When smartphone manufacturer HTC went looking for ways to make life easier for its internal app developers last year, it turned to the cloud, where huge pools of resources are available for hourly rental to anybody with a credit card.
HTC’s developers didn’t need help building their apps, which Song describes as “social, viral” apps like the
HTC Gallery, Zoe and One M9 Photo Editor — Song himself is ex-Facebook, and his engineers had little problem making user-friendly apps that would encourage people to share.
But they needed reliability and scalability in order to make sure those apps worked for everybody, all the time, with plenty of computing power underpinning them on the backend. Which is what brought them to the idea of moving development to the cloud in the first place.
“HTC is a hardware company,” says John Song, the senior director of cloud computing at HTC, and it’s “not like a Web 2.0 company.” In other words, HTC just isn’t really equipped to provide that level of service from its own facilities.
When HTC turned to the cloud, it turned to at least five big vendors: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Alibaba’s Alicloud, IBM’s Softlayer, and Google Compute Platform. They all have their selling points: Amazon tends to run a little cheaper; Microsoft’s has deep integrations with other products from the company. There’s a cloud war going on.
Initially, Google was the last in line. HTC is based in Taiwan. All of the other big vendors offered their cloud computing services in China, but Google did not.
“Out of the gate, Google was our least favourite,” Song says. “There’s no Google in China.”
Amazon and company had their selling points on this count. But when Song came to Amazon’s salespeople with HTC’s demanding performance requirements, they were rigid and inflexible — they have their portfolio of cloud products, and wanted Song’s team to use them, even if it meant changing the entire way they did business.
Google was a lot more flexible and willing to work with HTC, Song says, which immediately made the team like them better.
But the really killer feature for the Google Cloud Platform comes at the data center, he says. Google has at least 20 data centres located around the world, all of which are connected to each other with high-speed fibre connections.
That means that anything hosted in Google’s cloud gets automatically replicated and shunted across the tubes to be everywhere in Google’s world, all the time.
This gives Google two advantages. First off, it means that even if several of its data centres were to burn to the ground, Google — and Google’s customers — would still be standing. Plus, since it’s all hosted in Google’s data centres, Google has its top engineers making sure the whole kit and caboodle stays up.
More importantly for HTC’s purposes, Song says, it means that a customer will always be served from the data center that’s closest to them, meaning lower latency and faster apps.
“It takes time for electrons to travel,” Song says, and a closer data center means your photos download just that little bit faster.
Amazon has a similar offering called “Availability Zones,” but there are only nine of them, and Song says that they have to be manually configured and have a reputation for unreliability.
“It works, but it collapses when you need it most,” Song says.
HTC’s developers love having the more robust infrastructure, Song says. And when something goes wrong, Google’s top engineers get back to them in minutes with smart answers that help them get back up and running.
It’s not totally perfect, though — there’s still that China problem. That’s why HTC is using Google Cloud Platform everywhere but China, where it went with Microsoft Azure instead.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.