SAN FRANCISCO – There aren’t many markets where Google has to play from behind, but public cloud infrastructure is one of them. Not that you’d know it from the way Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene sold the platform on Tuesday at Google Next.

She painted a picture of taking the helm at the organization two years ago and hearing from analysts that it’d be 10 years before they were enterprise ready. Now analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester and proclaiming Google Cloud a leader in many areas.

“We’re proud of being cutting edge and we’re also proud of having moved the table stakes,” Greene proclaimed in her keynote. “We’re psyched to be named the leader in three of Gartner’s magic quadrants and we hope for more.”

Having some big customer names to announce at the keynote helped colour in Greene’s outline of Google Cloud’s growth and enterprise readiness. Retailer Target is signed up as a customer, and Google hit another bullseye by wooing 3D game and design platform Unity to move away from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Google Cloud Platform.

A good success story, but not the full story on Cloud. Customer wins and magic quadrants are anecdotal examples of Google Cloud’s capabilities. Looking at the bigger picture of market share or revenue, and Google Cloud is still far behind  AWS and Microsoft Azure. A Cloud Security Alliance report measures AWS as the leader in terms of application workloads, with 41 per cent of all workloads run in the public cloud. Azure is gaining quickly and holds 29.4 per cent of installed workloads. Google Cloud trails with just three per cent, followed closely by IBM Cloud (formerly SoftLayer). Slicing the public cloud market by revenue gives AWS an even bigger portion, Microsoft a skinnier slice, and Google about the same size.

Above: Google’s five-minute recap of the Tuesday keynote.

Is Google Cloud ‘enterprise ready?’

So has Google really done the work to be enterprise ready? It’s getting there, says Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc. But Greene has been dealt a hand that requires playing from behind.

“A lot of it had to do with being developer lead, not marketing or sales lead,” he says. “Now they’ve put in programs that helped them interface with the enterprise, which need hand-holding and partners that can help them finish the last mile.”

Google Cloud’s partner list is coming along, with Greene announcing 12,000 partners signed up in total. But compare that to the Amazon Partner Network (APN) claims it signed up 10,000 new partners in 2017 alone, and Microsoft’s partner organization has reported that it onboards 7,000 new partners per month. Of course, those aren’t all Azure partners, but we Microsoft has said that at least 9,000 partners are ready to co-sell Azure today.

Even Google’s software as a service game didn’t impress during the keynote. At least not Alan Lepofsky, another principal analyst at Constellation. He praised Google’s efforts to cut down on repetitive tasks with new AI features, but questioned why new features weren’t added to the suite to make it stack up better against Office 365.

“They didn’t enhance G Suite at all, they’re improving the pieces that are there,” he said. “We all hate Office 365’s bloat, but it does have all the features we need.”

Criticism of Google Cloud notwithstanding, there’s no questioning that it is growing (if not necessarily winning a larger share of the market) and is demonstrating its strengths. It’s AI services stand above the competition already and with Fei-fei Li, chief scientist of Cloud AI at Google taking the keynote stage to demo new capabilities to train Google’s AI models on specific domain expertise, its lead is extending.

Google is savvy in the perception in the market that some enterprises worry that public cloud providers are using their proprietary data to train AI models that could help competitors. “We believe your data is not only private, but should remain your competitive advantage,” Li said, promising enterprises could train AI without external exposure.

Fei-fei Lei, chief scientist of Cloud AI at Google, announced some new AI cloud services at Next 2018.

Google’s commitment to open source is also a differentiator, Wang points out, making it the only public cloud alternative for enterprises committed to open source.

Finally, Google’s cloud philosophy that focuses on process and tools instead of servers and storage may hit the right note. One executive from a financial services company was singing the same tune at least, pointing to the capability to run Kubernetes containers on-premises (called GKE On-Prem) as evidence Google is committed to helping its customers run a cloud-services approach to IT no matter where it happens to reside.

Perhaps Google won’t fret about gaining market share with hyperscale competitors if developers are using its tools to deploy to those cloud locations anyway.