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Google in cloud-support price war with Amazon, Microsoft

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Google has updated its cloud support packages, and in doing so has opened up another front in its cloud pricing war with Amazon and Microsoft.

The four support packages across the Google Cloud Platform — which comprises App Engine, Compute Engine, Cloud Storage, Cloud SQL, BigQuery, and other public-facing services — let developers pay for larger and larger support options and sees Google mimicking Microsoft in its decision to not publicize the cost of high-end support packages.

"Support is as important as product features when choosing a platform for your applications," Brett McCully of Google's Cloud Platform Team wrote in a blog post on Thursday announcing the packages. "Let's face it, sometimes we all need a bit of help. While you can go to Stack Overflow or Google Groups, we realize some of you may need 24x7 coverage, phone support or direct access to a Technical Account Manager team."

The options range from the free Bronze tier (which gives developers the same basic package of documentation, community forums, and billing support they can expect to get anywhere in the cloud) up to Silver, Gold, and the pricing-undisclosed Platinum.

Silver ($150 a month) lets you email Googlers for information on how your technology works, best practices, and for basic answers on what has gone wrong. If your service has totally failed, Google will respond within four hours, but if it is severely impaired but still online, Google will respond within a business day.

This compares with a sub-12-hour response for $49 a month on Amazon, which also gets you some additional features such as client-side diagnostic tools, and $29 a month for Windows Azure which says its "fastest response times" will come in at less than eight hours.

The Gold package shifts to a pricing-according-to-use model of $400 plus 9 per cent of product usage fees between $4,001 and $10,000 per month; 7 per cent for $10,001 to $50,000; five per cent for $50,001 to $200,000; and three per cent for $200,000 and over.

This tariff model makes Google marginally more expensive than Amazon at low usage levels, as Amazon charges the greater fee of either $100 per month, or 10 per cent of usage up to $10,000, 7 per cent from $10,000 to $80,000, 5 per cent from $80 to 250,000, or 3 per cent from $250,000 and up. Amazon is itself at a slight disadvantage to Microsoft, which charges a flat rate of $300, though this gives you far fewer features.

Platinum lets you access the holy grail of cloud support: a flesh-and-blood "technical account manager" who you can ring up for advice, reassurance, and presumably a sympathetic ear if it's 3AM and you're apoplectic with rage due to a cloud brownout.

"Silver support is ideal for customers who don't wish to receive around-the-clock support, but want assistance beyond our Bronze resources," Brett McCully of Google's Cloud Platform Team, told The Register. "Gold support is for customers who would like access to 24x7 and phone support and likely have applications running traffic at all hours. Platinum support is a good fit for customers that want all of the above, in addition to ongoing implementation assistance."

Old pricing model in a new cloud world

It's access to a technical account manager that costs an undisclosed amount of money, and it's here The Reg thinks Google has indicated both the smaller scale of its commercial cloud services and an unwillingness to truly compete with Amazon.

Amazon has consistently reduced the prices of its cloud computing services, and true to its history as a bookseller has always published the "sticker price" for its various services, including support. (TAM access on Amazon is available via its "Enterprise" package, which starts at $15,000 per month.)

If pricing is kept in the dark, it's bad for all users because they can't effectively compare their service with others. If pricing is public, demand will force a homogenization of price a lot quicker than if customers are having to talk to other cloud users via backchannels.

For Google to not list a price for access to a TAM indicates either it hasn't modeled the cost of doing this enough to work it into its public pricing, or that it's unwilling to set a price on the technical expertise of a Googler. Microsoft takes the same approach of not disclosing cost with its full-fat "Premier" support tier.

By using this pricing model, Google and Microsoft are going into the utility cloud world with an old enterprise business model: avoid disclosing prices so you can charge each company according to how much you think they can afford. This makes for great sales commissions and nice recurring revenue, but engenders customer resentment and makes it difficult for smaller companies to take you on.

Mountain View is beginning to look a lot like Redmond.®

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