Google has finally opened up its new cloud-computing service to business and individual customers everywhere—which looks to be great news for them, and potentially real trouble for current cloud leader Amazon.

In much the same way that Microsoft long ago became the de facto standard for PC software at the expense of IBM, Google is angling to upend the market for cloud computing by making it widely available, easy to use and inexpensive. On Monday, it formally unveiled the Google Compute Engine services it launched for developers a year and a half ago, and which had remained in "developer preview" ever since. Google's service competes directly with Amazon’s cloud computing platform, dubbed Elastic Compute Cloud or EC2. 

Cloud-based services became popular in the late 2000s as start up companies and small businesses looked for ways to avoid buying thousands of computer servers and services contracts. Business divisions most likely using cloud services today include human resources, payroll, marketing, sales, and product development.

The benefit of these computing services is that the average worker, with little or no knowledge of Internet infrastructure, can build applications, host them, manage them, and automatically send them to tens of thousands of people, with little more than a credit card. Snapchat, the photo sharing site that recently spurned a Facebook takeover, processes 4,000 images every second using Google’s Compute Engine, for example. This with only 30 employees and no physical data center.

By making cloud services accessible to more people in a technology process that they understand, Google is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft, who simplified business software, made it easy to interact with, and available with a nominal purchase of a license or CD.

Working Against The Tide

Amazon was one of the first cloud services for business and continues to dominate the hearts and minds of business people. Current forecasts suggest Amazon will pull in more than $3 billion in revenue just for its cloud computing division. 

Google has spent $2.9 billion on hardware alone to get its service up and running. The company says it designed its Compute Engine to be simple enough for people to understand and manage, much the same way they manage their Gmail accounts, upload videos to YouTube, and share files within Google Drive.

To entice business people to use its Compute Engine, Google is offering a 10% discount for standard services; support for more Linux operating system types; and improvements to its maintenance services including an “automatic restart” feature should there be a major catastrophe.

In addition to Snapchat, Google says it is working with other companies such as Cooladata, Mendelics, Evite and Wix to allow them to build their own applications and make sure there are enough servers to go around should they become massively popular.

Google has also gained allies in cloud services providers like SaltStack, Wowza, Rightscale, Qubole, Red Hat, SUSE, and Scalr.

From Zero To 1,000 In Less Than 3 Minutes

Previously, critics praised Amazon’s cloud service over Google’s as more reliable, easy to pay for, and quick to get up and running. Side-by-side comparisons by Sebastian Standil’s team at Scalr and Stuart Miniman, analyst and researcher at Wikibon are starting to tell a different story. In an article earlier this year, Standil wrote:

Amazon has been plagued by poor network and disk performance, so Google’s promise to offer both higher and more consistent performance struck a real chord, Not ones to be fooled by marketing-driven, hyped-up software, we applied for early access and were let in so we could start testing it ourselves. Once we got in, we felt like kids in a candy store.

Standil's group is in the process of "refining" its benchmarks, and notes in an update that with the tentative new benchmarks, Google's "performance difference is less significant, and in some cases AWS may hold a lead." Whatever you make of that, it's clear the battle is on, in both technology and marketing.

A Google Compute Engine video posted Monday shows Greg DeMichillie, director of product management at Google, demonstrating a launch of 1,000 virtual server machines in less than 3 minutes, 40% faster than Amazon’s average deployment.

While speed is of great interest to people wanting cloud services, Google is betting people in business and at home will use their services because they will be familiar with many of the methods and processes that they now know in Gmail, Google Drive, and YouTube.