Like many people, the other week I downloaded and installed Google Drive. This is the long-awaited competitor to services like Dropbox and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. It offers free online storage with the ability to upgrade to higher capacity at a cost. Dropbox and the various other lookalikes have been around for some time, so is Google coming to this market too late and is the party already over?
The concept of Cloud Storage is pretty simple. Services like Dropbox allow you to share a local folder on your PC or Mac and have that data replicated into “the cloud”. From there it can be accessed by other devices, including smartphones, web browsers and tablets. The great benefit of cloud storage offerings is that they allow all copies of data to be kept in sync, while retaining a backup copy that can be used if any or all of the local device copies are lost or corrupted.
You’d think that because you were uploading your files, that you own them. Whilst that’s true, what you can’t tell is whether your data is being used by your cloud provider for something else. As I highlighted when Google’s service was announced, their terms and conditions state the following:
Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
Great, but read on and the Terms of Service also say:
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 (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.
This amount of freedom with my data seems a little generous; effectively Google (or any company they choose) can redistribute my content, including modifying it, for their purposes. Now it could be argued that Google are providing this service for free and somehow they need to recover their costs. But as others have done, when you offer a “free” service you rather hope to upsell the customer to a paid offering, either by giving enhanced features or capacity and cover the cost of offering the service to some for free.
So far I’ve chosen not to write any content into the Google Drive while I work out the best way to encrypt my data and still have it accessible across all platforms. Ultimately if you’re not happy with what Google are doing, then encryption is the way forward. The trouble with encryption though, is it restricts the use of plugin apps (like Google Docs) and reduces the effectiveness of sharing, when keys have to be shared around those accessing the shared data.
Shared Metadata Local Content
There is another way this problem could be solved and that’s to develop a hybrid solution. Content can be separated from the metadata and access method, allowing users to retain data on their equipment, using a provider to store metadata and provide the shared access API. This is what OxygenCloud now offer and VMware will offer with Project Octopus. These kinds of solutions allow customers to retain control over their data whilst having the benefit of Dropbox-like functionality and eventually (as these service providers hope) to store only their critical information locally, pushing more into the Cloud (and their partner service providers) as they trust security and service levels.
The Storage Architect Take
Google will do well with Drive simply because they have a critical mass of users who like “free” and don’t care about the security and data access issues. Pushing Drive into corporate territory will require a different approach; charging a fee and offering encryption and/or better terms of service may be one way forward. However, in the meantime, there are plenty of others out there already eating Google’s lunch. The hybrid on/offsite model will develop and mature. The hybrid solution is something I can’t see Google engaging in. They like to own everything, so perhaps Drive will not be as successful as Google would like it to be after all.
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