Google Drive has just upped the stakes in the cloud game, starts price war

25 Apr 2012

It’s the speed and elegance of Google Drive that has hooked me in, but there’s also something about the astute way Google has realised people want to do more than just store stuff in the cloud. Productivity and collaboration are the obvious ones, but it’s important to realise Google has just started a price war for cloud storage.

I’m a fan of the prevailing cloud storage services and know they are only going to become more sophisticated. I love the simplicity of Dropbox (just drag and drop, voila!) and I’ve long been a user of Microsoft’s Sky Drive. And in its endearing way, Apple has hooked me into its iCloud, whether I want to or not.

However, with Google Drive, Google’s move towards cloud productivity – you can argue Google Docs was already doing this – and collaboration within online storage drives certainly ups the game.

The problem with cloud so far is that you get the sense that marketers in tech companies just seized on the term ‘cloud’ as an easy term they could use to sell complex stuff they themselves barely understand. They had a eureka moment – “hey, we can sell this finally” – and they’re still punch drunk.

There is a penchant among marketers and PR types in the tech industry to rave about how ‘the cloud’ will change everything – economically, efficiently and entrepreneurially – and then shove you into a room with a propeller head to explain the complex stuff while they go outside to prop up the match sticks under their eyes.

The thing about ‘cloud’ is that it’s just an evolution of server-based computing. That’s all. There’s no magic, per se, it’s just the maturing of server and internet computing. It has been happening for years, it was going to happen, it’s not really new. But now it is accessible and tangibly real.

What is interesting is the growing number of people who consciously and unconsciously store data in the cloud already – be it through Flickr, Facebook, Gmail or Hotmail. What is fascinating is how truly relaxed they are with the security of the content once stored. For example, I can make an audio recording and type up notes on Evernote on my iPhone and retrieve the same data instantaneously on my Mac, my PC, an iPad or an Android device. OK, it seems magical, but it’s just computing evolution.

This new Google Drive brings this along elegantly because it marries productivity and collaboration with storage. This ups the game. Somewhat. The service is available for Android devices, PCs and Macs with iPhone and iPad versions coming soon.

The cloud storage price war begins

So how does Google Drive compare with rival services? Users can get started with 5GB of storage for free. Users, if they wish, can upgrade to 25GB of storage for less than US$2.50 a month. If you have an existing Google ID and have used Google Docs in the past, those documents automatically populate the new service.

It is clear that Google is attaching a premium to the extra productivity and collaboration capability.

Microsoft’s Sky Drive provides more free storage with the first 7GB for free and works out slightly cheaper at US$50 for 100GB a year, compared with Google Drive, which would work out at US$59.88 for the year.

For organisations it gets interesting – Google Drive can store 16 terabytes for US$799.99 a year – a statement of intent, methinks.

Dropbox offers the first 2GB for free and offers 100GB for US$199 per year, so I think it will be deeply threatened by Google’s new offering. Just 1 terabyte of storage starts at US$795 for five users each month.

On Apple’s iCloud, the first 5GB is free, rising to US$20 a year for 10GB, US$40 a year for 20GB and US$100 a year for 50GB of storage in the cloud.

Technologically, Google has upped the stakes by fusing productivity and collaboration with storage. But it has added an element of price competition, too, right at a time when people’s estimation and the value they attach to cloud storage is at a tipping point.

Timing, they say, is everything.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years