C is for Compute - Google Compute Engine (GCE)
Monday, July 2, 2012 at 9:56AM
Todd Hoff in cloud, google

After poking around the Google Compute Engine (GCE) documentation I had some trouble creating a mental model of how GCE works. Is it like AWS, GAE, Rackspace, just what is it? After watching Google I/O 2012 - Introducing Google Compute Engine and Google Compute Engine -- Technical Details, it turns out my initial impression, that GCE is disarmingly straightforward, turns out to be the point.

The focus of GCE is on the C, which stands for Compute, and that’s what GCE is all about: deploying lots of servers to solve computationally hard problems. What you get with GCE is a Super Datacenter on Google Steroids.

If you are wondering how you will run the next Instagram on GCE then that would be missing the point. GAE is targeted at applications. GCE is targeted at:

Basic Overview of GCE

Examples of GCE Usage

Invite Media

Runs a real-time ad exchange that has a very high volume of traffic, 400K QPS,  and as with all real-time markets requires consistently low latencies, 150ms end-to-end, in order to calculate the best deals. For each ad request they have time budget of 10ms to find a backend server to serve the request and establish a connection.

Found the GCE model familiar. You have Linux VMs, you have disks, you can assign static IPs, create startup scripts, and have a nice API. Took two weeks to port their system to GCE.

Comparing existing provider with GCE, using 8 core instances:

Decided to migrate entire operation to GCE.

Hadoop on GCE

This is example code created by someone at Google and will be released in the future.

Video Transcoding

This is very common cloud demo.

  1. Video loaded into a job queue.
  2. Consumers, and you can run a lot on GCE, take job and perform the transcode.
  3. Transcoded video is sent to the Google storage service.

MapR on Terasort

MapR ran the Terasort benchmark on a 1250 node cluster in 1:20 minutes at a cost of $16. This was near record performance and they estimate to buy the same hardware to run the test locally would cost nearly $6 million.

They found GCE blazing fast with great disk drive disk and network bandwidth. They were able to provision thousands of VMs in minutes


Put their database and production servers on GCE. They are very pleased with the consistent performance. Their service delivers insurance related data points to customers at the time they write policies. Results were returned in less than 4 seconds with a very low variance. Again, this is the consistent performance claim.


  1. With GCE Google has designed an experience familiar to Amazon users, with some nice second system improvements in configuration and operations, and a lot of special Google sauce in performance.
  2. Better late than never. GCE is late to the game, but it has a strong performance, pricing, and development model story that often helps with customers wins over first to market entrants. If you need huge scale and/or great performance then why wouldn’t you consider GCE? Performance requires carefull design from the start. It’s hard to add in later. And after all of Google’s bragging about their cool infrastructure this is your chance to give it a spin and see what it is made of.
  3. Kind of bummed that it’s not targeted more at front facing websites. There’s no reason you can’t run a website in GCE it seems, but unlike AWS you won’t get a lot of help. Like in the early days of EC2 it’s all up to you, but that’s probably OK for a lot of people.
  4. As Google deals with more and more customers can they maintain quality? As we’ve seen, most things go bad when problems occur and a lot of traffic is flowing through the system. Shared state is the system killer and Google still has plenty of that. Google has yet to test their cloud infrastrucure in this way.
  5. Where will egress pricing end up once the low promotional pricing ends? Google lockin will occur if it’s expensive to transfer your data out of Google’s cloud. Google pricing in general is a bit scary.
  6. Will AWS Direct Connect be avaialble to GCE?
  7. Is GCE a target for migration or integration? BigData jobs are an obvious target for GCE, but we've also seen examples where real-time services benefit from GCE, so running a few select services in GCE might be a good toe in the water strategy. Concerns over data transfer costs are part of the ecosystem lockin play. Resilience alone however argues for implementing systems in more than one cloud.
  8. Amazon has a huge advantage in services. Will Google go upstack as Amazon has done? Or is this your cloud equivalent of a chance to tap the Android market while everyone else is creating apps for theiPhone?

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