Google could match Amazon and Microsoft with virtual desktop tool, but keeps it for employees only

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GOOGLThomas Kurian, chief executive officer of cloud services at Google LLC, speaks during the Google Cloud Next ’19 event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. The conference brings together industry experts to discuss the future of cloud computing.Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google maintains a piece of software, Cloudtop, that employees use to access internal programs. It’s the sort of thing that might be helpful for companies that want to keep their employees productive as they work from home while sheltering in place to avoid further spread of the coronavirus.

However, when Google’s cloud customers ask for a virtual desktop solution, Google refers them to third-party solutions instead, according to two people familiar with the company’s cloud business, who asked for anonymity discussing internal business matters.

Google’s approach stands in sharp contrast to market leaders Amazon and Microsoft. Both have their own virtual-desktop services, and both have seen an uptick in usage during the pandemic. For many companies navigating remote work at scale for the first time, relying on cloud providers to deal with infrastructure is easier than keeping administrators on site to manage servers — or mailing PCs to new employees.

For instance, after Zoom saw a surge in new customers during the pandemic, the video-calling software company signed up for more than 1,000 Amazon WorkSpaces virtual desktops for its help desk employees, Amazon said in November. In May, AWS said oil and gas pipeline operator TC Energy had signed up for Amazon WorkSpaces so employees could securely work from home.

For Microsoft, the boom was important enough that CEO Satya Nadella mentioned it on the company‘s quarterly earnings call with analysts last April. “Usage of Windows Virtual Desktop tripled this quarter, as organizations deploy virtual desktops and apps on Azure to enable secure remote work,” Nadella said.

No plans to make Cloudtop available to customers

Google first made its Cloudtop service available to employees in 2017. It’s meant to help them build software, interact with internal systems and communicate through internet relay chat, or IRC. The service offers desktops running the Linux and Windows operating systems,