Thomas Kurian, chief executive officer of cloud services at Google LLC, speaks at the Google Cloud Next ’19 event in San Francisco, California, USA on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. The conference brings together industry experts to explore the future of cloud. discuss computer use.
Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Google maintains a piece of software, Cloudtop, that employees use to access internal programs. It is something that can be useful for companies that want to keep their employees productive while working from home while sheltering in place to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
However, when Google’s cloud customers request a virtual desktop solution, Google refers them to third-party solutions, according to two people familiar with the company’s cloud operations, who asked for anonymity while discussing internal business issues.
Google’s approach is in stark contrast to the market leaders Amazon and Microsoft. Both have their own virtual desktop services, and both have seen an increase in usage during the pandemic. For many companies working remotely at scale for the first time, it’s easier to rely on cloud providers to handle the infrastructure than to keep administrators on site to manage servers – or email PCs to new employees.
For example, after Zoom saw an increase in new customers during the pandemic, the video calling software company signed up for more than 1,000 Amazon WorkSpaces virtual desktops for its help desk agents, Amazon said in November. In May, AWS said oil and gas pipeline operator TC Energy had signed up for Amazon WorkSpaces so employees could work safely from home.
For Microsoft, the boom was so significant that CEO Satya Nadella mentioned it during the company’s quarterly reports with analysts last April. “Use of Windows Virtual Desktop tripled this quarter as organizations deploy virtual desktops and apps on Azure to enable secure remote work,” said Nadella.
No plans to make Cloudtop available to customers
Google first made its Cloudtop service available to employees in 2017. Its purpose is to help them build software, interact with internal systems, and communicate via internet relay chat or IRC. The service provides desktops with the Linux and Windows operating systems, which can be useful for source code testing.
In previous years, Google has impressed the information technology industry by creating software it relies on for its core Internet business for outsiders to use. It released the Cloud Bigtable and Cloud Spanner databases after describing the architecture of the underlying software in, for example, academic papers.
Google published a paper on its virtual desktop software in 2018. More than 25% of Google employees use virtual desktops, and Google migrated the software from its corporate infrastructure to its public cloud to improve the user experience and lower the total cost of ownership, the paper said.
But that has not translated into a product for outsiders.
A Google spokesperson said the company recognizes the increased demand for virtual desktops as people work remotely, but it does not currently plan to offer Cloudtop as a cloud service. Instead, the company is prioritizing its third-party offering in the virtual desktop market – Telus uses a proprietary product Itopia in the Google cloud, while Equifax relies on Citrix software in the Google cloud. Other customers use a product from a private company Workspot.
Promoting partner products gives customers the opportunity to extend technologies they use in their data centers to the public cloud, and customers will not be locked into a service of their own, the spokesperson said.
These products have gained momentum since the coronavirus appeared. In 2020, the revenue growth of Citrix’s Workspace segment, including the virtual desktop software, accelerated to approximately 13% year over year, compared to 5% in the previous year. It’s profitable revenue too: Citrix reported gross margin of nearly 85%, higher than 97% of companies in the S&P 500 index, according to FactSet.
That growth benefits Google to some extent: the company is taking a 20% discount on the fees that third parties charge customers.
But none of the third-party options is a big hit, according to the two people familiar with the company’s cloud business.
“It was a bit surprising that Google was no longer in that market,” said Michael Silver, an analyst at technology research firm Gartner who covered the category. “I don’t know why it wasn’t.”
WATCH: Thomas Kurian from Google Cloud on the future of cloud computing