Google just made a move to leapfrog Microsoft and Amazon in the cloud wars

Google just made a big move that could let leapfrog Amazon Web Services as it races with Microsoft to get its cloud computing platform into big businesses.

Google announced that it’s joined the OpenStack Foundation — the non-profit governing body that oversees OpenStack, the free cloud computing software that’s gotten a lot of love from tech titans like IBM, HP, and Intel.

By joining with OpenStack, Google is opening the door to letting businesses take advantage of the cloud without sacrificing the millions they may have invested in their own data centres.

Some customers don’t want all-cloud, all the time

With cloud computing, a customer merely has to swipe their credit card to get basically infinite supercomputing power provided by somebody else, like Amazon or Microsoft.

Google’s entry in this space is the Google Cloud Platform.

Google and Amazon operate a “public cloud,” since anybody, anywhere can use it.

But there’s an emerging trend in the market called “hybrid cloud,” where some companies still keep certain functions in house.

Maybe these businesses have to deal with strict regulatory compliance requirements like HIPAA or FINRA, which limit where a company can store data. Maybe they don’t want to run around on, give up on, or desert the existing data centres they have already sunk millions into.

Microsoft has always claimed dominance in hybrid cloud: Since its Windows Server is already basically everywhere, the Microsoft Azure public cloud product — which has tons of Windows integrations — has a big leg up on the competition when it comes to hybrid. It’s something that neither Amazon nor Google can match.

Meanwhile, OpenStack is free cloud software that lets anyone, anywhere build a cloud computing platform very similar to the one that Amazon Web Services offers.

In theory, OpenStack was supposed to kickstart a universe of startups creating a vibrant ecosystem of products on top of the software to compete with Amazon Web Services. But in practice, most of the OpenStack-related products seem to have found a niche as kind of an operating system for a company’s own data center — what’s sometimes called “private cloud.”

For example, Bluebox and Piston, two startups recently bought by IBM and Cisco respectively, had OpenStack-based products to turn a data center into a private cloud.

What is Google’s angle here?

By supporting OpenStack, the Google Cloud Platform has the potential to integrate more tightly with those private data centres, giving Google a big foot in the door with enterprises that otherwise might never consider it.

As part of the announcement, Google will bring its expertise in software containers — the hot new technology, pioneered by billion-dollar startup Docker, that lets you write code once and deploy it anywhere — to OpenStack. That means that the Google will make it easier for people to move their apps between OpenStack and Google clouds.

Google craig mcluckieTwitterGoogle Cloud Platform’s Craig McLuckie

“[We’re] letting our customers pick where they run their workloads solely technical on the merit of the platform, and their specific business needs. Ensuring that the technologies we build work well everywhere is a big part of that,” Google Cloud Platform’s Craig McLuckie told Business Insider.

It’s also a big vote of confidence in OpenStack, which has seen venture investment dip as industry watchers speculate over the future of the software amid consolidation around a few big vendors.

Amazon Web Services also has some skin in the hybrid cloud game: It offers some tools to do things like open networks between its own cloud and a data center, or convert virtual machines into a more Amazon-friendly format.

But ultimately, Amazon is betting that the public cloud will eventually swallow the world, as old systems get replaced by new ones.

“Slowly but surely what is in the on-premises world will start disappearing,” Amazon Web Services boss Werner Vogels told NetworkWorld today.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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