Google boasts strong cloud performance in Q4 – but is shy…


Updated 1820 GMT Google has claimed that the number of its cloud deals exceeding $1 million has ‘more than doubled’ over the past 12 months in what it called a ‘strong’ year – yet remained reticent in disclosing details over run rates.

The company’s fourth quarter and fiscal year results, published late yesterday, saw Google’s ‘other’ revenues – of which Google Cloud is a part – hit $6.49 billion (£4.99bn) for the most recent quarter, representing a 30% increase from this time last year. Indeed, this quarterly figure was a 39% uptick from Q318. Total yearly revenues across the business went up 23% to $136.8bn.

“Google Cloud closed out [a] strong year with momentum across the business,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai told analysts in an earnings call. “Our focus on helping customers digitally transform their business is paying off.”

Here’s what we know from the call:

  • Google has ‘more than doubled’ the number of both its $1 million cloud deals and multi-year contracts signed, while the number of blockbuster $100 million deals has also risen
  • Google’s cloud arm saw the most new employees in this quarter for both technical and sales roles
  • More than five million paying customers have signed up for collaboration tool G Suite

Yet responding to an analyst question, Google chief financial officer Ruth Porat did not go into more specific detail on Google’s cloudy revenues. “In terms of growth, cloud does continue to deliver sizeable revenues growth driven by [Google Cloud Platform] and GCP does remain one of the fastest-growing businesses across Alphabet,” said Purat, before emphasising the deals already outlined.

The biggest news by far from the most recent quarter was the departure of Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene after three years in the role, with Oracle veteran Thomas Kurian taking over. As Greene put it in her farewell letter, upon taking over in 2015 Google Cloud had ‘two significant customers and a collection of startups’, with the enterprise push ongoing.

Some have argued this push has not been fast enough, from analysts to former employees. In October Amir Hermelin, formerly product management lead at Google Cloud, argued the company’s two biggest mistakes during his tenure were dallying over the enterprise market and focusing too much on Amazon and Microsoft.

As Hermelin and Greene both noted, however, Google’s focus on machine learning was where it could differentiate. “There is an important long-term investment that lays the groundwork for our future computing needs, primarily to accelerate machine learning across our businesses – but also to support the opportunities we see in cloud, search, ads, and YouTube,” Pichai told analysts.

Nevertheless, a clear theme from the earnings call was around clearing the fog of obfuscation around its ‘other’ revenues. Amazon gives its AWS revenues clearly, as does Alibaba for Alibaba Cloud, while Microsoft gives percentage increases if not total specifics around Azure.

Paul Miller, senior analyst at Forrester Research, noted the fact Google is reticent in releasing more detail “doesn’t mean that they’re hiding terrible figures”, but argued there was a wider picture to look it.

“All of the major players carve their portfolio up in different ways, and all of them have different strengths and weaknesses,” he told CloudTech in an email. “Make it too easy to pick out G Suite’s revenue and it would look small in comparison to Microsoft’s Office revenue. Make it too easy to pick out GCP’s revenue, and it would look small in comparison to AWS.

“But despite the fact that every single one of us would leap in to make comparisons, neither of those are really apples-to-apples comparisons,” Miller added. “The real value for Google – and for most of the others – is in the way that these different components can be assembled and reassembled to deliver value to their customers. That should be the story, not whether their revenue in a specific category is growing 2x, 3x, or 10x.”

According to Synergy Research, in its figures analysing all the major cloud players for the most recent quarter, Google holds 7% market share alongside IBM. Amazon continues to hold more than one third (34%) of the market, with Microsoft a clear second on 15% and Alibaba on 5%. Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Alibaba all increased market share over the past 12 months – though Synergy noted IBM’s focus differs given its strength in hosted private cloud services rather than public IaaS.

“Q4 tops off a banner year for the cloud market with the annual growth rate actually nudging up from the previous year, which is an unusual phenomenon for a high-growth market of this scale,” said John Dinsdale, a chief analyst at Synergy Research.

“The rate at which the market leaders continue to expand is really rather impressive,” added Dinsdale, noting this continued performance has forced the analyst firm to review and increase its five-year market forecast. “Inevitably there will be a few road bumps along the way, but these will be minor relative to the factors that continue to drive the market.”

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