Google’s Argument to Enterprise IT: “Trust Us”

FACT:  Yesterday, Google’s Dave Girouard, VP of enterprise sales, gave a keynote speech on “The Evolution of Cloud Computing” at FOSE, a Washington trade-show focusing on federal government and military IT customers.  According to a Washington Post reporter’s blog account afterwards:

[Girouard said] “Google will have to do things differently” to work with defense and intelligence agencies, where data security and privacy are held to the tightest standards. But he argued that having information spread across hundreds of different servers is actually more secure than housing data on a few servers at a specific location. “Security is now more virtual than physical,” he said.

ANALYSIS:  The Google salesman (Girouard is VP of enterprise sales) was speaking at FOSE on the same day I made an April Fools blogpost featuring a lame “Cloud Computing” joke (see it here, come back when you stop laughing).  

This year I’m at FOSE as neither buyer nor speaker; the past couple of years I spoke at FOSE, as a DIA official, and I always enjoy walking the exhibit floor, plus I was curious about Girouard’s take on Google’s current move into the federal space.

To be honest I’ve met him before when he was with Virage and he’s a fine fellow, a good salesman.

The rhetoric of his main pitch, though, seems to be battling uphill, and I’m not sure he gets a nuanced distinction.

His central approach is to argue, as he did yesterday, that government enterprise organizations need to act more nimbly, act like smaller flatter organizations, and take advantage of the speed of innovation occurring in “the cloud.”  As he said, “Cloud computing is pushing hard the theory of big companies vs. small companies, developed vs. developing nations and teams vs. individuals. On the Web today with cloud computing a few people anywhere in the world can create a company that can compete with almost anybody, and it’s incredibly cheap to do so.”

Now, that’s extending the cloud notion to include several other things — particularly the sort of aggressive anti-large-enterprise-software-company rhetoric which Girouard is known for. Two years ago he caused a buzz when he launched what was termed a “scathing attack” on Microsoft, Oracle, and other potential large Google competitive targets, saying “Innovation is happening in the consumer world. Enterprise software is entirely bereft of soul. It is designed for business not for humans…. This is Darwinism.” 

(Note to self: it would be unfair to point out that since those comments were published in May 2006, Google stock is up 19%, Microsoft stock up 22%.)

In any case, the thrust of his argument (big companies slow and bad, small companies fast and good, small teams quickest and most noble) seems in some contradiction to the necessary notion of trust involved in information security, which government systems prize above all else, particularly in defense and intelligence but certainly not exclusively.

He tried to span that gap with an anecdote – his laptop was stolen at a Giants baseball game, he said, but “There was nothing on that laptop. Everything was stored remotely — there was no loss of data, and no loss of productivity.”

Hmmm.  First, I doubt many hackers would give up so easily, when many usernames and passwords for online “cloud” access can be hacked from most laptops pretty quickly. But more importantly, there’s the question of exactly “whose cloud” the data is resident on. Is it a secure cloud?  Is it airgapped from all the other consumer data collected by the company owning the cloud servers, notorious targets of foreign and malevolent hackers?

An argument which boils down to “Trust the cloud” implies a type of seal-of-approval world, one at odds with his rhetoric about large corporate dinosaurs being the enemy of virtuous independent actors new to the scene.  Girouard appeared to recognize the dissonance, winding up with a pitch for government buyers skittish about security.  He acknowledged, “If you’re turning over your most sensitive data to a third party, it’s all about ‘Who do you trust?’ This won’t happen overnight, and Google will need to prove this, but we’re committed to doing it.”

It will be interesting to track Google’s ability to continue marketing the “innovative upstart” image it has honed, while trying to project a new, buttoned-down image as a sober grown-up worthy of enterprise trust.

One unrelated note on credibility: Girouard mentioned the intelligence community’s Intellipedia wiki as an example of a cloud-services app, now used by thousands of IC analysts daily.  A Government Computer News story today seemed to mistake him as taking credit on behalf of Google; the article says Girourard described Intellipedia as “an online information pool that closely reflects methods used in the Google-sponsored Wikipedia.”  Surely that latter comment’s a stretch!🙂

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2 Responses

  1. Google didn’t have anything to do with Wikipedia, you’re right. They certainly didn’t have anything to do with Intellipedia, although the IC does use Google for some search.

  2. […] don’t mean to be snarky; but this isn’t the first time that I’ve noticed Mr. Girouard’s “front of brass” and “feet of […]

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