Google Drive Arrives but Security Fears Linger

Posted on April 25, 2012 By Pedro Hernandez

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Google's long-rumored cloud storage service, Google Drive, is finally official, giving rivals like Dropbox and Microsoft's Skydrive a formidable competitor to contend with. But experts warn not to blindly start dumpimg files on Google's cloud without first weighing the data security implications.

Similar to other cloud services, the first few gigabytes are free. Google offers users 5 GB of storage at no cost, but subscription costs kick in when users upgrade to 25 GB for $2.49/month. Other plans include 100 GB for $4.99 per month, a full TB for $49.99 per month or up to 16 TB for $799.99. Upgrading to a paid plain also expands a Gmail account user's inbox to 25 GB.

Low cost and generous amounts of online storage capacity is only part of the story -– for comparison's sake, Dropbox offers only 2 GB of free storage. The company also aims to make Google Drive the storage foundation for users of its popular cloud services, namely Gmail, Google Docs and Google+.

Right off the bat, Drive debuts with deep Google Docs integration, bringing the online productivity suite's sharing and collaboration options to files of all types that are housed within Drive. Further, Gmail users can attach files directly from Google Drive, and Google+ gets the option to post images already uploaded to Drive.

In keeping with the company's roots, Google also touts rich search options. In addition to keyword and file type searches, Drive's search functionality can also peer into scanned documents using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. Although the company notes that it is still in its early stages, Drive also supports image recognition, making it possible to search for photos of famous landmarks, for example.

Extensibility is also part of the plan. In a Google Blog post, Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome and Apps, explains how Chrome apps turn Drive into more than a service for parking files on the cloud. "Drive is also an open platform, so we're working with many third-party developers so you can do things like send faxes, edit videos and create website mockups directly from Drive," he writes.

Software for uploading and synching files across PCs and mobile devices is available for Windows, Mac and Android. The company is currently working on an iOS app for iPhone and iPad users, according to Pichai.

In terms of security, the company advises users to take the same precautions as they do with their Google account credentials. Although files are stored "safely in secure data centers," this indicates that it's up to users to enhance the security of their data on their own terms.

Welcoming Google, Remaining Wary

The highly anticipated service is a boon for the market, in the form of increased awareness and falling cloud storage prices, according to Vineet Jain, CEO of hybrid cloud storage specialist Egnyte.

In an email to InfoStor, he wrote, "Google Drive is a welcome addition to the cloud storage wars, because as they battle with the likes of Dropbox, Box and iCloud, the consumer will only benefit through increased competition for better, faster and cheaper file backup."

Google's move also benefits cloud providers, particularly those that cater to businesses with enhanced availability and security features. "There will be some spill-over effect onto the business world through innovations related ease of use, but ultimately it helps differentiate between consumer and business grade products," argues Jain.

Despite the megawatt spotlight Google Drive shines on the cloud storage market, there are downsides said Tom Gelson, Cloud Strategist for Imation Scalable Storage.

"Interest in Google Drive reinforces growing demand for online or cloud backup. While Drive is primarily targeted at consumers, some companies will consider the solution for backup and IT departments will have to contend with employees using Drive on their own for corporate data storage," stated Gelson.

"Cloud backup is certainly a practical and cost-effective storage tier, but security of data stored in Google Drive –- or any other cloud –- is essential," he added, warning that it may be best for users and organizations to take data security into their hands.

"The encryption standards that Google and other cloud storage providers put in place are essentially ineffective if a providers can simply reset the key if a user loses or forgets it. A 'back door' to encryption exposes the data to risk in the event that the cloud provider's systems are hacked," Gelson said.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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