What happens to your G Suite unlimited storage when Google moves you to Workspace?

Depending on how much storage you're using in G Suite, you're either going to think this a non-issue -- or you're going to be adding a major migration project to your to-do list. Gotta love 2020.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

In early October, Google rebranded G Suite as Google Workspace. But this isn't just a rebrand. The amount of storage provided by Google Drive is dropping considerably for some users of the G Suite Business plan, which is the plan Google has long highlighted as "most popular."

Here's how it used to be:

G Suite plans, captured from Archive.org

Users of the G Suite Business plan with five or more seats have always been offered unlimited storage. You can see "unlimited" highlighted up there on the old G Suite pricing schedule. Users buying 1, 2, 3, or 4 seats were allowed up to 1TB of storage per seat.

But now that Google is rebranding G Suite to Workspace, it isn't clear what that means for storage. I set out to find out. 

The Workspace pricing is as follows:

Workspace plans, captured from Google's Workspace pages

Users of Workspace buying 1, 2, 3, or 4 seats will now get up to 2TB of storage per seat, so that's double the storage for very small business purchasers. But users buying five seats or more appear to have lost their unlimited storage. Workspace Business Standard provides only 2TB of storage per seat, period.

Because I wrote the G Suite everything you need to know guide for CNET, I almost immediately started getting messages from IT managers and small business owners who found themselves suddenly faced with the possibility of losing that unlimited storage. Users with a large amount of data already in Google Drive could be facing an urgent and unplanned need to migrate tremendous amounts of data off of Google to someplace else.

I was also personally curious because I, too, maintain a G Suite Business account and am facing the same uncertain fate as many of my readers.

Our email dialog with Google

To answer this, I reached out to Google and had a long and interesting email conversation that went back and forth for about two weeks. Below, I'll present my questions, their answers, and at the end, I'll give you my take on what it all means. The TL;DR version: You can no longer plan for unlimited storage.

Will users of traditional G Suite accounts be migrated to Workspace?

This question is from those who like their G Suite price and offer set, and are wondering if they should budget for a price increase for storage in 2021.

Existing G Suite licenses and related services will continue to function as they do today and we're committed to making the transition as easy as possible. If a customer is not ready to transition now, we will be sharing additional information over the coming months to identify a transition path that best suits their needs.

There are no price changes at Starter and Standard levels from the previous Basic and Business. The Business Plus edition is a new offer that includes more advanced capabilities for small businesses who do not need the entire Enterprise-level offerings.

We're making these changes based on extensive customer and industry feedback, and we believe that customers will see greater value in the new offerings.

That was not entirely helpful. While the statement "will continue to function as they do today" seems technically true so far, old G Suite accounts aren't even functioning as they did last month. The most telling evidence of this is that when G Suite users log in, the dashboard now says Workspace, not G Suite. Is the difference merely cosmetic, or is there more to it?

Can current G Suite users count on their unlimited storage into the future?

That's the key question, right? The users of G Suite who are used to unlimited storage are concerned about migration to Workspace. If they stay in G Suite, can they count on unlimited storage into the future or should they make somewhat urgent migration plans in 2021? This is particularly for folks who have 10-20TB in G Suite, and for whom it will take months to complete a data migration.

With Google Workspace, we're offering a greater variety of editions, with more granular differentiation in product features, storage capacity, and administrative and security controls across our lineup.

We've found that most customers do not realize the full benefit of unlimited storage. A relatively small number of organizations in a few specific industries actually need it. With the new editions, we're providing more value with features that are useful to more customers, like Meet recordings in the new Business Standard edition, while maintaining pricing. The editions still provide plentiful storage, and for Enterprise edition customers, we will offer as much storage as they need without additional costs.

As I'll discuss below in my wrap-up analysis, I disagree with the statement "A relatively small number of organizations in a few specific industries actually need it [meaning unlimited storage]." Video production takes a tremendous amount of storage and many companies and individuals, across all industries, are doing more and more of it every day. That said, let's move on with our questions and try to find out what's going to happen to all the data Business plan users have stored on Google Drive.

But will Business plan customers need to migrate their storage?

The question ("If they stay in G Suite, can they count on unlimited storage into the future or should they make somewhat urgent migration plans in 2021?") wasn't fully answered.

If a G Suite Business customer is already using more storage than is available in the Workplace plans, will that customer need to find a new home for that data in 2021 or 2022, or will that customer be able to remain a G Suite Business customer in 2021 and 2022 without increasing their spend?

Storage limits will be rolled out to customers that transition to Google Workspace editions. For Enterprise edition customers, we will offer as much storage as they need at no additional cost.

As I mentioned, a relatively small number of organizations in a few specific industries actually need unlimited storage. With the new editions, we're providing ample storage and more value with features that are useful to more customers, like Meet recordings in the new Business Standard edition, while maintaining pricing. The editions still provide plentiful storage with options for Enterprise edition customers to request more if needed.

Is moving from a G Suite plan to a Workspace plan mandatory or optional?

This phrase was used in Google's answer to me: "to customers that transition to Google Workspace editions." For non-Enterprise customers, is this transition voluntary, or will it apply to all customers? And as of approximately when?

For customers on a Flexible plan, we'll work with them over the coming months to identify their transition path to one of the new offerings that's best for them.

For G Suite customers on a Commit plan, their existing G Suite licenses and related services will continue to function until their renewal date.

We'll work with customers to identify a transition plan and communicate the details prior to those dates.

The astute reader might note that "Flexible" and "Commit" plans aren't mentioned in any Business plan offering, either for the old G Suite or the new Workspace. These, presumably, reflect Enterprise plan customers. Since I was trying to find out what happens to Business plan users, I tried asking again.

What does this mean for G Suite Business plan users?

The key line to me for SMBs was from an earlier Google response, saying: "offering a greater variety of editions, with more granular differentiation in product features, storage capacity, and administrative and security controls across our lineup."

I followed up on this again. What are they? When will they be available? What features do they come with? What are their price points?

To answer all your questions above, you can find the details on pricing and features for each plan on our website. As for timing, all plans are available now and any features listed are available today.

So that brought us back to Square One. The fact that plans are available now doesn't tell users whether they will be involuntarily migrated or not, or what happens to their G Suite unlimited data in excess of 2TB per user.

But because I have been getting reports from G Suite Business users that their dashboards now say Workspace, it appears we are all being moved to Workspace whether we like it or not. Here's another clue: I just got an email with the subject "Google Workspace: Your invoice is available."

Google never gave me a satisfactory answer about what happens with G Suite users storing more data than Workspace allows. So far, nobody has reported to me they've had data removed or uploading blocked, so presumably this will be a case-by-case thing over time.

But since G Suite users are now in Workspace (whether they chose to be or not), I started to dig into the question of living with the new Workspace normal.

Is there a minimum number of Workspace users for Business Standard and Business Plus plans?

The Workspace Business Standard and Business Plus plans max at 300 users. But is there a minimum? Can a company of just two or three people use those plans?

There is no minimum number of users for any of our plans.

Back in the G Suite days, if you wanted to trigger the unlimited storage option, you had to have five or more users.

My trusty old account, for example, is a five user G Suite Business account at the unlimited storage threshold. When I set up the G Suite Business plan for the small business my wife and I run, I created and paid for three additional phantom user seats, which got us all the cloud data storage we needed.

I paid for three extra employees we don't have, for the sole reason of gaining access to the unlimited storage tier. It was totally worth the extra per seat cost for three unused seats. Many small businesses with large data needs have been doing the same thing for years. It is a really common solution to the need for large amounts of cloud storage.

Contrary to Google's representation that only a few industries have huge storage needs, since video and YouTube have become mainstream, and people are carrying phones that take 4K video around with them all the time, many more individuals and businesses have burgeoning storage needs that can only be handled by many, many terabytes of storage.

How can the Workspace storage allotments be managed?

The Workspace Business Standard and Business Plus plans provide 2TB and 5TB per user respectively. Can that capacity be pooled across the organization? Like if you have 20 Standard users, which provides for 40TB, can one user access 10TB and the rest split the remaining 30TB?

What happens when more storage is needed for those plans? Is there an upgrade price for adding additional storage or do you just have to add additional users?

Users are allocated the amount of storage based on their organization's plan. Since Google Workspace is offering a greater variety of editions, customers will be able to choose the right edition to meet their storage needs.

Admins have a few options. You can upgrade individual users to higher levels in the same edition family (i.e. move from Business Starter to Standard or Plus, or move from Business Standard to Plus).

If a customer requires as much storage as they need, they can upgrade the domain (all users) to Enterprise.

Can users pool storage?

I still hadn't gotten a clear answer on pooling storage. I asked, "Assuming your company has the storage across users, can some users exceed either 2TB or 5TB as long as the total pool remains under the cumulative amount?"

This time the answer was clear:

Yes, users can pool storage. This simply means that all of the storage is shared, so your example is accurate. If you need to increase storage capacity, you can buy more seats or upgrade your license.

David's analysis

I ran the entire "suite" of Google's answers by a few IT folks and some fellow tech journalists to make sure I was interpreting it all correctly. The consensus is that Google is being purposely non-committal on how it will act towards existing users, but the company will probably not act against unlimited storage users, at least right away. But that could be wishful thinking.

It does look like Google is being non-committal to keep the door open for being able to act against edge cases who might be using up a disproportionate amount of resources. That said, so far none of the G Suite users I've spoken to have gotten any pushback at all from Google -- although all now have been pushed to the Workspace dashboard and the G Suite dashboard is gone.

So what does this mean for you? The simple fact is that you can no longer plan for unlimited storage. You may be able to use more storage than the new Workspace plans allow for, but you may wake up one morning with an email telling you to deal with all that data in a very short period of time. You can't count on that storage.

That's not a position anyone with IT responsibility wants to be in. So, if you want to make a plan and guarantee that your storage needs are met, you'll probably need to either migrate your storage somewhere else or buy enough seats to cover your storage requirements.

Also: Microsoft 365 vs Google Workspace (formerly G Suite): Which productivity suite is best for your business?

In my case, I'm using 27.5TB and that grows every month because I produce a lot of video. If I used the new Workspace Business Standard plan, I'd need to buy 15 seats with 2TB each, skyrocketing my costs from $60/month to $180. Alternately, I could buy six Business Plus seats with 5TB each, shooting my costs up to $108, almost double what I'm currently paying.

For the next month or so, I'm leaving my current plan in place. I just got invoiced for my regular monthly $60 and my storage is still intact. Over the next few months, I'll look into how I might re-home some or all of my data, or whether I'll decide I have to bite the bullet on paying $48 to $120 more per month (which nets out to a whopping $576 to $1440 more per year).

None of the G Suite users I've spoken to who have bought the Business plan, in part for the unlimited storage, are happy. There's a huge level of lock-in when dealing with data at the double-digit terabyte level. For Google to have spent years promoting that unlimited storage, only to yank it away, seems unnecessarily injurious to their small business customers.

Not having a clear answer to what happens to users currently using more storage than Workspace allows for their plan -- even after more than a dozen back and forth emails with PR folk speaking on behalf of Google execs -- puts existing customers in the uncomfortable position of having to roll the dice on how long Google will remain benign in terms of storage leniency or whether they'll turn punitive, and how and when.

Back in 2017, I discussed how the unlimited storage all-you-can-eat buffet was closing down, but I honestly thought that Google wouldn't pull the rug out from underneath Business customers paying by the seat for capacity and service. Clearly I was wrong.

The bottom line is this: if you can find a service with unlimited storage, don't count on it being there forever. You're probably going to need to move that data in a few years.

For those of us with a lot of data (and that's the case, for example, with anyone who regularly produces videos), the best practice of 3-2-1 backup (where one backup is hosted off-site) is becoming more difficult to sustain. The case for using a NAS like the Synology I reviewed a few years ago, with redundant error-correcting storage, is becoming even stronger. You can equip a heck of a NAS for $1440 per year.

I want to thank Google's PR team for helping us get the answers we needed regarding this storage change -- but I also want to (sarcastically) thank Google for the new, very large data migration and IT assessment project they've dumped in so many G Suite Business plan users' laps.

Sigh. The curse of 2020 keeps on keepin' on. Yeah, we needed this, too.

Stay tuned as I take you on my journey of re-homing 27+TB of storage and re-architecting my systems. Perhaps we can learn something together from all of this. How many of you are now dealing with a potential data storage emergency because your G Suite unlimited plan is probably going away? What are your plans, if you have any plans yet? Please let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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