What is Compute Engine? Use cases, security, pricing and more

Compute-EngineCompute Engine is a customizable compute service that lets you create and run virtual machines on Google’s infrastructure. You can create a Virtual Machine (VM) that fits your needs. Predefined machine types are pre-built and ready-to-go configurations of VMs with specific amounts of vCPU and memory to start running apps quickly. With Custom Machine Types, you can create virtual machines with the optimal amount of CPU and memory for your workloads. This allows you to tailor your infrastructure to your workload. If requirements change, using the stop/start feature you can move your workload to a smaller or larger Custom Machine Type instance, or to a predefined configuration.

Machine types

In Compute Engine, machine types are grouped and curated by families for different workloads. You can choose from general-purpose, memory-optimized, compute-optimized and accelerator-optimized families. 

  • General-purpose machines are used for Day-to-day computing at a lower cost and for balanced price/performance across a wide range of VM shapes. The use cases that best fit here are web serving, app serving, back office applications, databases, cache, media-streaming, microservices, virtual desktops, development environments.

  • Memory-Optimized machine are recommended for ultra high-memory workloads such as in-memory analytics and large in-memory databases such as SAP HANA 

  • Compute-Optimized machines are recommended for ultra high performance workloads such as High Performance Computing (HPC), Electronic Design Automation (EDA), gaming, video transcoding, single-threaded applications.

  • Accelerator-Optimized machines are optimized for high performance computing workloads such as Machine learning (ML), Massive parallelized computations and High Performance Computing (HPC)

How does it work?

You can create a VM instance using a boot disk image, a boot disk snapshot, or a container image. The image can be a public operating system (OS) image or a custom one. Depending on where your users are you can define the zone you want the virtual machine to be created in. By default all traffic from the internet is blocked by the firewall and you can enable the HTTP(s) traffic if needed. 

Use snapshot schedules (hourly, daily, or weekly) as a best practice to back up your Compute Engine workloads. Compute Engine offers live migration by default to keep your virtual machine instances running even when software or hardware update occurs. Your running instances are migrated to another host in the same zone instead of requiring your VMs to be rebooted. 


For High Availability (HA) Compute Engine offers automatic failover to other regions or zones in event of a failure. Managed instance groups (MIGs) help keep the instances running by automatically replicating instances from a predefined image. They also provide application based autohealing health checks. If an application is not responding on a VM, the auto healer automatically recreates that VM for you. Regional MIGs let you spread app load across multiple zones. This replication protects against zonal failures. MIGs work with load balancing services to distribute traffic across all of the instances in the group. 

Compute Engine offers autoscaling to automatically add or remove VM instances from a managed instance group based on increases or decreases in load. Autoscaling lets your apps gracefully handle increases in traffic, and it reduces cost when the need for resources is lower. You define the autoscaling policy for automatic scaling based on the measured load, CPU utilization, requests per second or other metrics.

Active Assist’s new feature, predictive autoscaling, helps improve response times for your applications–When you enable predictive autoscaling, Compute Engine forecasts future load based on your Managed Instance Group’s (MIG) history and scales it out in advance of predicted load, so that new instances are ready to serve when the load arrives. Without predictive autoscaling, an autoscaler can only scale a group reactively, based on observed changes in load in real time. With predictive autoscaling enabled, the autoscaler works with real-time data as well as with historical data to cover both the current and forecasted load. That makes predictive autoscaling ideal for those apps with long initialization times and whose workloads vary predictably with daily or weekly cycles.


You pay for what you use. But you can save cost by taking advantage of some discounts! Sustained use saving are automatic discounts applied for running instances for a significant portion of the month. If you know your usage upfront, you can take advantage of committed use discounts which can lead up to significant savings without any upfront cost. And by using short lived preemptive instances you can save up to 80%, they are great for batch jobs and fault tolerant workloads. You can also optimize resource utilization with automatic recommendations. For example if you are using a bigger instance for a workload that can run on a smaller instance you can save costs applying these recommendations.


Compute Engine provides you default hardware security. Using Identity and Access Management (IAM) you just have to ensure that proper permissions are given to control access to your VM resources. All the other basic security principles apply, if the resources are not related and don’t require network communication amongst themselves, consider hosting them on different VPC networks. By default, users in a project can create persistent disks or copy images using any of the public images or any images that project members can access through IAM roles. You may want to restrict your project members so that they can create boot disks only from images that contain approved software that meet your policy or security requirements. You can define an organization policy that only allows Compute Engine VMs to be created from approved images. This can be done by using the Trusted Images Policy to enforce images that can be used in your organization. 

By default all VM families are Shielded VMs. Shielded VMs are virtual machine instances that are hardened with a set of easily configurable security features to ensure that when your VM boots, it’s running a verified bootloader and kernel — is the default for everyone using Compute Engine, at no additional charge. For more details on Shielded VMs refer to the documentation here.

For additional security, you also have the option to use Confidential VM to encrypt your data in use, while it’s being processed in Compute Engine. For more details on Confidential VM refer to the documentation here.

Use cases

There are many use cases Compute Engine can serve in addition to running websites and databases. You can also migrate your existing systems onto Google Cloud, with Migrate for Compute Engine, enabling you to run stateful workloads in the cloud within minutes rather than days or weeks. Windows, Oracle or VMware applications have solution sets enabling a smooth transition to Google Cloud. To run windows applications either bring your own license leveraging Sole-tenant nodes or using the included licenced images. 


Whatever your application use case may be, from legacy enterprise applications to digital native applications, Compute Engine’s families will fit it. For a more in-depth look into Compute Engine check out the documentation