The 10 Biggest Google Stories Of 2015

The ABCs Of Google

The biggest Google story of the year might ultimately prove to be the least relevant to anyone in the channel.

Yes, Google technically became Alphabet, a holding company with several subsidiaries, but how that will affect the tech giant's partner community, if at all, remains to be seen.

At the same time, Google continued doing what it always does -- innovating like a startup and investing in technology that seems years away right up till the moment it's delivered as an honest-to-goodness product.

But while the evolution of Google's technology, as usual, pleased partners in 2015, a big change to the company's channel structure at the start of the year wasn't universally well received.

Here are the 10 developments out of Mountain View, Calif., over the past year we think were of greatest interest to the channel.

10. Brillo OS

In May, Google unveiled Brillo, a new operating system for the devices that will increasingly proliferate our homes.

Building off its Nest acquisition, the software first unveiled at the Google I/O developer's conference will deliver smart capabilities to a number of Wi-Fi enabled, programmable household devices.

Brillo further positions Google as a major player in the emerging Internet of Things market.

9. OpenStack, Kubernetes, Containers, And Open-Source Partner Plays

Google was busy in 2015 lending its imprimatur to innovative startups working on open-source container-tech projects.

Those efforts revolved around Kubernetes, a platform for orchestrating clusters of containers at scale that Google developed, once used exclusively, then open-sourced.

In February, Google partnered with Mirantis to bring to market a version of OpenStack that offers out-of-the-box integration with Kubernetes, and one-click interoperability with its cloud platform.

In April, Google invested in CoreOS, then helped the Linux developer focused on container-tech develop and deploy a commercial version of Kubernetes.

Google officially joined the OpenStack Foundation in July, continuing to add its Linux Container know-how to the burgeoning open-source cloud project.

8. Accenture Buys Cloud Sherpas

Google's largest SaaS reseller, Atlanta-based Cloud Sherpas, was acquired by systems integration behemoth Accenture in September -- a game changing deal in the channel.

Cloud Sherpas meteoric trajectory was fueled by an early alliance with Google that allowed the startup to scale its business at a spectacular pace on the back of the pioneering Google Apps suite.

The VAR has served as the best example yet of a path to monumental success in Google's channel.

7. Angst In The Channel

CRN got to wondering why so many Google Apps partners seemed to be making Microsoft plays just as Google looked ready to be displaced as the top cloud-productivity tool developer.

An investigation involving dozens of interviews revealed a good deal of distaste with what channel leaders were doing in Mountain View.

Some of Google's most loyal cloud solution providers -- including those who had been working with the vendor since it launched its channel efforts in 2009 -- told CRN it was becoming financially inviable to exclusively partner with the Internet giant.

Most of the frustration circled around the revamped partner program and new thresholds for the Premier tier that many regional partners found to be unrealistic, and damaging to their businesses. Solution providers also complained of unresponsive channel representatives and a direct sales team that funneled work to a handful of favored partners.

6. Apps Incentives

Google launched an offensive in November to reassert itself in a cloud productivity tools market it once dominated, offering free Google Apps accounts to mid-market customers under contract with rival vendors as well as subsidies for channel partners deploying the SaaS suite.

Complementing those aggressive incentives, the Internet powerhouse beefed up the capabilities of Google Apps with new voice dictation and spreadsheet visualization features.

Google told CRN it sees the incentive program and added application functionality as a means to expose a new set of potential customers to the cloud-based software that broke major ground in the office productivity market when first introduced almost nine years ago.

5. Partners Can Hold The Paper

It used to be that Google partners were really just glorified sales agents when it came to closing deals.

But Google took a significant step forward with its enterprise cloud channel in August by introducing a means for partners to become true resellers -- doing the billing and holding the sales "paper".

The Internet giant responded to channel demand for greater control of billing and management with a new reseller model and a supporting console intended to enable partners to truly own their clients and bundle their own services with Google's.

The blockbuster change paved the way for partners to claim far greater control over their relationships with customers.

4. Diane Greene

In a surprise move that set the tech world abuzz, Google in November hired Diane Greene, a Silicon Valley power player and pioneering cloud entrepreneur, to take charge of its cloud services apparatus.

Greene, a VMware co-founder and one-time CEO of the virtualization leader, had sat on Google's board for three years, and will remain on the board of Alphabet.

To consummate the arrangement, Google acquired Greene's startup, Bebop, a company still in stealth that's working on a cloud-based development platform for enterprise applications.

In the new position created for her, Greene will run Google for Work, a division and branding introduced last year to encompass the Internet giant's emerging enterprise products and ambitions.

3. Partner Program Revamp

Google kicked off the year with some pretty substantial changes to its partner program, and the revamp wasn't well-received by all quarters of the tech-giant's channel.

The good news was margins jumped to 30 percent for resellers of Google Apps who held the status of Premier partner.

But the program also imposed a new $500,000 sales minimum to qualify for the Premier tier, meaning far fewer partners overall would occupy that top channel rung, and many current Premier partners would certainly be kicked down a level.

Partners in danger of not meeting the sales threshold were irked to be facing relegation to the Standard tier.

And to add injury to insult, the new program dropped margins for those not making the grade from 20 percent to 15 percent on renewals after the third year on the account.

2. New CEO

Sundar Pichai, a 43-year-old product whiz who headed Google's Chrome and Apps divisions, formally was named CEO of Google -- the Alphabet subsidiary -- at the time of the restructuring in August.

The 11-year Google veteran left his role as Google's product chief to oversee the new subsidiary that still owns all the flagship products: search, ads, maps, the Google Play Store, YouTube, Android and Google’s cloud business.

Pichai joined the company in 2004 and cut his teeth on the browser-based Google Toolbar. He then headed the launch of Google Chrome and Chrome OS. He also was instrumental in developing the Android operating system and the company’s device strategy.

1. Alphabet

What's in a name?

For Google, the answer is …. still unclear.

Whatever the actual motivation -- and opinions differ on that point -- Google set in motion a major operational restructuring in August that involved the creation of a new holding company called Alphabet under which Google's disparate projects will reside as independent subsidiaries.

The Internet-side of the business relevant to the channel immediately became an Alphabet subsidiary called Google.

Whether all that corporate restructuring results in more than a new organizational chart, stock ticker symbol and more-insulated founding executives remains to be seen.

Partners seemed pleased, telling CRN the move could bring order to Google’s sprawling empire. A Google by any other name is, well, maybe just a little less-complicated a business.