Google’s cloud boss eyeing ‘major acquisition’ to get ahead

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 9:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 9:40am

When Diane Greene first joined Google in late 2015, her first task was to assemble the company’s disparate and often-wayward cloud projects and whip them into a real business.

Sales, marketing and engineering divisions did not work together well when pitching companies on Google’s internet-based computing power, storage and services. And some cloud offerings lacked proper credentials to sell to regulated sectors like the government and health care, a handicap in tackling rivals.

Now, the software veteran and chief executive of Google Cloud said she has done all that, declaring in an interview that there are no longer any “blocks” to selling to corporations and other large organisations. She is prepared to make a big purchase to catch market leaders Amazon Web Services and Microsoft – if the deal fits.

“We’re constantly on the lookout for a major acquisition,” Greene said on Friday. “But, you know, it’s hard to find one that makes sense.”

Google is finding a way around China’s Great Firewall by investing in its most promising start-ups

Google can afford to acquire many companies, “but, I don’t want to do something unless it’s in line with our strategy”, she said. “Also, if you’re pretty sure you make it successful and it’s reasonably priced.”

At Google, Greene spent US$625 million to buy software firm Apigee Corp, and made a succession of smaller acquisitions. When asked, she confirmed that bankers have floated much larger deals for enterprise firms including Red Hat and ServiceNow. 

China wants to be competitive, and having international companies helps them with this
Diane Greene, Google Cloud chief executive

She declined to say what she thought of those ideas. A spokeswoman for Red Hat declined to comment. Representatives for ServiceNow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google has made a big push with its G Suite software for workplace tasks like word processing and spreadsheets. 

But Greene ruled out acquisitions of additional business tools that resemble popular consumer applications. That is a large part of the corporate information technology market, which could include services like Slack Technologies – although she did not name any companies in this segment.

Google reported in February that its cloud business hit US$1 billion in quarterly revenue last year, its first substantial financial disclosure about the unit. 

Third in the market behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, Greene is confident that Google’s distinct security and machine-learning tools give it an edge. 

She also sees a gigantic market ahead: Greene estimates the current market at around US$45 billion, with a ceiling of some US$1 trillion.

For 2018, Greene and her deputies mentioned a focus on winning customers in health care, energy and financial services. Greene said Google will keep working to sign cloud deals with the government, too. The company recently got its FedRAMP certification, a key clearance needed to provide cloud services to the United States government.

Over the past two years, parent Alphabet has scaled back several costly initiatives, including projects in fibre broadband and drones. But the company has ploughed money into Greene’s division. Greene, an Alphabet director, said she recuses herself from board votes on cloud acquisitions. 

Google, Tencent agree to share patents in global tech alliance

That investment is indicative of the support that Alphabet chief executive and Google co-founder Larry Page has for the business, Greene said.

“The entire board, including Larry, is pretty thrilled with what’s going on in cloud,” she said. “How could they not be? It’s phenomenal what the team has achieved.”

Greene tackled several other topics in a wide-ranging interview, including China’s rise as a technology world power and potential opportunities in that country for Google’s cloud business.

“China wants to be competitive, and having international companies helps them with this,” Greene said, while noting that Google recently opened an artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory in Beijing.

Cloud computing has the potential to dissolve borders and other barriers between countries and encourage companies and nations to work together more, she said. Greene admitted this may be “Pollyannaish”.

China’s deep investment in AI and other technology research should highlight to the US that research funding is important. 

AI is promising enough that US companies are happy to invest heavily the space, but “China being so open about their strategy maybe will help our governments see how we built our technology base”, Greene said.