Google Cloud Next London 2017

Introducing Google Cloud Next London 2017

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend Google Cloud’s annual “Next” event hosted in London’s fantastic ExCel exhibition centre. Peeling myself away from all of the exciting work going on around our newly announced Virtual Smartcard solution was difficult, but for a developer and technology enthusiast such as myself the event made for an exciting opportunity, and I couldn’t wait to see what Google’s Cloud Platform (GCP) had in store for a forward-thinking tech company like Isosec.

Banner for Google Cloud Next London

First and foremost however, a little background. GCP is well known amongst both Google and cloud enthusiasts alike, and has been around for a little over half a decade, with some of its individual components long predating that. It comprises some well-known cloud-based technologies such as BigQuery and App-Engine, some consumer grade facilities like Google Docs and Drive, and far more that even I – a self-confessed Google addict and cloud enthusiast – had never heard of.

Why were they doing this?

But Google have – in my opinion – been having a bit of a problem with their cloud efforts, and it comes in the form of the other well-known cloud platform currently on the market. See despite how well Microsoft’s Azure is currently regarded, and how much they’re incentivizing it financially, there simply isn’t anyone as well known in the industry as Amazon with their infamous AWS. You’ll hear about it all over the web, see it on the news, encounter it daily – even if you don’t realise it – on a tremendous amount of your favourite websites, and even run into it on popular TV shows like Mr Robot and Silicon Valley. It’s everywhere you look when it comes to the cloud, and that’s exactly what Google are trying to change.

GIF of Silicon Valley scene featuring Amazon AWS reference

AWS have frequently features in tech TV shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley

Cue Google Cloud’s Next event, where Google’s enormous marketing budget meets its tremendous technology advancements to provide something truly special. Over the course of two days – three if you took part in any of their paid bootcamps – this free event offered over 50 “breakout sessions” where the experts behind the tech demonstrated their offerings to small-ish groups ranging from tens to hundreds, or in the case of the keynotes, thousands. Of course, when you weren’t in one of the many dedicated rooms, a typically Google experience meant there were VR demonstrations, partners such as Intel, Accenture and plenty of others showcasing their various products, and the kind of free gourmet food and drink on offer that made you forget you weren’t spending the day in the company’s famed Googleplex.

Setting all the fanfare aside however, let’s get down to what’s important…

The technology

Whilst the GCP has been around for several years, its pace of innovation and change meant that almost everything felt brand new, or at least heavily polished. There was a big focus on their various levels of cloud technology, from the simplistically designed Cloud Functions to the more complex Compute and App Engines, and a huge push for their Spanner database technology and the overall architecture of their platform. This was truly an opportunity for Google to say “Here’s what we’ve done, and here’s why it’s better”, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

Photo of main stage at Google Cloud Next London 2017

“Go big or go home” is definitely a motto at Google

Helping them get the message across were several high profile partners, some of whom featured in some of the various breakout sessions held throughout the event. Lush’s head of technology Ryan Kerry gave a fantastic talk about their migration to GCP and how they achieved it just in time for the Christmas rush, and VFX giants MPC did an incredible demonstration of their use of GCP to aid in the creation of some of Jungle Book’s awards winning animated sequences. Google did also reference Niantic, who had a famously poor launch from a technology perspective, but then I think you’d struggle to pin the blame for that on Google or the GCP.

GIF showing pre and post-animated scenes in the Jungle Book movie

MPC made use of GCP’s offerings when animating Disney’s Jungle Book

APIs are still king

What I found arguably most impressive however was not the flashy products or the big-name partners, but the APIs. Though already well known for its production and maintenance of APIs – when was the last time you used a website that didn’t have a Google Map embedded, or the option to translate its contents to a foreign language using Google Translate – Google are now looking to make the most of machine learning, artificial intelligence and the power of its infrastructure to conquer new areas. Particularly impressive were its demonstrations of its Data Loss Prevention API for understanding and automatically redacting sensitive information, Image Processing API for recognising the objects, facial expressions, locations and much more of both photos and videos, and their natural language API, which made the bane of most feedback forms – open ended questions – a cinch to analyse.

Photo of the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas

If you thought this was a photo of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, then I’m afraid Google’s Image Processing API is smarter than you (it’s actually the one in Las Vegas)

Google being Google

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Google event if there weren’t some fun aspects, and whilst there were no slides or multi-coloured bicycles to help you get around, there were still a few elements of Google shining brightly through. The “Quick, Draw!” stand drew crowds of people – who evidently didn’t realise they could play online any time – and the Kubernetes “Whack-a-node” game gave a really fun take on high availability and service rebuild times, something I think most companies would struggle to do. Collaborative white boarding application Jamboard also got plenty of attention, and so too did Google’s Daydream VR headset, which had an unsurprising queue of people for the entirety of the event.

Output of Google's photo recognition API

The facial recognition API isn’t quite there yet, but it’s getting close!

Photo of attendees playing Google's "Quick, Draw!" game

Google’s “Quick, Draw!” stand garnered a lot of interest

All in all it was a fantastic event. Google put on one hell of a show, and struck a near-perfect balance between technical demonstrations and higher level overviews. They even managed to do the entire thing without it seeming like too much of an advertisement – which of course, it was – and that alone is a fairly impressive achievement. For a Google fan such as myself, it was a privilege to be able to attend, and the new technologies and concepts I was exposed to will be featuring in Isosec products very soon.