Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) equivalent of a unicorn is not looking so mythical anymore, as the search engine is reportedly set to launch its long-rumored cloud storage service this year.
Google Drive will launch in the coming weeks or months, according to the The Wall Street Journal, whose report Feb. 10 rekindled an annual rumor that began back in 2007 when it was reported current Google CEO Larry Page was shepherding the product.
The Drive, known by the code-names as Gdrive and Platypus, will let consumers and professional users store photos, documents and videos on Google's servers.
Users will be able to access that content from any computer, tablet or smartphone that connects to the Web. The content will likely be rendered shareable as links, with some natural integration with the Google+ social network.
According to Steven Levy's book, "In The Plex," GDrive was going to launch under Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management for Google+ in 2008. However, Sundar Pichai, the senior vice president of Google Chrome, convinced Page and other executives not to launch the service because the concept of the file was dated. So Gdrive was shelved.
Startups Dropbox and Box are now the top providers of Web-based object storage. Dropbox, which reportedly turned down a lot of money to be acquired by Apple, had more than 45 million members who saved 1 billion files every few days through October 2011. The company has raised $250 million at a reported $4 billion valuation.
Box, which has turned down buyout offers, raised $35 million at a $550 million valuation last August. The company finished 2011 with more than 8 million users, and grabbed $129 million in funding in 2011 to fuel its enterprise expansion.
However, Google is expected to offer Drive free to consumers and businesses, charging only for large file uploads. Unfortunately for Dropbox and Box, Google's penetration into the consumer sector with products such as search, Gmail and YouTube, along with its 4 million businesses that use Google Apps cloud collaboration, could make it difficult to compete with.
Moreover, Google's hundreds of thousands of servers dotting data centers all over the world would provide Google with a scalability advantage Dropbox and Box might have a hard time matching. Ultimately, Google Drive could become the dominant cloud storage in the industry.
Dropbox declined to comment, but Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie waxed enthusiastic about Google Drive, comparing it to the launch of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iCloud service last year.
"The long-awaited entry of Google Drive will create new awareness and acceptance of consumer cloud storage solutions, just like Apple's launch of iCloud put the spotlight on this space last year," Levie told eWEEK via email.
"This broader mainstream awareness is ultimately good for Box since we're bringing the benefits of the cloud to end-users and IT departments within enterprises, making it easy to manage critical information and collaboration across all platforms and devices."
Yet Gartner analyst Gene Ruth said both Dropbox and Box.net should be concerned by mounting competition, which includes SugarSync, Live Mesh and others.
"Google has every opportunity to provide an excellent and inexpensive Dropbox-like service but it remains to be seen how broad an audience they will target. In particular, will the audience include enterprise-scale customers and support hundreds or thousands of users and thus relieve an IT organization from having to offer file-sharing and collaborations services? We shall see. I expect capability at least on par with Google Apps and expect some actions to mitigate the effects of such an offering on Google's partners."
We shall certainly see, when and if Google Drive comes to market.