Although targeted at consumers, Google Drive has plenty of enterprise-type features, that will appeal to business users, say experts.
The Cloud storage wars are well and truly on as Google and Microsoft beef up their free and paid for offerings in a head on collision with the likes of Box and DropBox.
Inevitably Google grabbed the most headlines with the rollout of its much-heralded GoogleDrive, while Microsoft expanded its SkyDrive proposition, offering up to 100GB of storage and adding access for the iPhone, iPad and Windows phones.
Google Cloud already lets users store email and other documents, but GoogleDrive ups the stakes in what is becoming a fiercely competitive space in which both Apple and Microsoft have skin in the game.
"This is really just the next step in the evolution of Google Cloud," said Scott Johnston, group product manager for Google Drive. "It's really letting people live more in the cloud by connecting them more easily with all the devices they have."
According to Google’s PR blurb: "Google Drive is everywhere you are - on the web, in your home, at the office and on the go…So wherever you are, your stuff is just ... there. Ready to go, ready to share."
So what does that mean in practice? Well, five gigabytes of Cloud-based storage is provided free, while users may pay $2.49 a month for 25 gigabytes and higher fees for more. As it’s Google, search functionality is being touted as a major competitive plus with the ability to search through more than 30 types of files, such as Google docs or PDFs.
Users can put a Google Drive folder on multiple computers and access it from almost anywhere. Once a file is stored, the files can be shared with others or discussed online. In addition, Google Drive is open to third-party applications so users can create, open and share files from a variety of other software programs.
Google Drive will launch with an Android app for smartphones and tablets running Google's mobile operating system and in conjunction with 20 third-party apps. It is also available for PCs and Macs, with iPhone and iPad to follow.
Meanwhile Microsoft last week upgraded its own play in this space with a new SkyDrive application that makes files stored in the SkyDrive cloud visible via Windows for machines running Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. In practice this means that files up to 2GB can be dragged and dropped into and out of SkyDrive.
The new version of SkyDrive also upports managing the service from Finder on Mac OS X devices, so any application that uses the file system can access SkyDrive as well. There’s been no mention of an Android option.
SkyDrive comes with 7GB of free storage but more can be bought at annual rates of $10 for 20GB, $25 for 50GB and $50 for 100GB. Microsoft announced it's rewarding its users that were already using SkyDrive as of 22 April by allowing them to opt in to keep the 25 GB of free space. If a user had already uploaded more than 4 GB, they're automatically opted in.
As well as Google and Microsoft, the Cloud storage space also has a number of start-ups, most notablly Box and DropBox as well as Apple with its iCloud offering. There are some positioning differentiators between the various offerings. For example, Box argues that its primary focus is on business rather than consumer users and as such it can be said to see SharePoint as its real competition while iCloud is only available to iOS5 users.
Angela Eager of research firm TechMarketView reckons that Google’s new gambit will resonate well with users.
“Although targeted at consumers it has plenty of enterprise-type features, including collaboration and file sync services, that will appeal to business users,” she notes. “And it is expected to be priced in such as way as to open up a new revenue stream, rather than just more users… Business users are likely to exceed the free limit, thereby generating a new revenue stream for Google."
However, Richard Edwards, principal analyst at Ovum believes that its unofficial use within the enterprise could cause headaches for CIOs.
“Corporate emails systems are notorious for their measly storage quotas and message attachment size limitations, and so the sharing and distribution of large corporate files, such as PowerPoint presentations, engineering drawings, and creative content, are an obvious use case for Google Drive," he says.
“Concerned with data leakage and the loss of corporate intellectual property, the unsanctioned use of Cloud storage services presents a real headache for corporate governance, risk, and compliance managers. Many organisations already block access to popular file sharing Web sites such as Dropbox, but Ovum believes there is an inevitability about the use of these services that warrants further investigation.
“Ovum advocates the evaluation of business-grade Cloud drive and collaboration solutions, such as Box and Huddle. These services deliver user friendly, device agnostic, content sharing features similar to Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft SkyDrive, but they also feature management and administration capabilities that Ovum deems essential from a compliance and audit perspective.”
Nonetheless, Google Drive is already gathering momentum, which could have implications for the tech giant's finances.
Eager adds: “Google Drive’s business model represents a shift for the company – it will be going after revenue directly rather than relying purely on indirect search and display advertising revenue streams. The bottom line is that software and services suppliers will find themselves competing directly with Google for customers’ subscription revenue and that will add a new dynamic to the marketplace.
In addition Google’s entry to the market will accelerate the competition in this space, she argues. “Even though it is coming from behind, by piling on the features and pushing integration it looks like it will differentiate itself from cloud storage competitors like DropBox, Microsoft SkyDrive and Apple iCloud.” she states. “There is a lot a stake – those who can capture the hearts and minds of consumers are well placed to transfer into the enterprise, particularly given the BYOT trend.”