Rumors of a virtual hard drive from Google may not have been exaggerated after all.
In an effort to move more user data into the Internet "cloud," Google is close to releasing a storage service that would let users move their digital data onto Googles servers, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal Nov. 27.
The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, claims Google is finishing up a service that would let users store word-processing documents, digital music, video clips and photos on the Mountain View, Calif., companys servers.
With this cloud approach, users could access their data, ideally through a Google search box, from multiple computers and handheld devices with a password, breaking the traditional computing barriers of allowing users to access their data only from their machines.
The cloud concept took flight roughly five years ago with SAAS (software as a service) provider Salesforce.com, which delivers applications to customers through the Internet, and Amazon.com, which has been offering servers and storage services through the Web.
Google declined to confirm the Journal report, but a spokesperson told eWEEK, "Cloud computing is going mainstream. The apps people use every day, such as e-mail, photo sharing and word processing, are moving to the Web because its easier to share and access your data from anywhere when its online in one place."
Google, whose Apps offering is Internet based, already offers free and paid online storage for its Gmail Web mail client and Picasa Web Albums software. Paid storage options for Google Docs are forthcoming.
For Google, moving customer files onto its servers would likely cause consternation among privacy advocates. It would also put the company in greater competition with Microsoft, which is also working on an online file storing service called Live Folders, and traditional storage companies such as EMC, which acquired online storage provider Mozy.
Assuming Google hurdles the challenge of allowing users data to be accessed anywhere, anytime via a password, privacy and security stand out as major concerns. If Google opts to place ads alongside the data in the cloud, will consumers still use the service?
Will Google encrypt users data, and who will manage the encryption keys? What if the cloud goes down and people cant access their files? What if Google cant figure out how to help people access their online files offline?
Gilbane Group analyst Geoff Bock said if Google creates an online backup service, it will be thrust into competition with EMC and others who have been practicing storage for years. However, Google lacks the expertise EMC does in information management, such as backup, recovery and archiving.
If Google offers online storage to supplement users desktop environments, the company will need to do a lot more than implement a file system in the cloud.
Google, Bock said, must essentially create Microsoft "Sharepoint in the cloud," a collaborative Web environment that paves the way for ad-hoc information sharing among work groups. This is a complemented piece of software, which could ultimately lead people to work in the cloud and on their desktop or handheld devices.
"I think its an idea whose time has come, but I think Google is getting into a very sticky area where success is not assured," Bock told eWEEK.
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