Never one to do things completely by the books, Google has an interesting announcement a couple of weeks after its global conference. Normally vendors hold all their news and send it out to the adulting crowds over the course of their annual conference. In Google’s case, they just held their annual NEXT conference last week and one would be forgiven for thinking that their overworked communications and PR people would be taking a well-deserved break. Instead, however, they have another piece of news, admittedly exciting, but potentially not as exciting as a week’s vacation at Lake Tahoe.

Anyway, spoiled vacations aside, Google’s news this week is that Urban Airship, the high-flying customer engagement company headquartered in the heavenly home of Powell’s Books and Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, Oregon is, in one go, migrating all of their real-time messaging architecture onto the Google Cloud Platform. Before you ask (and trust me, I did) they’re NOT moving from another public cloud vendor (that would have really created some excitement) – rather, Urban Airship is migrating from co-located bare-metal infrastructure to Google’s Cloud Platform.

While a win from one of the other public cloud vendors would have made for great PR, the fact that Urban Airship chose Google rather than anyone else is also interesting. The rationale for the move is obvious – co-located infrastructure is, all things being equal, expensive, inflexible and (again, all things being equal) overly less reliable than the public cloud. The move means that, rather than focusing on managing hardware, the company can focus on their core business. And according to the company, the move has delivered increased reliability and improved global performance.

The all-important benefits

According to Urban Airship, there were a number of both technical and business-related benefits they enjoyed from the move. Per the company:

  • GCP has allowed them to increase platform reliability, cut production incidents in half, and reallocate engineering resources to focus on more important things (see below)
  • By using GCP, Urban Airship itself was able to increase its platform-wide peak messaging throughput by 33 percent, setting a new record of 400,000 messages per second during the World Cup Final match as traffic spiked for nearly seven minutes

Enabling new services

Urban Airship contends that the savings and efficiencies gained through the move to GCP helped them to roll out a new service, Boost optimization, a solution that helps accelerate the delivery of push notifications. To wit, during the football World Cup, one of Urban Airship’s customers, the world’s largest and fastest-growing platform for football fans Onefootball, used Urban Airship to push notifications to their 30 million application users.

The obvious Google versus AWS issues

This is a good win for the cloud, for sure. Urban Airship moved off of legacy hardware into the cloud and realized some real benefits in doing so. But as the public cloud battle heats up, perhaps more interesting is the particular choice of public cloud vendor they made

This matters because the need for speed is quickly becoming a requirement for marketers across a variety of industries. Given shifts in consumer behavior, marketers must engage with people in the moments that matter most to customers to have a positive impact.

But, and this is the big but, I really wanted to know why they chose GCP. I put this to Mike Herrick, SVP of Product & Engineering at Urban Airship who replied with a fairly wishy-washy statement:

Since the London Olympics, Urban Airship has delivered major world news on a hybrid, multi-cloud architecture combining cloud platforms and bare-metal infrastructure. And we’ve always chosen the best tool for the job. Our colocation facility ran our core messaging and aggregate reporting stack, which  used a ton of HBase and Kafka. We found that GCP BigTable and GCP Pub/Sub are very good replacements. With this move, we’ve been able to increase platform reliability, cut production incidents in half, focus our engineers on innovating higher up the stack, and deliver performance at global scale cost effectively. Additionally, the GCP customer management model has worked really well for our team and GCP has quickly become a trusted extension of our team.

Damn, not much to go by in there. Luckily, just before posting this article, I heard back from Urban Airship with some more details:

Urban Airship is already an AWS customer, so they evaluated centralizing on AWS vs. multi-cloud. However, for this new Boost product, they found GCP superior for real time messaging & data needs. In their view, AWS doesn’t have a good migration path from Hbase like BigTable.
They did not evaluate MSFT Azure, though. They’ve heard it has come a long way, but when they tried it 5 years ago, it was not ready for Linux based platforms (we’ve heard this has been addressed).


This is a great story about the value of the public cloud and how it is, all things being equal, better than traditional legacy infrastructure. Urban AIrship’s comments (call them critiques) of AWS and the fact that they decided to go with GCP for this important application, will no doubt raise heckles in Seattle. Expect to see some developments on this front in due course.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.