When Google CEO Sundar Pichai handed Diane Greene the keys to the company's fledgling cloud business three years ago, it was supposed to mark the internet company's arrival into enterprise computing.
For years, Google had struggled to get out of its own way in business software, hamstrung by a developer-centric culture that prioritized automation and fast, easy-to-use products over communication with business buyers and users. The huge profit margins in the online advertising business made it hard to justify loading up on expensive salespeople and marketing campaigns.
So while Google was dithering alongside a large group of also-rans, Amazon Web Services was running away with cloud computing. Microsoft deftly moved into second place by pivoting its traditional software licensing business to a subscription-based cloud-first model.
Greene was meant to change all that. She brought with her serious enterprise credentials as the co-founder and first CEO of VMware. In some sense, VMware helped kick off the cloud revolution by pioneering a technology called "virtualization," which allowed the operators of data centers to squeeze more functionality out of the server hardware they bought and maintained. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has said "there's no more successful female executive in Silicon Valley" than Greene.
Pichai wrote in his introductory blog post in November 2015 that "Diane needs no introduction." She would get her own dedicated sales team, pulling cloud software sales out from under the control of the core advertising business.
On Friday, that plan came to an abrupt halt when Greene announced that she will leave her post in January. Greene will be replaced by Thomas Kurian, who recently left a top executive role at Oracle, where he spent 22 years.
During Greene's tenure, Google increased its annual capital expenditures from $10 billion to over $13 billion, and went on a hiring spree — the cloud group has added more people than any other at Alphabet over the last two years. It got some key customer wins and built out several important functions for selling to enterprises, including professional services, training and marketing.
Despite all that, Google continues to struggle. People who follow the industry say it's a two-horse race between Amazon and Microsoft, with Google failing to keep pace in a cloud infrastructure market that Gartner expects to grow to $39.5 billion next year from $31 billion in 2018. In terms of market share, Google has yet to crack double digits.
"They figured out and monetized search like nobody probably ever will, but I don't think they care about the enterprise," said Tom Siebel, the co-founder of software company Siebel Systems, which Oracle acquired for almost $6 billion in 2006. Siebel, who has known Greene for about 15 years and is now CEO of cloud software company C3, said that when it comes to helping big businesses solve their infrastructure problems, "Google is just not a factor."
Greene put a positive spin on last week's announcement, saying that she was among the Google employees to interview Kurian for the job, along with Pichai and Urs Hoelzle, Google's eighth employee, who serves as senior vice president of technical infrastructure.
Greene also said that when she took the position in 2015, she told family and friends that it would be for only two years.