In an effort to convince upstart Internet companies to use its infrastructure offering, Google has unveiled a Cloud Platform for Startups program.
Program participants receive $100,000 to apply toward the use of Cloud Platform services, 24/7 phone support and access to Cloud Platform solutions engineers.
Cloud Platform for Startups is available to startups that are part of an approved accelerator or incubator, such as Y Combinator and AngelPad, or that have accepted funding from an approved VC firm, including Google's own venture arm, Google Ventures. Additionally, startups must have less than $500,000 in annual revenue and cannot have raised more than $5 million to be eligible.
Google touts that its Cloud Platform architecture is the same architecture it uses internally to run its properties, including search, Gmail and YouTube. All told, Google says that Cloud Platform is behind more than 4 million applications, and counts prominent brands such as Snapchat, Rovio, Sony Music and Best Buy as customers.
Cloud Platform is designed to offer companies all the services they need to run their applications and scale them as they grow. These services include App Engine, a platform-as-a-service offering, as well as a storage offering, Cloud Storage; a relational database offering, Cloud SQL; and a NoSQL datastore offering, Cloud Datastore. Google also offers more specialized services such as Cloud Endpoints, which makes it easy to develop RESTful Web services, and a Prediction API that allows companies to use machine learning algorithms to analyze data.
Winning the Hearts, Minds and Dollars of the Next Generation of Internet Giants
Google Platform exists in an incredibly competitive market. Amazon and Rackspace, for instance, have similar offerings, and they too court startups. The AWS Activate and Rackspace Startup programs also offer free credits, access to a higher level of technical support and architecture consultation.
Startups are an especially appealing target for Google, Amazon, Rackspace and others because, should they become wildly successful, they can drive millions of dollars in long-term business. The reason: Cloud infrastructure services have a higher degree of lock-in than one might expect.
In theory, it should be easy for companies to switch from one provider to another. In reality, though, this is often difficult to do because companies adopt many of the services that the provider offers and end up architecting their applications around those services. If you use Amazon Web Services, for instance, you'll probably use S3 for storage. If you use Rackspace, you'll use Cloud Files. While it's possible to employ abstraction to ensure that an application isn't dependent on one cloud hosting provider's services, this isn't done as frequently as one would think, and as applications grow in complexity, it can become harder and harder to implement these abstractions.
An additional contributor to lock-in is the fact that startups are growth-focused businesses that worry more about acquiring more users or customers than they do about cutting costs. As such, startups are less likely to be concerned with what they're paying for each hour of computing or each gigabyte of storage than larger, more established companies.
All this said, the competition among Google, Amazon and Rackspace is a good thing for the startups they're pursuing regardless of the lock-in dynamic. The greatest threat to any startup is not vendor lock-in; it's running out of money and thus time. With free credits, access to better support and offerings that reduce development time, programs like Cloud Platform for Startups can make a real difference to the upstarts that are capable of taking advantage.