Although it may go by other names in specific companies, the F drive refers to that shared dumping ground where everything seems to end up. This includes meeting notes, annual reports and even expense form templates. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Google will soon offer an online service that acts as a repository for such data. Makes sense: if you’re going to offer tools for enterprise search, as Google is doing, it helps if users have something to search through.
The business users most likely to adopt GDrive would be the same kinds of firms that have adopted its Enterprise Apps suite. In other words, smaller organizations or departments in larger ones that have more Web-savvy employees with particular preferences around user interface and availability. Google’s main limitation, as always, is its die-hard tether to the browser. It won’t let you access what’s stored in the GDrive offline, even though a lot or work still happens without an Internet connection being activated. Even as an online-only offering, it may be hard for Google to compete with Microsoft. Besides the “Skydrive” Microsoft offers as part of its Live.com services, it also has SharePoint. Yes, it’s a portal product, but we’ve also talked to Canadian customers who told us they used it to move all the data that would normally be in the F drive anyway.
When it’s something like personal e-mail, users are quite happy to use up tons of storage, and Google pushed the rest of the industry to increase the limit on what was accepted by an online provider. In a business context, though, is Google prepared to handle terabytes? And even if it is, are companies prepared to have terabytes stored virtually on Google? There may be an image problem here: storing data on Google kind of feels like putting it in the middle of a public park. The company would need to emphasize not only the search capabilities of the GDrive but also the security it will use to protect the data. And unless it partners with someone, Google has no proprietary security technology that anyone knows about.
If you consider the state of offline storage today, the need for better availability and search is clearly there. It’s why companies like EMC are being successful with content-addressable products (and probably why EMC recently acquired online storage provider Berkley Data Systems for US$75 million in September). It’s why Symantec has been offering e-discovery tools to sift through data stored on Veritas products. These are the kind of heavy-duty chores enterprises care about. It’s different than storing your personal MP3s, and Google will have to prove it understands that.
Human nature plays a part in all this, of course. No matter how sophisticated the technology, there’s something impermanent about storing something online than on disk or in a box you can touch and feel. That perception may be the GDrive’s biggest hurdle. That, and the F drive.