Google updates cloud with new virtual technologies and price cuts

Google has embraced the Docker container technology and expanded the Firebase mobile development platform

Continuing to keep pace with chief cloud rivals Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, Google has made a number of improvements to its Google Cloud Platform services.

A series of announcements made during a webcast Tuesday show the company embracing the newest virtual technologies, such as Docker containers and the Firebase platform to aid mobile developers, as it continues to cut prices of its services.

"We're trying to innovate at every piece of the cloud platform stack," said Greg DeMichillie, Google director of cloud product management, during the webcast . "We want to make it easy for you to build the next great application, whether you are at a large company or a small [company], whether you are just getting started or have been around for decades."

In the realm of virtualization, the company has devised a way to make it easy to use Docker containers, a new lightweight virtualization technology. The company has devised the Google Container Engine service for building and running Docker containers. The engine is based on the open-source Kubernetes project.

With containers, "you are taking an application and encapsulating it into a single file," said Brian Stevens, Google vice president of cloud platforms. "Developers can package their applications and all the dependencies their application has into a single file. And it is really easy to spin up and tear down a container, so it makes for a really quick development cycle."

System administrators also benefit from container technology, Stevens noted. With containers, "installing applications is as simple as installing a single file into a system," he noted, comparing the process to the simple one-click installation process that most consumer phone apps offer today.

For the administrator, containers could also reduce the total number of operating systems to be managed. "Because all of the application dependencies now live inside their containers, [administrators] can run multiple containers on a single operating system, without the dependencies of one application conflicting with another," Stevens said.

Google itself runs all its cloud operations in containers, resulting in about two billion containers that are spun up each week at the company.

The Google Container Engine will allow Google Cloud Platform users to easily deploy and manage large numbers of Docker containers, Stevens said. "With a single command, you can deploy a fleet of applications and other services across the cloud," Stevens said.

The company also explained what it is doing with the mobile platform technology created by Firebase, which Google bought last month. Firebase offers a way to speed the process of connecting mobile applications to back-end data sources.

Google has expanded the range of queries that can be made against the data sets held by Firebase. Users can now sort the data by arbitrary fields, as well as filter the data. The service also now offers triggers, in which developers can define certain actions to take place if a set of conditions are met.

Google has expanded the number of ways users can connect to the cloud service.

The company now offers direct peering, in which corporate customers can setup a network link directly into a Google data center. Google offers 70 points of presence in 33 countries. The company also can provide dedicated connectivity through seven carriers: Verizon, Equinix, IX Reach, Level 3, Tata Communications, Telx, and Zayo.

Expanding the connectivity options even further, Google will start offering VPN connections, which can provide a secure pipeline over the public Internet.

Like rivals Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, Google continues to aggressively cut prices of its services, which it vowed to continue to do as the price of hardware decreases. The cost of copying data from the Google Cloud has been cut by 47 percent. Many cuts have been made in storage space as well: the cost of BigQuery storage has been cut by 23 percent, persistent disk snapshots have been cut by 79 percent, solid-state storage has been cut by 48 percent, and Cloud SQL storage costs have been cut by 25 percent.

"The price cuts are a direct result of continued technology innovation and Moore's Law," said Google Vice President Joerg Heilig during the presentation, referring to how Moore's Law characterizes the ability of silicon device makers to increase the density of chips, memory and storage devices with each new generation of products. "We're passing those on to you today."

The company introduced a number of other features to its cloud, including:

* Managed virtual machines, introduced earlier this year, is in full beta release.

* A debugger, in beta form, that could provide users with more information when services don't operate as expected.

* A type of compute engine based on solid-state disks. The "Local SSD" compute engine can execute up to 680,000 read IOPS (input/output operations per second) or 280,000 write IOPS.

* An autoscaler has been released in beta that can automatically grow or shrink a fleet of virtual machines based on customer needs.

Google also announced a number of partnerships with other companies, to help bring their products and services to the cloud. The crowd applauded at the announcement that Google Cloud will now offer Canonical Ubuntu virtual machines. Ubuntu versions 14.04 LTS, 12.04 LTS and 14.10 are all now available. Google Cloud now also offers Bitnami images--a collection of popular open source applications--as well as Fastly Cloud Accelerator interconnects, software for speeding network traffic to and from the cloud.

The company also mentioned a number of enterprise customers who are using the cloud services. Office Depot, for instance is using the Google Cloud Platform to power a new online service called My Print Center, which allows customers to submit print orders for items such as posters and business cards.

Visual effects studio Atomic Fiction uses the Google Cloud to create animations for Hollywood films. Atomic Fiction co-founder Kevin Baillie led a demonstration at the webcast showing how to spin up 12,000 cores on the service, all to finish a single animated frame. Typically, this work would take hours to complete using a single machine; Google Cloud finished the job within a matter of minutes. Both approaches cost about the same, he said.

"It is a really big win to get that kind of creative turn-around," he said."It is a fundamental change in how we use computing."

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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