Google one-downs Amazon with new cloud price cuts

Google one-downs Amazon with new cloud price cuts
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With lower pricing and a new instance type, Google is determined to match its cloud pricing to the progress of Moore's Law

The race to the bottom in cloud computing continues apace, and Google is doing its best to fall the fastest.

The latest Google Cloud Platform revisions have cut prices between 5 and 30 percent for various virtual machine configuration types. Plus, a new VM type, called Preemptible VMs, seems specifically designed to put pressure on Amazon.

According to the official Google Cloud Platform blog, the current round of price reductions cuts the cost of a U.S.-based Standard instance by 20 percent, and a Micro instance by 30 percent, with similar price reductions set for Europe and Asia. Google is pushing the package of cost reductions -- including automatic discounts and per-minute billing -- as a 40 percent cost reduction for common workloads over the competition.

Despite Google's claims, most people are only likely to see savings in the 20 to 30 percent range, since around 14 percent of the reduction is not due to actual core cost reductions but rather items like projected savings from per-minute billing.

Less is Moore

These cost reductions are part of an ongoing price reduction philosophy espoused by Google, where the costs of its cloud computing offerings are geared to follow Moore's Law. Again, some of the cost reductions offered by Google aren't straight-up price cuts, but discounts for sustained use or more granular charges for short-lived instances. The underlying concept puts other cloud providers on notice -- mainly Amazon, long criticized for its multiplicity of pricing schemes.

What's ironic is Google's introduction of yet another pricing scheme. Google Compute Engine Preemptible VMs, as the new VM pricing structure is called, are regular instances that can be shut down at any time. The pricing for a Preemptible VM version of a regular Compute Engine VM is fixed at 1.5 cents per hour -- 70 percent less than the non-Preemptible version of the same VM -- but without a guarantee that said VM will remain running continuously.

If this sounds less than useful, Google claims it's best suited for clusters of systems where no one machine needs to run constantly for the entire cluster to work properly. (Google does state that VMs set to be terminated get 30 seconds of notice to perform a clean shutdown.)

Spot the price cut

The closest parallel to Preemptible VMs in Amazon's roster is the EC2 Spot Instance type. There, instead of offering machines that could be shut down at any moment, the user bids on the cost of spare EC2 instances and has them run whenever one's bid is met. Likewise, the model is designed for "time-flexible, interruption-tolerant tasks," such as long-running operations that can be stopped and resumed at any time.

One of Google's long-touted advantages over Amazon has not been only pricing, but a less complex pricing model. With Preemptible VMs, Google's retreating from the stance, although only slightly. Pricing for Preemptible is more straightforward than Spot Instances, even if the way it's used is likely to appeal to a small slice of its audience.

Still, it's exactly that kind of diversification and flexibility that helps any one cloud provider stand out from its competitors. Google is wise to try and expand its arsenal of instance types, provided it doesn't also hobble the straightforwardness that keeps it competitive. But price alone won't cut it anymore -- or, for that matter, undercut it.

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