiment, classify images and transcribe audio recordings, among many other machine learning tasks.

This ramped up enterprise functionality is helping the traditionally consumer-focused company make inroads into businesses' analytics shops with its cloud-based platform.

"When we say 'AI first,' it means taking our consumer-facing products and opening the same capabilities up to developers through the cloud platform," said Greg DeMichillie, director of product management on Google's cloud team. AI shows up in Google Cloud Platform in the form of API connectors to deep learning models for speech, language and image analysis.

Keeping enterprise company

Google Cloud Platform was recently named the leading tool in "The Forrester Wave: Insight Platforms-as-a-Service, Q3 2017" report. Insight platform is a fairly new term for cloud-based systems that ties together everything, including data ingestion, data preparation, analytics and machine learning. Other vendors rated highly in the report include 1010data, Amazon, Databricks, GoodData, IBM, Microsoft and Qubole.

Being named alongside more traditional IT software vendors reflects Google's push for IT prominence, specifically in the world of analytics and machine learning. DeMichillie acknowledged that Google hasn't traditionally been centered on IT tools, but said the company is now focused on getting the message out that it's coming for the enterprise. He pointed out that Spotify recently moved to the cloud-based platform.

"It's been an incredibly rapid journey as we built up this enterprise capability," DeMichillie said.

It's been so rapid that Google is still trying to get on enterprises' radar. In 2016, Google reorganized its enterprise offerings under the Google Cloud umbrella as part of its push for prominence. Since that time, company officials have said they have still had to push back against the notion that it wasn't truly serious about enterprise software.

"I think they're still struggling to overcome that," said Forrester analyst Brian Hopkins. "I don't get a lot of traditional enterprises who ask me about Google."

More clarity needed on cloud services

Hopkins said part of Google's problem, aside from just its lack of prominence in enterprise technology, is that its product offerings can be confusing. Specific features often require other services. Fee structures are difficult to understand, and some customers have told him they've been surprised by their bills.

That said, Hopkins said he feels Google Cloud Platform's functionality in areas like data ingestion, machine learning and AI are strong. He predicted that cloud storage will soon become commoditized the way that on-premises storage has been. As this happens, cloud-based platform vendors will compete for business by layering on data management and analytics services.

Google is well-positioned to take advantage of this trend, Hopkins said. It already has the infrastructure built. It also has the analytics and AI tools developed from its work on its consumer-facing products. All it has to do is open these tools up to developers.

This is why other software vendors should take note of Google's incursions into enterprise software.

"They're moving fairly quickly," Hopkins said. "And when Google moves into your market, there isn't an executive out there who isn't sweating bullets."

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