If you’re reading this, there’s a high probability you heard a lot about all the artificial intelligence news coming out of the Google I/O conference on Wednesday. But in case you missed something, Recode has a solid rundown of the show’s biggest announcements—most of which involve AI. You can read that here
, and I’ll link to Google blog posts with more detail at the end of this.
However, the biggest news of the day from the cloud computing perspective was definitely Google Cloud TPUs—a hosted, second-generation version of the AI-optimized Tensor Processing Units that Google detailed last month
. You could see this one coming from a mile away: Google views AI as its ace in the hole against cloud computing competitors AWS and Microsoft, and there’s no way it would get everyone all excited about TPUs if it wasn’t going to productize them.
I’ve written in more detail about this cloud-AI competition a few times already this year:
Each of these new TPU devices delivers up to 180 teraflops of floating-point performance. As powerful as these TPUs are on their own, though, we designed them to work even better together. Each TPU includes a custom high-speed network that allows us to build machine learning supercomputers we call “TPU pods.” A TPU pod contains 64 second-generation TPUs and provides up to 11.5 petaflops to accelerate the training of a single large machine learning model. That’s a lot of computation!
Using these TPU pods, we’ve already seen dramatic improvements in training times. One of our new large-scale translation models used to take a full day to train on 32 of the best commercially-available GPUs—now it trains to the same accuracy in an afternoon using just one eighth of a TPU pod.
But don’t be fooled into thinking Google cares one way or another about Nvidia, despite the fact that widespread adoption of Cloud TPUs could have an adverse effect on Nvidia sales
. Cloud TPUs are all about sticking it to AWS and Microsoft, Google’s biggest and, in fact, bigger
competitors for cloud computing workloads. All three providers will offer Nvidia’s best GPUs for rent in their clouds, just like they all offer managed versions of popular technologies such as Spark or MySQL, but they hope to make their marks with homemade technologies
you can’t get anywhere else.
In databases, it’s Cloud Spanner, Cosmos DB and DynamoDB
. Now, in AI infrastructure, Google has laid down the gauntlet with Cloud TPUs. Expect AWS and Microsoft to announce some sort of answer by the end of the year, if not sooner.
However, there’s also a software element to this AI battle, where Google also has the early advantage. Cloud TPUs are programmed via Google’s open source TensorFlow deep learning framework, and the company has spent the past several years building up that community. Add in its recent acquisition of machine-learning competition platform Kaggle
, and—as Kaggle CEO Anthony Goldbloom explained during a recent ARCHITECHT Show interview
—Google has a great opportunity to seed an even larger base of users accustomed to running workloads on its cloud using its frameworks and APIs.
But there’s a big, glowing caveat to this whole discussion: before Google can expect to take over the cloud via AI, it needs to get its act together on trust and customer service. Yesterday, for example, Google also announced that it’s open sourcing the SDKs for the Firebase mobile-app platform it acquired in 2014. The Hacker News thread on that announcement
—spurred in part by another Wednesday blog post
about Firebase making unannounced changes to its data model and jacking up one startup’s bill by 7,000 percent—provides some insight into how some developers feel about Google.
They’ve been burned by premature deaths of beloved products, and even a Firebase founder acknowledges that customer support has slipped since the Google acquisition. If developers are leery, imagine how CIOs feel.
On the other hand, there’s Amazon. TechCrunch ran a great guest post on Sunday
(save for the strange last paragraph) explaining, in the author’s estimation, how Amazon has come to dominate so many industries over the past decade. It wasn’t always via superior technology, but it also was not
by alienating its customers.
Through AWS, Amazon still dominates the cloud computing market it all but created, and Google and Microsoft will both need to bring their A+ games to topple it. I believe that’s possible
, and that AI could certainly be a strong weapon in Google’s arsenal, but it needs to build up its reputation in other areas in order for that advantage to pay off. As I wrote earlier this month
, Amazon might never top Google as an AI innovator, but it will find a way to make money from it one way or another.
As promised, here are some links to more details on Google’s various AI-infused announcements: