Google Drive offers 'open' collaboration platform

The company says its new cloud storage product is an 'open platform', although the only third-party services offering Driveintegration come in the form of Chrome web apps
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Google has finally unveiled Google Drive, although the long-awaited cloud storage service does not appear to have gone live in Europe yet.

Google Drive

Google says its new cloud storage product is an 'open platform'. Image credit: Google

The company said on Tuesday that the service, which gives users 5GB of storage for free and offers business customers up to 16TB on a paid-for basis, is an "open platform" and can integrate with various third-party collaboration services.

"Whether you're drawing up floor plans with a client, creating a presentation with classmates or planning next year's budget with colleagues, Drive makes it easy to work together," product manager Scott Johnston wrote in a blog post announcing the launch. "You can upload and access all of your files, including videos, photos, Google Docs, PDFs and beyond."

The service was not available for personal or Google Apps accounts in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, as of Wednesday. "The service is becoming available to users worldwide over the next few days," a Google spokesman said.

Unlike Microsoft's rival SkyDrive, Google Drive is able to act as a platform as well as a document repository and sharing service. However, it appears that the third-party integration it offers is only for web apps available via the Chrome Store.

"Drive is... an open platform, so we're working with many third-party developers so you can do things [like] sign documents with DocuSign and HelloFax, design flowcharts with Lucidchart and manage projects and tasks with Smartsheet directly from Drive," Johnston wrote.

The deepest Drive integrations appear to be with other Google services, such as Google+ and Google Docs.

Google Docs is built right into Google Drive, so you can work with others in real time on documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
– Scott Johnston, Google

"Google Docs is built right into Google Drive, so you can work with others in real time on documents, spreadsheets and presentations," Johnston wrote. "Once you choose to share content with others, you can add and reply to comments on anything (PDF, image, video file, etc.) and receive notifications when other people comment on shared items."

Apart from that integration, Google Drive is similar to SkyDrive and more established rivals such as Dropbox, in that it provides cloud-based storage as an alternative to physical media such as USB keys or hard drives.

Business users can share files and folders with specific people and teams, and also with customers and partners outside their domain.

One of the most interesting features of Drive is its implementation of search. The service can recognise text in scanned documents, using optical character recognition (OCR) technology. It can also use image recognition.

Enterprise tools

Google also gives enterprise customers a variety of tools for Drive. Administrators can use the Apps control panel to assign storage to individual users. All data transfer is encrypted, and all data is replicated in multiple datacentres — Google won't say which data is stored in which datacentres, but most data for EU businesses will by law have to be stored within the EU.

Business customers also get a 99.9-percent uptime guarantee and 24/7 support.

The service has apps for PC, Mac and Android, and Google is working on an iOS version.The free iteration of Google Drive gives 5GB, which is slightly less than SkyDrive's 7GB.

In terms of paid expansion for consumers, Microsoft's product works out cheaper than Google's. For example, an extra 20GB on SkyDrive will cost $10 (£6) a year, but on Drive it costs $2.49 a month, or almost $30 a year.

The difference becomes even more marked for enterprise customers, with that extra 20GB costing $4 a month, or $48 a year, on Google Drive. However, both services are cheaper than Dropbox.

Consumer vs enterprise 

According to Ovum analyst Richard Edwards, the fact that Google is pitching Drive as both a consumer and enterprise product could be a problem for some businesses.

"Google's marketing says you can have work and play in one place," he said. "A challenge IT managers will have is individuals using their own personal Google Drive account for business. The average user is just trying to get a job done."

Edwards also noted that, while Google does provide APIs for businesses who need to plug into Drive for auditing and e-discovery purposes, it does not provide an "out-of-the-box interface" for this to be done, unlike some rivals that have been offering enterprise cloud storage for a while.

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