Partners: Where Google Cloud’s Diane Greene Failed And How Thomas Kurian Can Fix It


Partners said Diane Greene's decision to step aside as Google Cloud CEO presents an opportunity for incoming CEO Thomas Kurian to succeed where Greene failed: building out a robust ecosystem of partners.

"Both Microsoft and [Amazon Web Services] have built strong application ecosystems that bring tools and expertise to the marketplace through channel partners," said Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a Westborough, Mass.-headquartered Google and Microsoft partner. "Diane Greene did a good job at getting enterprise customers to take the Google Cloud Platform seriously. Where Google has missed the boat is in truly building a robust channel that serves not just the enterprise but the midmarket and SMB portions of the market. Google as a company struggles with building an ecosystem that consistently supports the channel."

Falcon said Microsoft and AWS have done a better job of building out an ecosystem of big data analytics and AI-based independent software vendors (ISVs) and channel partners. A prime example is Google's TensorFlow artificial intelligence (AI) language, he said.

"TensorFlow is the most sophisticated open-source machine learning platform on the market," said Falcon. "What is missing from it is a large ecosystem of ISVs and partners building tools, widgets and applications that others can use to build solutions. Microsoft is aggressively courting partners to create intellectual property that helps partners sell applications and solutions."

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Greene Friday said in a blog post that she plans to step down from her role as CEO of Google Cloud in January “after three great years” and that Kurian, who joins Google on Nov. 26, will transition into the role to replace her.

“When I joined Google full-time to run Cloud in December 2015, I told my family and friends that it would be for two years,” Greene wrote in the post. “Now, after an unbelievably stimulating and productive three years, it’s time to turn to the passions I’ve long had around mentoring and education.”

Greene will stay on as a director on the board of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

Kurian, a 22-year Oracle veteran who resigned suddenly from the Redwood City, Calif.-based software company in September, could face challenges in building out a strong partner ecosystem at Google, said Falcon.

"Kurian brought Oracle Cloud into the mainstream, preventing Oracle from being disrupted out of existence, but Google has a different culture," he said. "Google's culture is not necessarily top down. It is more collaborative. He may struggle in getting Google to change direction. He is going to have to engage all the different layers and stake holders at Google to make things happen."

Even with the cultural challenges, Falcon said he is hopeful that Kurian will see the benefits of building out a broad ecosystem of partners. "As he looks at Microsoft as a competitor, I am hoping he will see the value that the channel can provide bringing Google into many different market segments," he said. "Microsoft has a channel-first strategy. They know they cannot grow and survive without channel partners. Most of Microsoft's resources are aligned around channel partners."

Kurian's appointment comes with AWS also making big channel gains and overtures, said Falcon. "AWS realizes that to keep customers on their platform they need partners like us who understand the customer's business," he said. "AWS is reyling on us to help customers use and integrate the tools and applications on the AWS platform."

Falcon's advice to Kurian: "You need to build out a channel organization going after the high end of SMB and the full midmarket. That is something that Diane Greene never made a priority."

One sign of challenge facing Kurian is Google's third place market share showing in the most recent quarter. AWS was No. 1at 34 percent, followed by Microsoft at 14 percent, and then Google and IBM tied at seven percent each, according to Synergy Research.

Google doesn't separately break out its Google Cloud Platform revenues, but its "other revenues" category, which includes cloud services and applications, Google Play, and hardware, increased 29.2 percent during the third-quarter, the company said.

Meanwhile, Google's competitors in the cloud space continued to outpace the Internet giant. Microsoft saw its Azure revenue surge 76 percent in the most recent quarter, while AWS saw its sales climb up 46 percent during the same period.

Paul Vallee, president, and CEO of IT consultant and MSP Pythian, a Premier Google Partner, called Kurian's hire an "inspired, bold move" by Google.

The CEO changeup demonstrates that Google is gunning to be the data-centric cloud, and is using that strategy differentiate from its cloud competition.

"No one understands cloud and data more than [Kurian]. He's a titan in the enterprise data space. This is a huge throw-down to the industry that the future of cloud is about data, and that's what Google is telling the world with this hire," Vallee said.

Kurian's hire is akin to when Microsoft brought on Judson Althoff as its executive vice president of its Worldwide Commercial Business organization, Vallee said. Kurian has been at the helm of some the most successful enterprise products businesses over the course of his career.

"If you look at [Althoff's] knowledge of the enterprise from the channel perspective, that's what [Kurian] brings from the product perspective," he said. "I don't think it’s possible for anyone to understand what enterprises want to do with data in the cloud better than [Kurian]."

Google Cloud partners reached by CRN are in agreement that the Internet giant must now place more focus on its partner strategy, something a change in leadership can help.

"[Greene] is an engineer at heart, so now in order to move forward, they need someone who is more of a sales leader at this point. Overall, I think it's really positive," said Ethan Simmons, managing partner of Boston-based Pinnacle Technology Partners, a new partner to the Google ecosystem.

The CEO of a top Google cloud partner, who did not want to be identified, said Greene was the right entrepreneur to establish the Google Cloud as a viable business, but Kurian is the right executive to lead the business going forward. "The best spot for her is on the board, which plays more to her strengths," said the CEO. "She's an incredibly gifted giant in our industry and deserves our respect."

A top sales executive for an CRN Solution Provider 500 company that works closely with AWS, Microsoft and Google, who did not want to be identified, however, said Greene – the one time founder and CEO of VMware – was the wrong person for the Google Cloud CEO job.

"Greene was a data center person fighting an uphill battle to get data centers to migrate to Google Cloud," said the sales executive. "She was selling the data center, but customers wanted Google analytics. Google felt their name was going to be as powerful as AWS and Azure and they were going to attract all Greene’s VMware customers to run their workloads on Google Cloud. But she failed at building a bridge between the virtual data center and virtual hybrid cloud data center. That is exactly what VMware has done with VMware Cloud on AWS. That product is on fire right now."

One big bet that Greene made that is paying off is driving Kubernetes as the bridge between corporate IT and the cloud, said the sales executive.

Kurian's longtime cloud applications experience is going to be key to driving the Google Cloud Platform to the next level, said the sales executive.

"Kurian thinks applications – not cloud, that's a big advantage for Google" said the sales executive-

The sales executive's advice to Kurian: "He needs to embrace the channel for Google to be successful. What he needs to do is get partners to tie every application in the world to a Google front end. Kurian is sitting on a goldmine. Greene couldn't do it because she was a data center person. Kurian is an applications-focused executive who can make it happen."