Once again, my friend Rick and I are dueling. This time, instead of arguing over the future of satellite radio, we're debating the future of cloud computing. Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) future, specifically.
Rick is the bear in this debate and I'm the bull. Why should you take my bullish argument seriously? First, because I'm a shareholder. Second, because I'm the Fool who recommended Google at better than $500 a share to our Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers.
Here's why I did: Google, not Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , or EMC (NYSE: EMC ) , is the once and future king of cloud computing. Everyone else is a pretender.
Servers, with a smile
If that sounds like a controversial claim, it is. And not just because I'm overcaffeinated as I write that. No, Google is the king of cloud computing because it has what most observers say is the world's largest network of Web-connected servers and, on each of them, a very comprehensive index of the entire Web.
To maintain that index, Google employs some of the world's smartest people -- mathematicians, mostly -- to write and update algorithms that find and rank the importance of Web pages based on the their magnetism, the number of links to them from other sources.
See the pattern here? Google not only has more digital real estate than its peers but it also knows more about the Web than anyone else. Not even upstart Cuil, which claimed to have indexed three times more data than Google, was able to extract as much useful intelligence from the cloud.
Farming the Web's fertile ground
The richness of its results has elevated Google to something more than a search engine; Google is how we measure authority on the Web. That's why big advertisers are increasingly turning away from Gannett (NYSE: GCI ) and The New York Times (NYSE: NYT ) and towards Google.
Look at the numbers. The New York Times Co. this week reported -- wait for it -- a $74.5 million quarterly net loss. Can you imagine? Only a mass exodus of print advertising from the paper of record could force such a cataclysmic result.
Google, meanwhile, put up strong first-quarter numbers, despite cutbacks from its own customers. Net revenue climbed 10% to $4.07 billion and free cash flow doubled to $2 billion.
So say what you want about The Big G's propensity for spending astounding amounts of cash on experiments and yet-to-be monetized properties like YouTube; Google is hauling in plenty of moolah. Few equal its engineers when it comes to the ability to create software that customers like. More than 100 million use Gmail, for example. Who cares if it's still in beta? Numbers like that are hard to match.
Building a better cloud
Admittedly, there's a very strong argument for Amazon as king of cloud computing. Microsoft's Ray Ozzie, who carries as much digital street cred as anyone in tech, all but delivered the crown in announcing Azure -- otherwise known as Mr. Softy's cloud computing platform -- in October.
"All of us are going to be standing on [Amazon's] shoulders," Ozzie said at the time. There's some truth to it. Amazon Web Services helps to power Twitter and is supporting enough businesses that star venture capitalist Bill Gurley is betting on Amazon with his own money.
And yet, to me, it's Google that is building what techies call a "stack" for Web computing: servers, storage, interfaces, applications, and a programming interface. A Windows for the Web, you might call it.
Amazon isn't trying that. Microsoft is, with Azure, and it may yet prevail. Trouble is, Mr. Softy lacks partners who want to see it succeed.
Google, on the other hand, has thousands. They're called advertisers, and they're betting that Big G's cloud will do for them what newspapers, TV, and radio used to: make money. Are you sure you want to bet against them?