It only took Google six or so years to get its long-anticipated GDrive cloud storage service out the door and into general circulation, but it finally did happen on April 24.
What a relief. Now we can stop talking about the “planned” cloud service and just call it “Google’s cloud storage service.” To its credit, the company has a good sense of humor about this incredibly protracted project, publishing a blog post entitled “Introducing Google Drive… yes, really” to break the news earlier today.
Thumbing through the eWEEK archives, the earliest story we found was one published March 6, 2006, entitled “Google Continues Drive for Unlimited Storage.” The piece talks about the mysterious project that had been up and running internally for a while. That was so long ago the term “cloud computing” wasn’t even in common use way back then.
eWEEK has published dozens of stories by several writers touching on the promised Google cloud storage, but now we can discuss an actual, usable service.
What took such a fast-moving company so long? We’re guessing that Google simply wanted to get it right.
What GDrive Offers
For the record, a GDrive subscription offers the first 5GB of storage for free, which is not a heck of a lot these days. Users can upgrade whenever they want to 25GB for $2.49 a month, 100GB for $4.99 a month or even 1TB for $49.99 a month. When users upgrade to a paid account, their Gmail account storage also will expand to 25GB.
GDrive contains file-sharing and work collaboration tools, among many other features. Naturally, it is designed to work alongside a user’s overall Google+ account. For example, a user can attach photos from GDrive to posts in Google+; in the near future, the company said, they will be able to attach files from Drive directly to emails in Gmail.
GDrive is an open platform, meaning that it uses open standards for application development. Google says it’s working with third-party developers so users can soon have other functionality, such as sending faxes, editing videos and creating Website mockups directly from the storage service. To install these apps, users need to visit the Chrome Web Store.
Google has entered more than a few IT markets as a big-name latecomer–search, smartphone operating systems (Android) and social networking (Buzz network, G+) being but three of the most well-known. Its success record, nonetheless, has been very good.
Many Competitors Have a Big Head Start
There are already dozens–make that hundreds–of cloud storage providers available to handle your files in a safe place. Here is a handy listing of cloud storage services to peruse; eWEEK has added a slideshow featuring 15 of these services with which Google will be competing.
The arrival of GDrive, despite its tardiness, caused quite a stir in the storage industry. Here are some industry leaders and their takes on how they see GDrive’s impact on the fast-growing online storage market. Naturally, business biases play a part in these comments, but take them for what they’re worth, please.
What Industry People Are Saying About GDrive
David Friend, chairman and CEO of Carbonite, told eWEEK that “the launch of Google Drive is an excellent time for consumers to better understand the differences between backup, syncing, and cloud storage–all of which are valuable and serve different needs.”
While syncing services simply store data for personal use from a different location, you’re not fully protected unless you are using a backup service like Carbonite’s, which is specifically designed to back up computer files unobtrusively and automatically, Friend said.
“With syncing, if your computer crashes, there really is no automated restore process; it’s completely do-it-yourself, but if there is a hard-drive crash or computer failure and you have already installed a backup service, you can rest at ease knowing your files are protected from information loss,” Friend said.
Drew Garcia, vice president of product development at SugarSync, told eWEEK that “Google Drive has been rumored for over four years now, so it comes as no surprise to anyone in the cloud market that Google would be entering this space. The Google Drive service that was launched today is a strong validation that the cloud has gone mainstream, but it does not address the needs of the average user.”
Like most other cloud services, Garcia said, Google Drive does not let users sync all their files and folders from their existing file structure.
“Users are required to drag the files they need into Google Drive, essentially putting them in an extra location [in addition to their existing folder structure]. SugarSync lets users access, sync and share all of their folders without requiring them to put those folders in a separate location. This allows users to work the way they already work, as opposed to learning a new behavior,” Garcia said.
File Conversion May Be an Issue
Another reason the average user may have trouble with Google Drive is that key functionality is available only if users convert their documents (e.g., Microsoft Word doc, etc.) to the Google Docs format, Garcia said.
“This presents several problems: The user now has two versions of the file and may run into version control issues. Also, the user can edit the Google Doc version only when online since editing takes place in the browser; this also means the user cannot use robust desktop applications (e.g., Microsoft Word) to make changes to the converted document.” Garcia said.
“Finally, sharing is convenient only if the sender shares the Google Doc version of a file; if the user shares the original version in Microsoft Word format, the recipient can view the document, but cannot make edits. It will be very tedious for the average user to convert all documents to the special Google Doc format to get these basic flows to work properly.”
There will be some solutions coming here. Nivio, for example, is a third-party software provider that has partnered with Google to provide Google Docs-to-Microsoft Word file conversion, but that app will have to be added separately.
Aaron Levie, CEO and founder of Box, a Google partner because Box uses Google Docs as part of its service, had to choose his words carefully because GDrive is now a direct competitor to Box.
“It’s an insanely exciting time in the cloud storage and collaboration space, and Google’s entry underscores the importance of this multibillion dollar category,” Levie said via email. “At Box, we’re focused solely on the enterprise (whereas GDrive is aimed mostly at consumers), supporting over 120,000 businesses, and 82% of the Fortune 500, who desire security, scalability and cross-platform support. Google will continue to be an important partner for us across Android, Chrome and its Apps suite, as we build the best platform for managing enterprise information.”
Another Security Worry for Enterprises?
John Landy, IntraLinks’ chief technology officer, told eWEEK that he sees GDrive as simply another issue CIOs and IT managers will face as they try to maintain a secure network and manage file sharing in the cloud.
“Google’s GDrive is about to give CIOs and IT decision makers another hurdle to overcome in their attempt to secure data in the enterprise,” Landy said. “The launch of GDrive provides employees another file sharing option in addition to DropBox and Box to use both at home and in the workplace. However, the popularity and convenience of Google makes GDrive a much more serious threat.
“According to a recent survey we took, 68 percent of organizations and employees globally still use email as their main method to send and exchange large files and sensitive data, creating holes for data leaks and information theft. While Dropbox and Box have been popular, yet insecure, enterprise file sharing options, Google is likely to create another surge through its large Gmail user base.”
Also in the security-concern department, Tom Gelson, Cloud Strategist at Imation Scalable Storage, told eWEEK that “while Drive is primarily targeted at consumers, some companies will consider the solution for backup and IT departments will have to contend with employees using Drive on their own for corporate data storage. Cloud backup is certainly a practical and cost-effective storage tier, but security of data stored in Google Drive — or any other cloud — is essential.”
The bottom line, Gelson said, is that “if data security is important, which it likely is for all companies, make sure encryption is in place before utilizing cloud backup to limit the company from possible hack or vulnerabilities. If the encryption policies of Google Drive aren’t up to par, there are onsite data protection appliances available for companies that incorporate existing security infrastructure into various cloud backup offerings.”
Rest assured, there’s plenty more to come on this subject.
Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK’s Editor for Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz