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Google Cloud is NOT magicking away data egress fees

GCP's somewhat limited move to drop "cloud switching" charges is aimed squarely at Microsoft.

google cloud exit fees

It was easy, for a moment, squinting at the headlines, to think that Google Cloud (GCP) had ended data egress fees or somehow slashed network charges for moving customer data around – a really bold move.

It has, of course, done nothing of the sort, just this week terminated, sort of, data transfer fees for those who have already opted to abandon ship. 

“Data transfer charges remain for normal customer activities. The data transfer credits are only for customers who are leaving Google Cloud” GCP said this week in an FAQ on its decision to end “cloud switching” charges. 

The offer extends only to those on the “Premium Tier Network Service Tier” (Google’s private fiber network) rather than those using its “Standard” tier (a transit ISP’s network), and is only for eight GCP data storage and data management products. (BigQuery, Cloud Bigtable, Cloud SQL, Cloud Storage, Datastore, Filestore, Spanner, and Persistent Disk.)

Customers will, firstly, also need to fill out a 15-section form and await approval: “The Google Cloud Support team will review the request and notify you of when you may initiate the migration of all your workloads and data from Google Cloud to another cloud service provider or an on-premises data center for free in anticipation of terminating your Google Cloud agreement” GCP explained in that January 11 FAQ.

Good news, perhaps, regardless, but also something of a stunt.

Google Cloud exit fees: "Support will review your request..."

The move came as regulators have criticised “data egress” fees; a broad term, of course, that extends beyond data transfers made when someone is outright terminating a cloud relationship and which is typically shorthand for the fees charged when data in an application leaves a cloud environment, even if the cloud component of it is still running.

The UK’s Ofcom has noted, however, that “the most cited barrier to completely switching the IaaS/PaaS provider was time and cost…”

Many industry experts agree. Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group consultancy, in a comment submitted in June 2023 to the US Fair Trade Commission (FTC) to the FTC, said: “Cloud providers once focused on customer retention via innovation and customer satisfaction.

"Today, they have enough deterrent business practices in place to make switching providers an expensive Herculean undertaking. Fundamentally, there’s enough differentiation at higher levels of service to create an effective form of customer lock-in. At the lower levels of service, there are other barriers such as idiosyncratic security and identity abstractions, expensive data egress fees, and contractual disincentives” he wrote. 

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In its response to Ofcom in 2023, GCP claimed however that “Our egress fees are reasonable charges for the use of our network infrastructure. 

“Any time egress traffic occurs, a customer is utilising the CSP’s network infrastructure in some capacity, which requires investment from as well as ongoing costs for CSPs. Google in particular has made significant investments in its network infrastructure over years to ensure that its cloud delivers high-quality experiences for customer network traffic.”

Google Cloud’s Head of Platform, Amit Zavery, was clear on January 10 that one clear outcome GCP would like to see from the move is more attention, in fact, on Microsoft: The company wants regulators (and customers) to focus on Microsoft restrictions that make it expensive, complex, or nigh-impossible to run flagship Microsoft programmes in rival clouds.

“We will continue to be vocal in our efforts to advocate on behalf of our cloud customers — many of whom raise concerns about legacy providers’ licensing restrictions directly with us” he wrote, linking to reports critical of Microsoft; which is being investigated by the European Commission and which has already changed some licensing terms as a result. 

Google in June 2023 also wrote to the FTC, complaining that “enterprise and public sector customers with expansive portfolios of previously purchased, on-premises Microsoft software are faced with increasing restrictions, prohibitions, and surcharges when they attempt to migrate those on-premises workloads to an Azure competitor…”) 

Whilst AWS has also criticised Microsoft on this front, it has also defended its data egress fees (not a term it uses), telling UK regulators that “before cloud services were on offer, switching IT providers was often a prohibitively expensive, multi-year process that required substantial up-front investment in duplicate hardware from the new provider, rewriting software to conform to that provider’s operating system and other constraints, and then spending a great deal of time and money transitioning away from the old hardware…” 

See also: Meta says its new AI is too dangerous to release - but fingerprinting synthetic speech may support safe deployment