Google Cloud is the single-largest driver of headcount growth at Google

(GeekWire Photo / Tom Krazit)

The number of people working at Google surged 21 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, and its Google Cloud division was the main factor.

Google announced Monday as part of its quarterly earnings report that 103,459 people now work for the search giant, which has also been scrambling to build a cloud computing business that can match the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. “Cloud has continued to be the primary driver of headcount,” said Google CFO Ruth Porat on a conference call with analysts following the release of the results.

It’s not clear how many Google employees work in the cloud group, but recruiting has been a large part of its strategy for the last several years, especially as it gets ready to move into its new campus in Seattle. That location, very near AWS’s headquarters in South Lake Union, was marred by tragedy this weekend when a crane in the process of being dismantled collapsed, killing four people.

Earlier this month at Google Cloud Next new CEO Thomas Kurian promised to increase sales headcount in significant fashion over the course of the year. Kurian also showed a willingness to pull the trigger on significant acquisitions during his tenure at Oracle, which implies Google Cloud could grow even faster by snapping up promising startups.

Like Microsoft, Google still has no interest in disclosing how much actual revenue this group is recording, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai once again declined to provide that detail on the conference call. It’s likely that Google has continued to grow its cloud business and G Suite subscriptions since it disclosed last year that it was on pace to generate $1 billion in revenue a quarter from its cloud services, but the lack of confirmation has frustrated many a cloud watcher (I’m not asking for a friend here).

Google’s other closely watched cloud metric — capital expenditures to support the hardware behind the cloud — decreased significantly compared to the same period last year, although last year’s number was unusually high after it sealed the deal on an expensive piece of Manhattan real estate. Google does not expect to grow capital expenditures this year as quickly as it did last year, Porat said, which is in line with other cloud providers coming off a year in which they upgraded a sizable amount of their infrastructure to Intel’s latest server processors.

Overall, Google recorded $36.3 billion in revenue during the quarter, up 17 percent compared to last year. That wasn’t enough for Wall Street, however, which sent the company’s down more than seven percent in after-hours trading after the figure missed expectations.

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