Google Cloud, still not ready for the real world

With all of the new buzz around the fancy features that Google has been launching lately, I decided to take a stab at using Google Cloud for one of my new projects at Newstex. The project is simple and isolated, so there was nothing to hinder me or tie me into AWS, and nothing to prevent me from testing out the waters.

What I discovered, however, is the reason why many people are still primary focused on AWS instead of Google Cloud; there's a lot of shiny features, but it's missing the important parts.

Security

Let's start with the most important part of any Cloud Infrastructure, Security. It's absolutely paramount that you can control access to resources, and make sure you contain who (and what) has access to different elements of your cloud environment. For example, you don't want to allow a process to have access to start and stop servers if all it needs is access to read files from your storage system. You also don't want to give access to every storage bucket to your new client that wants access to your files to download, just the specific files they should have access to. You also don't want to give the new DevOp you just hired full write-level access to kill all servers and horrendously screw things up before they know what they're doing.

For all of these things, Amazon developed IAM. You can securely control exactly what access any given set of credentials provides, in some cases down to an incredibly low-level of granularity, such as limiting someone to a specific prefix in an S3 Bucket, or a certain sub-set of items within a DynamoDB table. The granularity level is extreme, and it's very easy to construct access control rules that allow you to prevent abuse, as well as just misuse.

Google Cloud lets you split access apart by Project. That's it.

APIs and Documentation

Here's an interesting test for you, try to figure out how to write a row of data into a BigQuery table from a script in Python. Better yet, try finding out how to do it in Node.js. While Google does consider Python a primary programming language, if you're just trying to access an API through a script, it takes a lot of bootstrapping just to get that to work. There's no simple API like "boto" to handle all the automatic magic required to connect. The API keys don't even work with BigQuery, and the API keys aren't even secure (or really secret since you're sending them along with every request). There's no simple signed url scheme, it all relies on OAuth2.

Have you ever worked with OAuth2? It's a complete pain in the ass. Not to mention it's designed for a web-based workflow, not a server-side script. So when you do finally manage to get that script working, you have to go to a browser to authorize your request, then store the access keys for future use. Oh, and those expire. That requires more manual intervention.

It's not a usable API if it requires manual intervention. Yes, you can use it from within AppEngine, or within Google Cloud (with some work), but what if I don't want to run it within the Google Environment? Why am I so tied down to using their systems? Even then, it's not very obvious how to get things to work.

This is a fault of two aspects, the API is not well designed, and the documentation does not describe it well. A simple REST API with JSON would solve this issue, provided there was also decent documentation. There should be documentation and API wrappers to help with at least the most popular languages out there. I shouldn't have to resort to looking through python code to find out how to authenticate myself.

Oh, and if you offer an API Key, make it work with everything, and make it secure.

Consistency

Google is in a state of transition right now. It's very obvious if you ever talk to a Google engineer that the teams at Google are in a state of unhealthy competition. The BigQuery folks don't like the Cloud SQL Folks, and the Compute Engine folks are at war with the AppEngine folks. This is very obvious if you look at the design of each system. The "Cloud Console" doesn't have everything in it yet. You have to go out to the old consoles a lot to get the full functionality you want (like certain APIs, or to access certain features of BigQuery).

Yes, this will change, but it is a symptom of a larger problem at Google. There is a lot of internal politics going on that bleeds out and hits the consumer. It's unfortunate that the boys at Google don't know how to cooperate and realize that when one team succeeds, the entire company does (just look at how long it took for Android to adopt Chrome as the default browser).

With Material being released, hopefully this will change soon. This is simply a growing pain issue. Google will solve this eventually, but for now we'll have to wait until they solve their internal disputes before as a consumer we can get a good experience.

Quantity of Services

The quantity of services available at Google is pitiful. Google is very single-minded, and they have specific tools designed around an exact workflow. AppEngine is designed around very specific workflows (Web applications and background processes). BigQuery is designed around a very specific process (write-only datastore). What if you want to queue messages? What if you want to store versioned files? What if you need to store petabites of metadata in an SQL-Like environment? How about DNS with location-based routes?

For those solutions, you're on your own. Yes, there are OpenSource solutions you can run, and you can even run them on Google Cloud, but they don't really give you any simple solutions to do so.

Shiny features, not hard-level power

In conclusion, there are a lot of shiny features that Google Cloud offers (such as hot-VM Migrations), but this is not enough. They did not focus enough on the core requirements, just the differentiating factors. Yes, there are some very nice features of Google Cloud, but it is not a complete solution. There is still too much missing to make it a real competitor to AWS.

What does google need to do?

To get me to switch, there are a few things Google needs:
  • Easier access (Signed API Keys)
  • Granular Access Control (by API Key, by service, by access type)
  • Better documentation
  • Better API Wrappers (Node.js, Python, Go)
  • More services, or easy-access to open-source alternatives such as:
    • Redis
    • Memcache
    • Rabbitmq
  • More tutorials, with different use-cases, such as:
    • Video Upload/Encoding
    • Translation
    • Image Manipulation
    • Background Processing of text files
    • Google+ Sentiment analysis
    • etc...
And don't assume everyone is using Java. Do examples in other languages, even in Go to show off how nice of a language it really can be.

My Plea

Please Google, keep on innovating, and make the developer tools better. BigQuery is an awesome tool, but accessing it is not.

I am not an AWS fanboy, it's just the only service that works. I would gladly use Google Cloud if it offered a competitive alternative. It just doesn't right now.
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