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9 things I freakin’ love about Google Cloud identity and environments

I’ve been at Google Cloud just a few weeks, following years of experience as an AWS Hero and building on other clouds. So last week’s Google Cloud Next–my first!—was a bit of a culture shock. On the GCP podcast, I used the word “intentionality” to describe what I’m seeing: a thoughtful, holistic approach that informs so much of how Google Cloud is put together. Not just in the headline-grabbing new announcements like Google Distributed Cloud, but in the everyday things too. 

Things like IAM and project setup. Step 1 of any cloud project is to provision access to an environment, and that’s why I always found it so frustrating in my past life when I had to deal with outdated or clunky stuff like:

Homebrewed, sketchy SSO tooling and config files

No centralized identity—I was a different person in every cloud account

Mysterious logouts, redirects, and missing project context within the cloud console

Account organization features that were “bolted-on” rather than designed the right way from the beginning

In contrast, I recently shared a Twitter thread about how shockingly right Google Cloud gets identity and environments. It’s probably my favorite thing about Google Cloud so far, and so in this post I want to expand on what I’ve learned. If you’re searching for a better way to access and organize your cloud, let me make you one of today’s lucky 10,000.

Nine things to love about Google Cloud identity and environments

1. You are YOU!
Every user is just a Google account (personal or corporate) that works across projects. For beginners, this lowers the barrier to entry and makes cloud feel like an extension of things you already know. For experts, it reduces the friction of having to juggle a bunch of unrelated identities. I love that you can permit any Google account into a cloud project as a collaborator—even a contributor from outside your organization! 

2. No non-IAM root accounts
Google Cloud has been designed from the ground up to avoid the chicken/egg problem of requiring a manually configured superuser that sits outside the rest of the identity management infrastructure. In the Google world, humans use Google accounts, and services use IAM-based service accounts —it’s as straightforward as that. (Even non-Google services can be IAM—yay, workload identity federation!)  

3. Project discovery for humans
Project, folder, and organization discovery are baked into the console, like browsing a file system scoped to your access level. This hardly even feels like a feature, it’s so subtle and yet absolutely fundamental. But once you see it, you can’t imagine going back to a world where environments exist in a vacuum with no contextual awareness of each other. 

The hierarchical organization model also means that project-per-application-per-environment best practices are the path of least resistance; if anything, I’ve erred on the side of setting up *too many* logical groupings. It’s just too much fun to play with projects and folders!

4. Billing that protects you from yourself
The project context gives you a logical container for the cost of the resources contained within it. My favorite part of this is that your billing entity is managed separately from the project itself. So you can delete a project and feel sure that all associated resources are gone and no longer racking up charges … without also trashing your ability to pay for future projects you might spin up. 

(Related: the free tier does not charge you money unless you click a big button that basically says “YES, IT’S OK TO CHARGE ME MONEY.” This guarantee, combined with the familiarity of Google Accounts for access, are the main reasons I now recommend Google Cloud to beginners in my network who are looking for a safe place to learn and explore cloud.)

5. Organizational structure != billing structure
For organizations, billing is decoupled from the organization root. So permissions inheritance is a separate design decision from chargeback, as it should be. This keeps your Google Cloud footprint from converging toward Conway’s Law.

6. SSO that just works
Want to use the CLI? You get SSO out of the box with your Google Account—no corporate organization required, and no manual shuffling with config files and access keys. Or, better yet, you can use Cloud Shell to run gcloud commands right in your browser, even (especially?) on the docs pages. (Random trivia: I think Cloud Shell is the only native cloud service that has the same name across AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud–but Google’s version has been around the longest and as far as I can tell is the most fully-featured.) 

7. One group to rule them all
Remember how user entities are just Google accounts? Guess what: you can use Google Groups to manage group access to IAM roles! That’s right: one set of users with permissions across docs, email, and cloud. It’s one reason why Google Workspace makes sense as a core piece of Google Cloud; it really does function like just another cloud service from an identity standpoint. 

8. Never lose your place
In other clouds, I’ve experienced a problem I call the Timeout of Doom: when your console session expires, you’re left on a generic error screen and it’s up to you to figure out how to rebuild your context from scratch–starting with remembering what account you used in the first place. Imagine my delight to realize that reaching your Google Cloud console is as easy as bookmarking a single works and remembers who you are (or, at least, suggests the set of people you might be)—no mystery logouts or redirects.

9. Progressive complexity FTW
In my experience it’s been common for cloud providers to design most of their account features for organizations: if you’re an independent developer, you get more exposure to dangerous bills, less access to helpful SSO features, and generally must fend for yourself in a world that wasn’t really created with you in mind.

I love that Google Cloud has found a way to work with enterprises while still maintaining their roots as a cloud that developers love to use. Sign in with your personal Google account, attach it to an organization when-and-if you’re ready, and in the meantime you get the same thoughtfulness around SSO and billing as the giant shop down the street. 

I’m not going to tell you my experience has been seamless; there are footguns here (every Google Workspace integration creates a new project?), and I’m still learning. But it’s that “intentionality” thing again. The Google Cloud identity and environment experience feels like it was designed, not just accreted; there’s an elegant simplicity to it that makes cloud feel fresh and exciting to me all over again. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

In the meantime, I highly encourage you to do what I did and spin up a free trial to try things out for yourself. Then hit me up on Twitter with your favorite Google Cloud identity or environment feature!

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