Google Drive and What It Means for SMBs

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Choosing Your First Cloud Application Initiative

Questions you should ask to help determine which cloud application path you should pursue.

Google Drive was unveiled earlier this week, offering support for Windows and Mac, as well as Android devices on the mobile front. With an initial 5GB of storage space offered for free, users have the option to acquire more storage by paying $2.49 per month for 25GB of storage space, or $4.99 per month for 100GB.


Additional paying tiers of up to 1TB are also available for users who require even more storage, while customers who pay for Google Drive will also get a free upgrade of their Gmail account to 25GB, which is metered separately.


Not Just Another Storage Solution


The release of Google Drive has understandably attracted much attention, with some even going as far as to question what took Google so long. A quick look under the hood shows that the service is no "me too" half-baked offering that offers basic storage capabilities and not much else. In terms of its capabilities, I think it would be fair to say that Google Drive matches and in some aspects even exceeds better-established rival offerings, due in part to the breadth of its integration with other Google services.


For example, Google Drive will store revisions for 30 days to guard against mistakes, and allow users to view more than 30 file formats without the need to install the relevant software applications. In addition, Google has also released a Google Drive SDK with Web-centric APIs for integration by third-party developers, while everything is searchable courtesy of optical character recognition; files are examined using image recognition technology to identify text and images for search.


On paper at least, Google Drive is setting new benchmarks in terms of integration and overall capabilities.


Concerns About Terms of Service


However, one concern that was quickly flagged by various observers are provisions stipulated within Google Drive's terms of service (TOS), which has stirred up a hornet's nest with privacy advocates. In it, the company and its partners are explicitly given "a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative work" as well as the right to "communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content."


Though supporters may be tempted to dismiss the terms as necessary to protect Google against litigation, it is worth noting that the terms of service for end users and Google Apps for Business are not same. As pointed out by Clint Boulton of The Wall Street Journal, the terms of Google Apps for Business give Google the right to transfer, process and store customer data, but omit mention about reproducing, modifying or creating an alternative version of user content. A Google spokesman has confirmed that the terms for Google Apps for businesses and Google Drive for businesses are the same.


The disparity in the TOS should at least give SMBs pause about whether they want to encourage or allow the use of Google Drive, given that many of them may not have signed up for Google Apps for Business. Indeed, many businesses are adopting a look-and-see attitude, while others such as The New York Times have advised its employees to steer clear for now.


The Big Picture


In an email message, Chris Hopen, president of TappIn, Inc., which specializes in mobile access and secure file sharing, acknowledged that the TOS is confusing and open to interpretation. However, he cautioned that this should not detract from the more critical discussion pertaining to the general security implications of personal cloud services for individuals and SMBs. Given how few will fret about putting less sensitive data such as family photos or marketing collateral in the cloud, Hopen insinuated that employees may be desensitized about doing the same with more sensitive corporate data.


"Storing highly sensitive corporate data, such as customer information, personnel files, financial data, and strategic planning data in the cloud should certainly give SMBs pause, especially when it's the employees, not the management, procuring that storage," says Hopen, cautioning that SMBs, especially those in compliance-bound industries like legal and health care should be extremely cautious on this front. "One security breach or inadvertent public disclosure could land them in serious hot water."


As I observed in "What They Don't Tell You About Storing Data in the Clouds," there are a number of inherent and unavoidable problems about cloud-based storage that are typically given little airing. On the other hand, at least some of the most common issues can be addressed, as I highlighted in "Debunking the Top Six Myths of Cloud Backup."


Ultimately, there is no denying that cloud storage can be advantageous in the right circumstances. Rather than imposing a blanket ban or adopting a completely hands-off attitude, SMBs would be well-served to keep an open mind and actively investigate work processes that can benefit from its adoption - without compromising or significantly degrading the overall level of data security.