Where Google Compute Engine fits in

At Google I/O, Google made it clear it will go head to head with Amazon. But how do you choose between their clouds?

InfoWorld described yesterday how Compute Engine is Google's first unabashed IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) product, a cloud that allows users to spin up enormous numbers of virtual Linux machines that run on the same infrastructure powering Google.

But how will customers decide whether to use Google Compute Engine, Rackspace Cloud, Windows Azure, HP Cloud, or another IaaS provider? For an informed answer to that question, InfoWorld turned to Michael Crandell, CEO and founder of RightScale, the cloud-management services company that helps customers work with everything from Amazon EC2 to Microsoft Azure.

RightScale has been testing out Compute Engine for some time now as a run-up to integrating its services with theirs. Crandell told InfoWorld how, in the course of working with Google over the past year, he got a feel for what Google is offering and how Compute Engine is going to differentiate itself from the competition.

"For the last decade, we've all thought of Google having their infrastructure as part of their 'secret sauce'," Crandell explains. "They're pretty upfront about saying, 'We're now exposing that same secret sauce infrastructure. We know how to run infrastructure really well on a global scale, so now we're exposing that to you.'"

Three points for Google Compute Engine
Even in this early stage, three major factors about Google Cloud stood out for Crandell. First was the way Google leveraged the use of its own private network to make its cloud resources uniformly accessible across the globe.

"When you create a Google Compute Engine account and use their resources," he said, "they provide a private network, a LAN of sorts that spans different regions. For example, if you set up an architecture to replicate a database from region A to region B, in the Google cloud, you don't need to traverse the public Internet to do it. You're using their private network."

How precisely that network is implemented (as its own private fiber or simply a very efficiently-routed VPN) is not disclosed by Google. But the key thing is that the whole structure is seen as a single network from a programming point of view. "This makes it easier if you're building cross-regional architectures," Crandall says. It's expected that Google will eventually expand Compute Engine to territories outside the United States.

Another key difference was boot times, which are both fast and consistent in Google's cloud. A basic Ubuntu image boots in about two minutes. "That [consistency and speed] matters in two contexts: Automation in scaling, which is more responsive if it works faster, and the daily rhythms of a dev-and-test environment, where folks are building up and tearing down multi-server environments, which allows faster iteration."

Third is encryption. Google offers at-rest encryption for all storage, whether it's local or attached over a network. "Everything's automatically encrypted," says Crandell, "and it's encrypted outside the processing of the VM so there's no degradation of performance to get that feature." Amazon offers encryption for S3 objects, but it's an optional, enabled-per-object feature.

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