Google Driving into the Enterprise
Cloud-based storage and file synchronization could be the way Google finally breaks through to the enterprise.
Yesterday, confirming rumors, Google finally introduced Google Drive. Users can store up to 5 GB of their files in the new cloud-based Google Drive for no charge, and access them from any of their Mac, PC, Android, and iOS devices. For about $2.50/mo, the storage can be expanded to 25 GB.
It solves a real problem associated with multiple devices, but isn't the first to do so. The problem is putting personal files in a place where they can be grabbed from all of our devices. That, combined with the decreasing cost of computers and increasing popularity of tablets and portable devices, is creating this new need.
Google is a welcome addition, but the problem was already being addressed by several providers including DropBox, Box, SugarSync, and Microsoft's SkyDrive. All of these, including Google now, follow a freemium model with some unique twists, but what does Google bring and why?
For starters, it is tied to Google Apps, which means it can open/view over 30 file formats natively in a web browser. This includes Microsoft Office and Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files. It also provides an OCR (optical character recognition) and image recognition capability that lets scanned documents be searched. From a security perspective, Google is enabling encrypted uploads and downloads. Google's use of multiple datacenters allows it to "guarantee" uptime to three nines.
This gift horse comes complete with a mouth. As with all things Google, the top of the list is privacy. Google can open and scan documents, which is reasonable considering Google now owns them. While DropBox and SkyDrive specifically state in their terms of service that your data is your data, Google Drive took a different approach--Google’s terms of service state: "When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works...communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content." And remember, Google can even scan your images with OCR and image recognition software.
Google Drive makes perfect sense for Google. It provides a means to collect more information about its users--not only what types of devices they use, but what they use them for.
More importantly, file synchronization is likely the least guarded door by which Google can try and make its entry into the enterprise. The other doors--e.g., replacing Office or corporate email--are proving harder to pry open. Despite being less expensive, Google Apps has made little penetration into the enterprise.
The pot at the end of the G-Drive rainbow for Google isn't getting customers to pay $2.50 a month for additional storage, but rather is increased usage of Google Apps and Google Plus. Native Google Apps file formats do not count toward the 5 GBs of storage. That creates an incentive to start converting Office formatted files to Google Apps, and after doing so, check out Google Apps Collaboration, an area where Google has some real competitive strength. Any file can be shared with other users, for simultaneous editing. Meanwhile, all Apps users get automatically included into Google's social service, Google Plus.
File synchronization could be what finally gets the enterprise to take a look at what Google is really offering--cloud based email, productivity apps, social networking, video, mobility, and IM--all with centralized administration at very low prices. Sprinkle in some integrated Android smartphones and tablets and it's a reasonably comprehensive and inexpensive story hitting all the right buzzwords.
Google also announced it is selling Android phones again. The company tried this before, but could not compete with the carrier subsidy model, and pulled back. Like last time, the phones are unlocked and suitable for AT&T or T-Mobile. Unlike last time, Google is now providing end user support. The phone (Galaxy Nexus by Samsung) can be purchased in the Google Play store, and additional phones and tablets are expected (likely from the Motorola acquisition).
The key attraction is that the phone is pure Google--no carrier-added software and no carrier filtering of applications (Google Wallet was being blocked by some carriers). The phone also runs Android 4, the latest version, which is still not widely available.
The causal observer may conclude that Google is getting serious about the Enterprise. Rather than unconnected new consumer focused apps, Google is strengthening its solution set into a set of integrated solutions that the enterprise is otherwise buying. Security and privacy concerns are front and center, but at least those files are securely encrypted on their way to the exposition.