Chapter 3

The Global Shift

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When I meet tech founders, inadvertently the conversation steers towards the challenges they face regarding technology choices, the security of their customers’ data, or their ability to scale their product. I’ve struggled with some of the same issues as a tech founder and as an engineer in Silicon Valley. I’ve fortunately had the chance to learn from some of the smartest people in technology and see first-hand how the cloud is the answer for an increasing number of successful startups. Informed platform choices early on help you build faster, cheaper, and more solid products. Furthermore, I soon realized it wasn’t just tech people but also people from diverse backgrounds such as consulting and marketing who could benefit from the tools available today through cloud platforms.

“Now everyone is a software company or you’re irrelevant.”

There’s a massive, global shift to cloud computing technology with companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft focused on making their billion-dollar infrastructures available to everyone. You can use the cloud often for as little as the cost of a latte, and cost savings are just one component of the value. Google has put considerable effort towards building tools that make it easy for anyone with almost no special knowledge to access previously unfathomable computing capabilities and put them to work.

This book is really for anyone. Imagine a small nonprofit in sub-Saharan Africa wanting to help stop epidemics by tracking and reporting on vast amounts of data. Previously, it would have been really hard for this small team to quickly build a mobile app to collect data regarding the spread of an infection. It would be hard because in addition to designing a simple app, they would have to deal with the complexity of the data storage, backups, security, and scalability and be able to generate analytics based on the data. Maybe they’d want to combine the data with other public data sources to find critical insights or share it in real time with researchers. I can confidently say that without access to cloud-powered tools, this is quite a feat even for a Silicon Valley startup.

Such use cases are everywhere. Imagine a small city government in an idyllic forward-thinking European city that wants to improve efficiency by bringing their services online. Even if they had some funding and an in-house development team, I doubt this team would include the world-class network security engineers that would be needed to keep their citizens’ data safe from sophisticated attacks from around the globe, nor would this team have access to experts in distributed data systems to ensure their citizens always had access.

Or what about that online marketing company whose clients want them to build a fantastic real-time and interactive online experience for a soccer match they sponsored and who expect to see a few million people visit their site. Maybe this company is just smart enough to know they need to use some type of a cloud, but do we really expect them to be successful if that cloud needs them to how exactly how many virtual cloud machines they need or to manage their own database software? By leveraging a true fully managed cloud, small companies will suddenly find themselves with access to much better infrastructure than even what their much larger competitors have in-house.

Security

I think we all can agree that anything accessible from the Internet is a target and could be attacked. Attackers today are very sophisticated and range from hacker groups to nation states. Security is not something you should approach with arrogance; the costs are just too high. Every second of every day, organizations across the globe are attacked and suffer damage to both their finances and reputations.

The news is filled with stories of health organizations, corporations, and even police stations paying million-dollar ransoms to get their data back. It’s not just the website software that’s targeted; these attackers go after the very infrastructure the website is built on. Even with good security practices in place, everyone is still fair game for denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and other sorts of cyber-attacks aimed at crippling a network’s ability to function. There are well-documented cases of cyber-attacks causing businesses to suffer financially and lose credibility to an extent they might never recover from.

This is a clear and present danger on the Internet, and it’s important to think about security from day one rather than wait until your customers’ data is held for ransom. Moving to a managed cloud such as the Google Cloud will have the largest impact on improving the security of your software systems. To get your data while it’s on the Google Cloud, hackers will have to go though Google, who clearly has the resources, people, and the reputation to defend itself.

Infrastructure

When building a tech startup as early as ten years ago, you’d first have had to spend a lot of money on server hardware, then more money to host it at one of many data centers. Depending on the data center, you would also perhaps need to buy all the other stuff that ties the servers together and also pay someone to manage it all. When dealing with the server we used for our startup, I remember having to buy support tickets from the data center and spending upwards of a hundred dollars to have a person walk over and reboot our server every time something went wrong. If this is something you’re still dealing with, you need to keep reading.

Although people talk about “the cloud” everywhere today, it is a relatively new phenomenon. To most people, the cloud means not having to deal with hardware. Instead, you deal with virtual versions of the hardware. It’s about not having to deal with many of the physical aspects of computing. This is true, but the cloud today is very sophisticated, and using it means having access to infinitely flexible and fully managed software services that take care of very complex needs. It’s more about your being able to focus on building your idea while the technology and expertise required to run your applications and manage your data are provided to you through the cloud.

This focus changes everything. We are now essentially working in a serverless world. Traditionally, you had to stress over every piece of your architecture—virtual or otherwise—from servers and firewalls to load balances and databases. Using a fully managed cloud means you can now focus exclusively on your product while everything else is taken care of for you. The implications are far-reaching. Your operations can now be leaner and more agile while you build better products.

Costs

The mostly widely known aspect of using the cloud is being able to move capital investments to operating expenses. This might make the most sense to the finance-minded few, as cost calculations can be pretty complicated. Maybe you’ve overinvested in capacity to buffer for future growth or are incurring some other wasteful costs. Maybe you’re not receiving any real discounts because you’re not a big enough customer to your suppliers. There are many other factors that can complicate your costs. The point I’m trying to make is that this is a lot of math to get right, so it can be hard to choose the cloud over your own hardware purely from the perspective of “it’s cheaper.” However, in the new world of fully managed cloud platforms, everything is different.

What if I told you that, in this new cloud-powered world, it doesn’t matter who you are, what stage of growth you’re at, or how complex your needs are? The fully managed cloud will always be cheaper and will only get significantly cheaper. The more you use it, the cheaper it gets. And what you’re buying has no equivalent, physical or otherwise. It is available globally and will scale up or down in seconds to meet demand. What you’re buying is access to amazing billion-dollar software infrastructure built over many years by some of the smartest engineers on the planet.

Data Capabilities

Everyone is talking about data. It’s everywhere, and you’re going to have to deal with it sooner rather than later, whether it’s the data generated by your software product, a huge cache of satellite images of farmland that your consultancy needs to analyze, or public data on millions of taxi rides that your city government needs to mine.

When dealing with data, you have to be able to store it safely, retrieve it quickly, process it for insights, share it, and much more. That database your IT team installed is soon going to hit a wall. Most databases are not designed to scale horizontally (adding more machines to increase capacity), so you might find that yours is unable to keep up with the read-write demands brought on by your growing business. In addition, maybe your users are globally distributed, and you want to ensure they all have a consistently stable experience.

The scenario I just described is an increasingly common one faced by many organizations, and all the potential solutions require increased complexity and increased costs, but even then there are no guarantees. If you’re an engineer reading this, you might be designing a solution in your head right now or know of some open-source technology that can solve your problems, but let’s step back a moment and really think about it. Whatever your homegrown solution is, building and maintaining it will consume valuable time and resources.

Why Google Cloud**

Google has done an amazing job building their vision of a modern fully managed cloud. By the end of this book, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of how you can gain a strong competitive advantage by leveraging the Google Cloud. In addition to their cloud technology, the other thing that helps Google stand apart is their global data center infrastructure and their decade-long experience solving scaling problems with their full line of services. Their cloud is the secret sauce that gives them their competitive advantage, and now they’ve opened it up to you.

These days, it’s pretty obvious that any organization that doesn’t understand technological change will find itself falling behind. The move to accelerate the adoption of new technologies has propelled many to swap physical hardware for virtual machines in the cloud. Although this is a good thing, the real impact of leveraging the cloud is only now being seen. In my research, I’m finding more sophisticated players such as Spotify, a popular music streaming service, and Niantic, the company behind Pokémon GO, are using a managed cloud like the Google Cloud to gain massive leverage and value. This adoption of the Google Cloud model is only going to accelerate, and companies who insist on holding onto the old model will find themselves getting overrun by competitors who are adopting the cloud.

The Future Belongs to You

In a world where entire economies are actively being disrupted by technology, it’s important for every business and individual to understand the technology and the trends that are making this happen. If you’re currently in a top-tier MBA program and will one day lead a world-class organization, the cloud will be the core infrastructure powering that organization. If you’re a consultant struggling to help an aging conglomerate, the cloud will help you crunch the data and derive valuable insights. If you’re a researcher looking to achieve the next breakthrough in genetics, the cloud will deliver the data-crunching power that will exponentially speed up your research and testing. If you’re an investor looking for an edge in the markets, understanding the core technological trends taking us into the future will help you spot the winners. If you’re a tech founder looking to deliver a world-changing product at the right price, the cloud is there to help. If you’re an organization looking to protect yourself and your customers, the cloud will stand up to cyber-attackers and keep you safe.

The cloud is for dreamers, the inspired builders who want to change the world while standing on the shoulders of giants. The cloud is for you.

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