Google’s long-anticipated GDrive might finally be here. The original concept was to extend the capabilities of Google Desktop with personal, searchable storage but, alas, innovation has since shifted away from the Desktop. The new world is mobile. It is a world dominated by smart phones and tablets. Dropbox has become an overnight juggernaut by being the first and still the best way to synchronize data across all devices. For GDrive to succeed against Dropbox, Google must enlist the one unfair advantage it has in the space, the Droid army.
Dropbox wants to be the storage, and synchronization platform of the new world. They are well on their way but their ambitions are curtailed by having only limited access to the mobile platforms and by having a naive security model that fails to keep IT in control of corporate data. Google is well positioned in mobile but seems far from being able to offer a security model that keeps IT in charge.
Smart phones are now at least as important as the Desktop for accessing data. Tablets are fast on the rise feeding into an immediate demand for bigger mobile screens that no one really knew existed before the iPad. The typical mobile user has at least two devices and wants local-like access to data from every device. IT is looking at a near future of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) with a mix of geek excitement and horror.
The success of the GDrive with consumers will depend on how closely Google integrates GDrive into the Android OS. Google could, for instance, add the ability to modify and version files that are stored locally in any Android device. This is a glaring limitation in Dropbox. What doesn’t make GDrive compelling is more free storage than Dropbox, more Desktop features or more search. That game is over.
Google will have a much harder time making GDrive successful in the enterprise. Microsoft holds the high ground at the enterprise with their Domain Controller. Security architectures use the Domain Controller as the linchpin of all user authentication and access to data. These architectures tend to be extremely complex and IT is unlikely to relinquish them any time soon. Dropbox and–in all likelihood–GDrive completely ignore the Domain Controller and rely instead on individual users to decide who gets access to their data. Here lies the disconnect between corporate IT and every consumer grade scheme for data storage and synchronization. Security is further compromised by the fact that all of the consumer services need to hold data unencrypted in their own data centers in order to perform their synchronization magic. This is likely to restrict the benefits of GDrive to consumers.
There is no question that these file storage and synchronization engines are changing storage as we know it. They require no backup, no provisioning, WAN optimization, VPN or complex migration or replication schemes. Users have never cared about all that stuff and IT would prefer not to babysit every nut and bolt of their infrastructure. The consumer services are a step in the right direction. We are seeing the consolidation of the data center, the remote office and the mobile users into a uniform storage service. Any serious storage vendor that isn’t thinking about how to extend their current data center offerings to include mobile is going to be unpleasantly surprised in the next 24 months as more workers shift to accessing data from tablets and smart phones. The pressure on IT is already intense but no one wants to rethink access control because of mobile. What IT needs is a simple way to extend their current security architecture to incorporate the new and unstoppable mobile world.