Despite some inherent technological advantages and unique assets, Google struggled for several years to lure big businesses and partners to the Google Cloud Platform.
But 2016 was the year in which the Mountain View, California-based subsidiary of Alphabet established itself as an enterprise player by notching big customer wins and expanding its channel footprint.
Under the leadership of cloud chief Diane Greene, former CEO of VMware, Google has finally proved that it's serious about the enterprise.
Now it has its sights set on the industry's two frontrunners: Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.
That plan to catch the leaders involves differentiating Google's cloud by cost, networking infrastructure, and a set of advanced artificial intelligence features Google developed for its search business.
1. Storage shakeup
Google introduced a cloud storage refresh in October at its GCP NEXT conference in London. The revamped portfolio included a new product called Coldline, offering enterprises inexpensive data archiving with none of the latency drawbacks typically associated with cold storage.
Coldline achieved those characteristics by rejiggering the billing equation – adding costs for retrieving archived data. Google also shifted to four storage classes for establishing regional segmentations.
Dave Nettleton, product manager for Google's storage portfolio, told CRN that Google's ability to undercut competitors on storage price was largely due to investments the company made in its network.
2. Search leader's departure
In February, Amit Singhal, a prolific engineer who rewrote Google's search engine in 2001, and led Google's all-important search division, announced his retirement, signaling a changing of the guard in Mountain View.
The senior vice president posted on his Google Plus account he was leaving the company after 15 years to spend more time with his family.
3. Enterprise leadership shift
Amit Singh, the executive largely responsible for shaping Google's channel structure over the last five years, left his position as president of Google For Work in May.
Singh took a new job as head of operations for Google's virtual reality team. Singh had come to the Internet giant from Oracle in 2010, during a period in which Google was molding its enterprise business.
In the coming years, he brought over many former Oracle colleagues to fill critical positions at Google. Singh's departure from the enterprise division came six months after Diane Greene took charge of Google's cloud business, which encompasses Google For Work.
4. Oracle lawsuit
A federal jury sided with Google over Oracle in May, delivering a big legal win in a patent infringement lawsuit.
Oracle had sought US$9 billion in damages, claiming Google infringed on its intellectual property when building the Android mobile operating system.
The jury didn't agree that Google violated a copyright applying to the Java programming language to build the world's most popular mobile device operating system, and owed a fee to the software's owner.
During Alphabet's Q1 earnings call in April, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said artificial intelligence would prove a great differentiator for Google's various businesses.
"We are at an exceptionally interesting tipping point where these technologies are really taking off," Pichai told investors. Google claims its search engine business has imbued the company with unparalleled expertise in implementing machine learning algorithms and commercialising AI.
Those technologies are getting introduced to customers in many forms, from cloud-based machine learning development platforms, to cloud instances powered by the custom Tensor Processing Unit chip, to AI capabilities infused across its portfolio of software-as-a-service tools.
In March, Google notched a major public relations victory for artificial intelligence when AlphaGo, a system developed by London-based DeepMind, a Google acquisition, beat the world champion of the board game Go.
6. From Apps to G Suite
When Google Apps hit the market back in 2009, the cloud-based office productivity suite essentially created a new product category.
Apps held the lead in that emerging market for several years after. But in 2015, Microsoft, which scrambled to emulate Google's success in delivering office tools in the cloud, surpassed Google Apps' market share with Office 365.
In October, Google refreshed the business, rebranding Apps as G Suite, and infusing products like Docs, Gmail, Drive and Sheets with artificial intelligence capabilities.
7. A dozen new data centres
A day before welcoming its cloud partners to its Next conference last March, Google revealed plans for a massive expansion of its cloud infrastructure, adding a dozen new data centres to scale its global capacity.
The build-out, taking Google from four to 16 regions, will put more cloud servers closer to potential customers, delivering geographic reach, data sovereignty, and lower latency. The expansion plans signaled Google was preparing for rapid growth in the hyper-competitive market.
The expansion will inlcude the arrival of Australian data centres for Google Cloud Platform in 2017.
8. The big Apple
While the deal was actually inked before the year began, CRN USA broke the story in March of Google signing Apple as a customer, a major coup in its campaign to become an enterprise cloud powerhouse.
And Google not only landed the largest and most-prestigious user in the history of its cloud with a whopping US$600 million spend, but snatched the customer – or at least half of its account – from rival Amazon Web Services.
9. Enterprise cred
Google cloud chief Diane Greene told attendees of the Horizon conference in October that sometime in 2016 public perception caught up to reality.
While Google had unparalleled data centre operational capabilities and networking assets, the company's consumer culture and pedigree gave many the impression that its cloud was a poor fit for the needs of enterprise customers.
Employees were always getting frustrated when asked if Google was serious about the cloud, Greene said, but those questions started dissipating by the summer as "people started getting it."
A string of high-profile customer wins – Spotify, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, and Apple to name a few – proved once and for all that Google had what it takes to make its mark in the enterprise cloud market.
The enterprise business was rebranded from Google For Work to Google Cloud to reflect that maturity, Greene said.
"The quantity and quality of our enterprise conversations has risen to a new level," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said during parent Alphabet's Q1 earnings call.
10. Increased partner engagement
Google this year introduced major updates to its partner program to reflect the elevated role the channel will play in deploying and managing cutting-edge cloud solutions.
Updates to the program introduced in October included two new certifications for partners – cloud architect and data engineer – recognising those skills were increasingly important to deploying advanced solutions.
Google also expanded the structure of its channel with two new program tracks: a Service Partner Competency program focused on fostering skills in specific Google Cloud technologies, and a Managed Services Provider program to encourage engagement with MSPs.
Look for Google to continue to expand its channel footprint in 2016 as it moves to significantly increase its enterprise public cloud market share.