30 Comments

Summary:

[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/

    Share
  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.

    Share
  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.

    Share
  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.

    Share
  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.

    Share
  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

    Share
  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.

    Share
  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.

    Share
  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

    Share
  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.

    Share
  11. Om, I couldn’t agree more!

    Share
  12. Swap Google with Apple. Same issues.
    Love their products, and everyone seems content to walk into grand CHAMBER of Google/Apple.
    Some one is bound to turn it into a “gas chamber” one day..

    We need options. Escape hatches.

    Microsoft is one, but already has a history of extermination as a business model…..

    Where alse are we to go?

    Open Source?
    James

    Share
  13. Well said, Om. A monopolist behaves monopolistically irrespective of its stated intentions.

    We should worry about Google’s political connections. Imagine if MS had displayed the same sort of overt support for Obama (or McCain). It’s not as if governments are showing much awareness: the EC is still pursuing Microsoft over IE for heaven’s sake.

    Share
  14. Well said, Om. A monopolist behaves monopolistically irrespective of its stated intentions.

    We should worry about Google’s political connections. Imagine if MS had displayed the same sort of overt support for Obama (or McCain).

    And EU regulators could more usefully turn their attention to Google than pursuing Microsoft over IE.

    Share
  15. I agree completely…any company gets too powerful, it throws the natural balance and order of things off. Checks and balances are necessary to keep things in line, and when these balances are controlled by a single source, it usually does no one much good (except the ones in power).

    Share
  16. [...] Om Malik is on a more interesting track.  He has quit worrying about whether GDrive will change the world and started wondering what’s in it for Google.  After all, times is tough even at the Big “G”, so there better be some real strategic or monetary return for this GDrive thing to make sense.  Om says any ad revenues are meaningless to Google from this source.  They just won’t amount to much.  Here is Om’s view of the grand strategy behind GDrive: [...]

    Share
  17. Interesting article, but the part about Google being monopoly is a complete nonsense. “Monopoly” means there is only one player in the given market or a sole producer of a given product. Can you name a product Google is a sole producer of? What service Google offers wouldn’t be almost immediately replaced by some rival one if Google is to go under? Google Docs? Yeah, right. Picasa? Absurd? Gmail? With tens or maybe hundreds of comparable free email services? And even Google main asset – search – would be quickly taken over by Microsoft and Yahoo (their searches are pretty good too). So quit this Google fearmongering, it’s childish.

    Share
  18. “Do no evil.” ?

    Share
  19. Hi Om et al.. Just to let you know, I work for http://www.nomadesk.com. We offer easy and secure file sharing, wherever you are. Being online is not required. I read your post on Google’s GDrive with great interest and just wanted to add NomaDesk to the mix in this discussion.
    NomaDesk has already been on the market for some time, and we offer similar features geared specifically towards the need of the “digital nomad”. We are convinced that the more data gets synchronized, the more likely it gets compromised. Therefore, NomaDesk includes an encrypted virtual drive that keeps your files securely available off-line and remote file shredding and IP-tracking with TheftGuard. Of course, we impose no limits on storage and bandwidth. A Mac version is on its way.

    So,

    I would appreciate your review.
    F.

    Share
  20. I completely agree with you about Google becoming a monopoly which will eventually turn into a burden for addicted consumers. For instance, the typo that prompted Google’s malware warning system to flag every search result link as dangerous. How many amongst us actually cross checked with another search engine to see if it was actually true. Compare this number with those who decided not to browse that particular site. Something to think about…

    Share
  21. You know, we had a good thing for decades with AT&T being a monopoly. But Judge Green broke it up and it’s never been as good.

    I could give countless examples of how deregulation messed up perfectly good industries, but I won’t get in a pssing match with anti-corporate Euro-weenie wanna-bes. Competition is great, but someone has to finally win the game. Goggle and Yahoo and others battled and Google won. If they stumble somehow, wait for it to happen instead of hanging crape, and their successor will rise via competitive forces. Without government “helping”…..

    Google Apps and Google Earth are great products. GDrive will be great, too, except for the timid privacy types who have all those black helicopters circling their houses at night.

    Share
  22. hi om

    I completely agree with you about this article Google has become a daily and integral part of your digital portfolio,an awful lot like Microsoft’s Skydrive and Live Mesh offerings. Google however always introduces products to consumers before taking them to corporate users.so Google than pursuing Microsoft over IE.

    Share
  23. I disagree that Google is a monopoly.

    First, because they have plenty of competition.

    Second (and more importantly) they do not have a license from the government to be the only provider of their services.

    As long as these two conditions are met…and as of today they are…I think it’s erroneous to label Google a monopoly.

    Share
  24. [...] this – hidden agendas ? gdrive – everyone bashes a goof up – Yahoo search finds favor [...]

    Share
  25. [...] involves providing a service — it puts the “S” in SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. Being a service provider comes with certain expectations, such as offering limits on the amount of data one can store [...]

    Share
  26. Om,
    A good article, however, it would be helpful to the reader in deciding if we agree with your concerns or not to spell out the specifics of your concerns with Google and the Gov being too close. Is it privacy you are worried about? Getting locked out?

    Share
  27. Links of the Week – February 10th…

    These are my links for January 30th through February 10th
    ……

    Share
  28. [...] Some of these difficulties are just inherent to sync, but the technology is maturing. Sync so far has meant something different to everybody. Even the industry’s main players still sell byproducts of sync rather than sync itself, which then compete with backup, online storage, photo-sharing or music-streaming services. Sync is a great enabler for all these connected services, one that’s becoming central to the personal cloud story of more and more companies. [...]

    Share
  29. [...] as possible online. The company’s latest moves may also fall in line with the long-term GDrive strategy that Google is reported to be focused on, surrounding online storage. Look for more file type [...]

    Share
  30. A lot of time has passed, and nothing has been released.

    Amazon S3 storage is still king. Although no search of content on the storage drive! Google really are misisng an open goal here.

    r

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post