Google Cloud infrastructure head Urs Hölzle stepping down

Urs Hölzle began working for Google in 1999 at a time when people were using Yahoo and Alta Vista to search the internet. As Google grew in popularity over the years, he moved through the ranks. Most recently he has been running infrastructure for Google Cloud, reporting directly to CEO Thomas Kurian, but today the company confirmed reports that Hölzle was stepping away from his executive role.

Hölzle, who was employee number 8 at Google, won’t be leaving the company, however. Instead, he’ll be moving into an individual contributor role where he’ll be a Google Fellow, an individual research role at the company.

It’s quite a shock for someone with Hölzle’s unique understanding of the company to be stepping away from the infrastructure role he held for so long. Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says Hölzle was a key figure at the company, and through his vast experience was kind of the glue between Google and Google Cloud.

“He helped with marshaling the forces within Google to make the transition from niche cloud to enterprise class cloud. Being the eighth employee, he’s been wanting to explore new ideas and get back to innovation,” Wang told TechCrunch. Being in the Fellow role should help enable him to do that.

But moving from a leadership role to an individual contributor will very likely have an impact on Google Cloud. “He’s done a good job helping the engineering teams understand what a product-led culture looks like, as opposed to the rest of Google, which does not have the engineering discipline enterprises expected from their vendors,” Wang said.

As he moves on, Hölzle will be replaced by Chris Vonderhaar, who spent 13 years at AWS in various data center operations roles. Before stepping down quite suddenly last month, he held the title of VP of AWS Data Center Community, where he was responsible for the design, planning, construction and operations of the AWS data centers, according to his LinkedIn profile. While he’s stepping into big shoes, Vonderhaar is no slouch, having spent well over a decade helping build infrastructure for AWS.

At Google, Vonderhaar’s title will be vice president of demand and supply management, a curious title to be sure, but one where he should be able to put his vast experience to work helping replace Hölzle’s knowledge running the company’s infrastructure.

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