Google Compute Engine: It's a Microsoft Windows Azure target (too)

It's not just a two-horse race between Google and Amazon in the infrastructure-as-a-service space.

When rumors of Google getting into the infrastructure-as-a-service business began percolating (largely thanks to Om Malik) last week, I started writing this post in my head.

I knew if Google announced this -- which happened on Day 2 of the Google I/O conference on June 28 -- almost every report out there would focus on the IaaS space becoming a two-horse race between Google and Amazon.

Guess what guys and gals? There's a third horse here. And I'd argue that horse, Microsoft, is more of the real Google Compute Engine competitor than Amazon is here (even though both Microsoft and Google are trying desperately to catch up to Amazon's runaway No. 1 position in public-cloud hosting).

Google's initial cloud offering was in the platform-as-a-service space with Google App Engine (GAE). I wrote back in April 2008 when Google fielded GAE that Microsoft was rumored to have a competitor up its sleeve which it hadn't yet launched. GAE ws designed to allow developers to create and host applications using infrastructure in Google’s own datacenters.

Microsoft had been working on its own PaaS platform, codenamed Red Dog, since 2006 or 2007. The company publicly presented Windows Azure in the fall of 2008 and began billing for Azure in February 2010. Microsoft officials have said that they considered Azure to be a direct competitor of GAE and, two other PaaS platforms. Amazon's EC2 platform isn't really considered more than an IaaS play, but Amazon has been trying to increase its appeal to developers, as of late.

Cut to 2012. After notifying its partners of its intentions months before, Microsoft took the plunge and jumped into the IaaS waters. The company is doing this by adding a new, persistent virtual machine role to Windows Azure that will allow developers and customers to host Linux and Windows Server, as well as applications (including SharePoint Server and SQL Server in these VMs).

On June 28, Google said it would be doing the same, but for Linux and Linux-based apps only. Google Compute Engine will encompass compute, storage, network and tooling elements. (The tooling part, at least so far, looks pretty thin.)

Windows Azure looks to me to be more of a mature and full-fledged cloud offering, with compute, storage, network, tooling, content distribution, media services, management, messaging and a host of other piece parts. Microsoft also is -- surprisingly to many -- making sure its open-source tooling, framework and application support is a priority, going forward.

Both Google and Microsoft are looking for ways to harness big-data processing power as part of their respective cloud platforms. Google is talking up Big Query; Microsoft is in the midst of testing Hadoop on Azure.

Bottom line: While most of what you read out there may act like it's now an Amazon vs. Google cloud race, the real one to watch may be Microsoft's Windows Azure vs. Google Compute Engine. May the best PaaS+IaaS win.