Maybe the cloud has won, after all: Google end of life's its search appliance

News recently that Google is dropping its search appliance is a watershed moment for cloud more generally

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Having watched the cloud space for almost a decade, I've been interested to see the change in how enterprises react to the emergence of cloud. In the early days, enterprises were generally happy to ignore cloud, regarding it as a generally experimental trend that may or may not continue to be important. Thereafter, as cloud gained a toe hold, enterprises looked to get cloud-like solutions, but within the context of their existing on-premises focus. Many of us waited for the day when enterprises (and not just the early adopters) put aside their objections and dived right into cloud as the default position.

So news recently that Google is dropping its search appliance is a small, but important data point on this journey. Google’s search appliance was a somewhat counter-intuitive product (at least from the cloudy Google). It was intended for companies that had a desire to use Google technology to search their internal documents. Customers could buy a Google box, a hermetically sealed piece of kit that delivered a Google-like solution in an on-premises model. Google had previously phased out one model of the so-called GSA a few years ago. But this blanket sunsetting was something bigger.

It is easy to suggest that this move is a directive from Diane Greene, the VMware co-founder who recently became Google's tsar of all things cloud through Google's acquisition of her startup, bebop. Greene is internally pushing a cloud-first approach and, frankly, the GSA never quite gelled with that.

But, more broadly, does this indicate the lessening demand by enterprises for the seemingly oxymoronic on-premises cloud products? Coveo, another vendor offering intelligent search, told me via email that this move shows that Google has potentially forgotten the rest of the enterprise beyond the cloud early adopters. In the email, Coveo's CTO Laurent Simoneau wrote that:

"We agree that the future of enterprise search is all about cloud – for many reasons (scalability, security, efficiency, innovation), and for Google it’s obviously the entire strategy. For Coveo, while we announced last year the first end-to-end search as a service platform along with machine-learning capabilities, and we’ve been offering search as a cloud service for several years, we also believe that companies will continue to leverage on-premise information alongside cloud content for a long while. That’s why we unify on-premise and cloud data (via cloud-based indexing), and present it in any system, cloud or on-premise. Because people just want the best information, every time and everywhere, regardless of where it exists."

It would be easy to take this at face value and assume that Google is being short-sighted in dropping the GSA. But increasingly it seems that an enterprise search product that is based on-premises is missing the boat somewhat. Google is gunning for the big prize and must, naturally, chase the biggest opportunities. While on-premises search is arguably an area that will be needed for the ongoing future, I'd suggest it is an opportunity with a rapidly reducing market size. The number of organizations thinking of this as a need is falling quickly.

Maybe this is just an example of Greene cutting off support for products that have marginal opportunity for growth. But part of me thinks (and would like to believe) that this is more a function of an increasing move to a cloud-first approach across enterprises big and small.

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