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[qi:003] The Internet is abuzz these days with speculation over the launch of a new online storage offering from Google said to be dubbed GDrive. The service would apparently be bundled with Google Pack, the company’s software download offering that includes products such as Picasa and […]

[qi:003] The Internet is abuzz these days with speculation over the launch of a new online storage offering from Google said to be dubbed GDrive. The service would apparently be bundled with Google Pack, the company’s software download offering that includes products such as Picasa and Google Earth. With no official word, many questions remain unanswered about the service. But I have a theory as to why Google is introducing what is essentially a commodity service.

Online storage isn’t quite the pot of gold folks assume it to be. Even with millions of page views generated by free online storage, the resulting advertising revenues are never going to be meaningful. They can charge for these services, but that means a long gestation period. There are some that manage to make a decent living offering back-up services, but such revenues would represent little more than a drop in Google’s overall business bucket.

Information leaked on the web outlines Google’s GDrive ambitions: “GDrive provides reliable storage for all of your files, including photos, music and documents. GDrive allows you to access your files from anywhere, anytime, and from any device – be it from your desktop, web browser or cellular phone.” In other words, an awful lot like Microsoft’s Skydrive and Live Mesh offerings. Google, however, always introduces products to consumers before taking them to corporate users. Google Apps is a perfect example: GMail was available for consumers before it became part of Google Apps and was sold to enterprises. GDrive will involve a similar strategy as well.

I believe Google is looking to build something unique, a service that it would position as a direct competitor to not only Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Live Mesh services, but to the software giant’s SharePoint services. My guess would be that they would marry GDrive storage with Google Apps and other applications, such as Google Talk. In doing so they’d create a virtual “computing environment” in the cloud.

Think of it this way: On your computer you have a processor, storage, memory and a screen, and operating systems and applications running on top of it. In the always-connected world, the notion of computing has gone through a change. What was once put on a disk is now put into an online storage locker, while the processor and memory is locked away somewhere in Google’s data centers. The browser is the operating system. So anywhere there is a screen and a connection, you can access the computer. (Of course you could do this back in the days when mainframes ruled the planet, too.) 

In a post last year, I argued that one way for storage startups to stand out would be by using the online storage drive as “an underpinning to share documents, files and folders with people in your network (whether consumer or corporate).” That’s precisely what Microsoft is doing with its SharePoint service, a billion-dollar business that grows stronger by the day. “What’s working well for Microsoft is that they are treating storage for what it is — a cheap throwaway service — and layering it with more valuable ones,” I wrote.

And Microsoft wouldn’t be the only company Google would be looking to take on with this offering; Cisco Systems and EMC would be in its sight line as well. In a post last August, I pointed out that, “Cisco would develop a suite of applications that pivot around WebEx, which they could do by offering to work with all comers, big and small. Acting as a neutral player that delivers best-of-breed web services would give Cisco that best shot at effectively competing with Google-only and Microsoft-only solutions.”

From a strategic standpoint, I marvel at Google’s game plan. From a personal standpoint, however, I don’t like it a bit. My biggest problem with GDrive is that it would come from Google.

As my friend Mark Evans points out, “Before you know it, Google has become a daily and integral part of your digital portfolio. Not that this a bad thing given Google’s products are really good but it should make you think about how dependent you can become on Google for pretty much everything. The downside is you can lose access to a lot of essential information if Google, for whatever reason, locks you out.”

My fundamental belief is that as companies get too big and too powerful, they start doing anti-consumer things because they have a much larger revenue stream to protect. And while Google might come across as cute and cuddly today, they are, in reality, a monopoly. Giving such an entity unfettered access to my desktop and my data makes me uneasy.

Paint me cynical –- though I like to think of myself as realistic –- but I don’t think Google’s backing of President Obama and his campaign was done with purely altruistic intentions. Given how close the company’s management is with the government officials, I worry that Google will one day go too far — and get away with it.

  1. And Skynet was Born

    But seriously this is a good idea and has been the premise of many p2p startups .

    Another project like Nanodatacenters could also be another direction that Google is headed in

    http://www.nanodatacenters.eu/

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  2. I don’t really think GDrive will end up being, if it actually gets released, such a big deal. The files that you could want to upload to GDrive are exactly the ones you already upload to GMail, or Google Docs, or Picasa (or Flickr, or whatever).

    If I had to guess, GDrive will only let you see all the files you have already uploaded, or created, through the services you use with Google, and yeah, it will let Google try to sell you additional storage, and I guess thats the whole point. But other than that, this is definitely not a Microsoft killer strategy. Google’s Microsoft killer strategy is advertising, everything else is just another drop in the bucket.

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  3. Wouldn’t Google Sites (http://sites.google.com/) be a closer comparison to Sharpoint than GDrive? Maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t think GDrive was going to be much more than a Live Mesh-type service that would provide syncing and storage in a similar way, but also have the benefit of spanning across various Google services (i.e. a huge storage bucket across Picasa, Docs, Gmail, etc.). Which would essentially turn it into your web-based hard drive for web-based apps. Once Gears gets integrated into all their products as it just did with Gmail offline, the apps and files will be available locally too, if only in a limited capacity.

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  4. A year ago I might have disagreed with you, but nowadays I couldn’t agree more. The tipping point for me occurred when one fine day, Gmail suddenly gave me an ominous message that my account was disabled. 5GB and 3 years worth of emails unavailable! A feeling of dread set in very quickly. Google rectified the situation very quickly but it left me wondering whether I could really trust them.

    The reality is you can’t really trust anyone’s cloud until there is some legal and technological solution to help enforce/support that trust. For example:
    1. What if they lose my data?
    2. What if my data gets hacked?
    3. What about service outages?
    4. How do I know their employees aren’t snooping through my files?
    5. How do I backup from one cloud to another?

    I’m very excited about the potential for cloud desktops, but there are a lot of serious issues to sort out. Fortunately, these problems are the very opportunities that companies both large and small can work to address as we evolve away from the desktop as we know it.

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  5. Beginning yesterday, January 29, I have been unable to read my Gmail using Safari on my Mac Pro. Apparently a problem was created causing “Bad Request – Error 400″ to replace the friendly “loading…” If it is now this difficult to access mail – and I have seen no method of storing my mail on my hard drive – what if this problem existed with critical data other than e-mail?

    Several years ago I tried an on-line storage and uploaded a few documents as a test. When I downloaded them later, I was unable to read them because in the translation they were made into gibberish.

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  6. Om,

    One of my arguments for Google not to launch this earlier was that the amount of bandwidth that would be required with simultaneous use of the ‘GDrive’ service from millions with automated syncs or backups would actually cripple internet, and would actually be counter productive to their search business that requires internet to be fast and healthy.

    It is one thing for others to attempt this, but with Google’s scale and reach, GDrive could actually cripple internet as the bandwidth required here is many times more than gmail or picassa or any of the other google services.

    It will be interesting to see if they would actually do it, and if they do, how they would handle the bandwidth crunch. Of course, it will have an impact on most online storage/backup/sync providers.

    Raghu Kulkarni
    IDrive.com

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  7. Ummm, gspace? (google that) A third party version of gdrive. Also, I think there may have been a mac version by that name, ‘gdrive’ I mean, but it stopped working and I haven’t followed it for updates. With respect to gspace, it’s not always reliable, but it lets users store their files, photos, and music online and then view them and STREAM them. I’ve been using this for a few years now. And, yes, I agree, I wouldn’t exactly store anything sensitive or vital here, but it’s still extremely useful.

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  8. Bruce Van Nice Friday, January 30, 2009

    Thank you for this Om:

    Paint me cynical –- though I like to think of myself as realistic –- but I don’t think Google’s backing of President Obama and his campaign was done with purely altruistic intentions. Given how close the company’s management is with the government officials, I worry that Google will one day go too far — and get away with it.

    Everyone should be concerned about the combination of Google’s extraordinary power and close relationship at the very highest levels of the government. The boundaries of “Do no evil” can be redefined, rationlized and blessed without our ever knowing it.

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  9. Raghu -Wuala do this already and its encrypted and stored on Wualas severs and sent out to the edges of the mesh via p2p but as you say they don’t have the scale or reach of Google but a successful resilient distributed data store has been the holy grail of p2p companies for many years .I Hope that Gdrive is the Holy Grail .

    http://www.wuala.com/en/learn/technology

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  10. Om,
    You might want to think in a different angle on this one. Two points here. First, online storage has been around for long time. Second , no company can be a monopoly in this rapidly changing technology world.
    Online storage has been around for a long time. Remember Yahoo briefcase six years back ????

    We thought about Microsoft as being a ruthless monopoly, what happened to them now.
    They are slowly ( read very slowly) loosing money to APPLE in the computers and music players.
    Their Xbox is now out of favor movies after loosing that BlueRay thing.
    Their mobile operating systems is “Pre” :-) historic.
    Don’t even go near “Zune”.
    They still continue to make money. Thanks to all the revenue from Office and such (sharepoint included).
    But can you call them monopoly? “No”
    Google case would be the same , they cannot be monopoly. May be they have a better lock on consumers while Microsoft had it on the corporate.

    If you are scared of your data is controlled by Google , don’t use their services. Use Microsoft’s live or Yahoo. Or buy a 1.5 TB external harddisk for $ 130 and use an application that lets you access it. Create backups of your data on a regular basis.

    But I have to agree on one thing, good products draw customers to any company (APPLE, Google..) . Once they become big , they tried to be a monopoly.

    But rest assured , your fears will never become reality.

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