Google's Diane Greene whipped the cloud business into shape with key technical hires, sales expansion

Key Points
  • Google's cloud business has expanded its executive ranks under Diane Greene, even in the past quarter.
  • Greene says the company has been clear that it would not go "up the stack" and compete more with its own customers.
Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene, center.
Andrew Evers | CNBC

Diane Greene, CEO of Google's cloud business, met last week with leaders from three big companies — one in health care, one in infrastructure and one in supply chain management.

"All three of them, it was either CTO or CEO. All three of them wanted to discuss the transformation of their companies, and, across a broad spectrum, of what we could bring to the table," Greene said Friday during a visit to CNBC's San Francisco bureau.

And after those talks, she's confident that all three will become "pretty sizable customers."

The expansive, high-level nature of those meetings suggests that Google has matured in its engagement with businesses in selling cloud services since Greene joined in late 2015.

The Google cloud had picked up more big-name customers since then, including PayPal and Verizon, and a massive 130,000-seat contract with Airbus to replace Microsoft's Office. It has added features through acquisitions and in-house product development, while striving to stay in its lane as a general-purpose technology provider. And Google has also brought in more leaders, including former Intel executive Diane Bryant.

Greene herself is regularly traveling overseas to meet with customers — and keeping an eye on numbers. While the Google Cloud Platform isn't the No. 1 public cloud, Greene ultimately comes across as confident.

And that's for good reason. Google cloud has grown in multiple ways under her leadership.

Nailing sales

Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat has emphasized on eight-consecutive earnings calls that the umbrella company's biggest head count growth has been in cloud, and that investment seems to be paying off: Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced on last month's earnings call that G Suite and Google public cloud now bring in more than $1 billion in revenue per quarter.

Yet the biggest public cloud, Amazon Web Services, fetched more than $5 billion last quarter. Microsoft had $5.3 billion in revenue from "commercial cloud," which includes Office 365 business subscriptions, Azure and Dynamics 365.

At this point, Google sees three types of sales engagements happening, said Google cloud's president of global alliances and industry platforms, Tariq Shaukat. First, developers still sign up to pay for whatever they use with credit cards online. Second, CIOs and CTOs start conversations with Google after deciding they want their companies to modernize IT infrastructure. And third, COOs, CMOs or CEOs reach out to Google to use cloud as a way to evolve their entire businesses — in those cases, ongoing relationships with other parts of Google, like ad sales, can be important.

"This is something that, if you went back two years ago, you didn't see anywhere near as much activity in this space as you see now, because I think people are getting more comfortable with the cloud, with security, with financial management, cost control — all of these different areas that have been developing over time," Shaukat said of the second kind of sales relationship he described.

When Greene arrived, G Suite and Google public cloud belonged to two different organizations, and cloud sales were under Google's ads business. Now they're all under Greene's purview.

Growing the team

Shaukat, who joined Google in 2016 after being chief commercial officer at Caesars Entertainment, is one of the many executives who have joined Google Cloud since Greene's arrival.

This month BP executive Darryl Willis arrived as Google's vice president for oil, gas and energy, and Kevin Ichhpurani, a former SAP executive, came to Google earlier this year "to help with our strategic partnerships," Greene said. Jeff Jennings, a longtime employee of VMware, which Greene co-founded and once led, defected to Google Cloud as vice president of customer engineering last month.

Greene said she has assembled an office of the CTO full of "super senior people in different domains." Members include former Spotify executive Nicholas Harteau and former Kabam executive Michael Marano.

And there are more customers to point to, both in public cloud and in G Suite. "We really became very enterprise-ready by the end of last year," Greene said.

CNBC reported earlier this month on Apple's use of Google public cloud for iCloud data storage, and Greene confirmed a report that Airbus was switching from Microsoft Office to G Suite for 130,000 employees.

"I feel like it's kind of hitting a slight tipping point because of the kinds of customers we're closing, with 100,000- to 300,000-seat customers in regulated industries," Greene said.

Big acquisitions? 'You don't do that lightly'

Amid all of this, Google has added more cloud tools and features, including a service for easily training artificial intelligence models. Google Cloud has also made acquisitions, like Xively for the internet of things market and Apigee for management of application programming interfaces.

"We'll buy any place where this is going to accelerate what we're doing and it's small enough that we can integrate them really quickly and it's great people — we'll just buy them," Greene said. Buying medium-size companies generally won't lead to major changes, she said.

"We're constantly looking at big ones, but those are sort of — you don't do that lightly," Greene said. "We're not averse to it, but they're pretty hard to find."

Whether it's build or buy, Greene indicated that Google has tried to add functionality while not becoming more competitive with its own customers.

"If they feel like they're going to have a competition with their vendor, they have a bias against that, and we're very clear that we're not going up the stack," Greene said.

"We have so much innovation to do in the areas of our data analytics, in the areas of our machine learning, in the areas of our agile development environment, and then the underlying infrastructure," she said. "We see that that's our role and that's what we're really good at — and plenty, plenty of business there, endlessly, I think, because cloud is such a big thing."