Google joins big guns in battle for the clouds

Google already runs much of the digital lives of consumers through email, internet searches and YouTube videos. Now it wants the corporations, too.

Google already runs much of the digital lives of consumers through email, internet searches and YouTube videos. Now it wants the corporations, too.

The company has for years been evasive about its plans for a public cloud of computers and data storage that is rented to individuals and businesses. This week it will announce pricing, features and performance guarantees aimed at companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals.

It is the latest salvo in an escalating battle to control corporate and government computing through clouds. That battle, which is expected to last years and cost the competitors billions annually in material and talent, already includes Microsoft, IBM and Amazon.

As businesses move from owning their own computers to renting data-crunching power and software over the internet, this foursome is making big promises about cloud computing. Supercomputing research will not be limited to organisations that can afford the hardware. And tech companies with a hot idea will be able to get big fast because they won't have to build their own computer networks.

Take Snapchat, the photo-swapping service that recently turned down a multibillion-dollar offer from Facebook. It processes 4000 pictures a second on Google's servers but is just two years old and has fewer than 30 employees.

Working with Google has allowed Snapchat to avoid spending heavily to support its users.

"I've never owned a computer server," Snapchat co-founder Bobby Murphy said.

That is a big shift from the days when knowing how to build a complex data centre was just as important as creating a service.

"These things are incredibly fast - setting up new servers in a minute, when it used to take several weeks to order, install and test," Gartner analyst Chris Gaun said. "Finance, product research, crunching supercomputing data like genomic information can all happen faster."

Amazon Web Services was arguably the pioneer of the public cloud and for now is the largest player. It says its cloud has hundreds of thousands of customers. Although most are individuals and small businesses, it also counts big names such as Netflix, which stopped building its own data centres in 2008. All of Amazon's services are run inside that cloud, too.

A more traditional consumer goods company, 3M, uses Microsoft's cloud, Azure, to process images for 20,000 individuals and companies in 50 countries to analyse various product designs. Microsoft says Azure handles 100 petabytes of data a day, roughly 700 years of HD movies.

Google is cutting prices for most of its services such as online data storage and computer processing by 10 per cent and its high-end data storage by 60 per cent, while offering access to more complex systems.

"People make a mistake thinking this is just a version of the computers on their desks, at a lower cost," Google's public cloud platform director Greg DeMichillie said. "This is lots of distributed computing intelligence, not just in computers and phones, but in cars, in thermometers, everywhere. The demand will only increase."

The chief technical officer of Microsoft's cloud group, David Campbell, said he was often surprised by the growth of the clouds.

"It's vastly different from anything anyone has done, a completely different beast," he said.

And this shift is just beginning, maybe three years into a 10-year process."

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