- A Medium post describing an alarming incident involving a company using Google Cloud Platform got a lot of attention from developers over the weekend.
- The post described an email received out of the blue from Google warning that if the company didn’t provide specific forms, Google could decide to shut down the service.
- The post has been updated to say that Google has fixed the problem, and all appears to be well – but it set off a conversation among developers about the quality of Google’s customer service.
A post published on Medium on Thursday has stirred a lot of debate about Google’s ability – or perhaps inability – to provide adequate customer service to people using its Google Cloud Platform.
The situation has been resolved, and Google Cloud support employees have responded, the post now says. But it has still raised some serious questions about how Google Cloud does business.
The post was written by an anonymous administrator of a system that monitors “hundreds of wind turbines and scores of solar plants,” it said. The admin wrote about receiving an email from Google on Thursday saying the company’s website and other services were blocked because of “potential suspicious activity.”
“All my systems have been turned off,” the admin wrote. “Everything is off. The machine has pulled the plug with no warning. The site is down, app engine, databases are unreachable, multiple Firebases say I’ve been downgraded and therefore exceeded limits.”
Then came the real scare. The admin said they got a message saying that if the account owner didn’t correct the violation by filling out an account-verification form and supplying identification within three days, Google may decide to close the account. That indicated to the admin and many people who read the Medium post that Google was willing to destroy an app critical to the business with only three days’ notice.
“I hope GCP team is listening and changes things for the better,” the admin wrote. “Until then I’m never building any project on GCP.”
Google did not respond to requests for comment, and Business Insider could not verify the authenticity of the Medium post.
Nonetheless, the problems described in the post are not unprecedented. In 2016, there was a similar case with a healthcare startup named DocGraph.
Google needs more human service reps
In this case, everything appears to have worked out. The admin said they returned the filled-in form and the operation was back up in 20 minutes.
A note was later added to the Medium post saying the Google Cloud support team had written and “assured us these incidents will not repeat.”
But before the situation was resolved, the panicked admin tried to reach Google customer-service representatives but couldn’t get anyone by phone or online chat, the post says.
The post raised an important question: What would have happened if the person with the information Google required was away or otherwise out of touch for three days? Would Google have automatically followed through with its threat and shut down the account?
The incident struck a chord with many developers, generating over 1,200 comments on message boards like Reddit and Hacker News about the quality of Google Cloud Platform versus Amazon Web Services. What many people seemed to agree on is that GCP needs to rely less on automated systems and provide more human support.
A lack of living, breathing customer-service representatives has long been a knock on many of Google’s gadgets and services.
“This post is not about the quality of Google Cloud products,” the admin wrote in the update. “They are excellent, on par with AWS. This is about the no-warnings-given, abrupt way they pull the plug on your entire systems if they (or the machines) believe something is wrong. This is the second time this has happened to us.”
In 2016, Fred Trotter, the CEO of DocGraph, found himself in a similar situation. Trotter discovered that Google blocked access to the data he stored in the cloud, saying one of his servers was involved in unspecified “intrusion attempts against a third party.”
Trotter said that he tried to get information but that attempts to locate a human at Google Cloud were unsuccessful. Turns out, the server in question had been hacked and was indeed used to launch attacks. And just like the recent case, Google then moved quickly to get Trotter’s service working again.
Google’s sabotaging itself
Google is trying to take on Amazon in the burgeoning cloud-computing market, potentially a huge growth area for Google. In 2015, Google’s Urs Holzle predicted that Google may one day make more revenue on cloud than on ads.
As it stands, AWS is the clear leader, with Microsoft’s Azure in second place. But Google has high hopes for its division. That’s why its board hired Diane Greene to run its cloud business, buying out her still-in-stealth startup $US380 million in 2015 to nab her.
Greene, who made her name as a cofounder of VMware, has a strong reputation in the enterprise IT world and has already done a lot to bring Google the kind of human support it needs to win corporate customers. She has often said Google is cutting into Amazon’s lead and possesses the better technology.
But technology aside, by not offering customer-service reps for emergencies for all levels of developers or by using automated systems that can fail to adequately address a problem, Google sabotages its efforts to overtake Amazon.
Interestingly, the author of the Medium post wrote that a Google Cloud engineer said in a message that “there is a large group of folk (within GCP) interested in making things better, not just for you but for all GCP.”
That would seem to confirm there’s a problem.
On Twitter, the Gartner analyst Lydia Leong put a fine point on the matter in response to this incident: “GCP is for businesses. There is no excuse for this kind of thing. Not a ‘cloud’ problem. AWS and Azure don’t do this.”
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