In a move with huge implications for Dropbox, Box, Hightail, and other companies that charge to store files online, Google just announced a new product that will offer business users unlimited storage for a set monthly fee per user.
Google Drive for Work will cost $10 per month and come with unlimited storage, as well as a full license for Gmail and Google Apps. It's a huge change for Google, which previously had a maximum storage limit of 30GB per user for Google Apps, with extra storage tiers starting at $1.99 per month for 100GB and going up to 30TB for $300 (!) per month.
No more. Now every user will have unlimited storage, with no catches. Google is also increasing the maximum file size to 5TB -- larger than the largest hard drive on any PC available today. I asked Google Drive product manager Scott Johnston what type of file could possibly run into the previous 1TB limit, and he suggested high-defintion video (like 4k from a GoPro camera) or exceptionally large data files -- the kind of files usually stored on servers.
The move to unlimited storage was inevitable -- Box CEO Aaron Levie predicted this day on Twitter back in March, and Microsoft just increased its storage limit for OneDrive business customers from 20GB to 1TB on Monday. But now that it's here, competitors like Box and Dropbox will have to step up and offer significant value beyond storage.
These competitors can no longer rely on cross-platform compatibility as a selling point, either. Johnston told me that Google absolutely intends to offer feature parity between mobile and web, and between all different platforms.
"You'll see the gaps between mobile and web close significantly," Johnston told me. "We'll march in lockstop with Android and iOS. I don't see where any competitor has a better story in terms of cross-platform. We recognize the importance of that to users."
Johnston also emphasized that Drive is not exclusively for Google Apps customers, but will be catered to all companies, including those with heavy investments in Microsoft Office. "We want to remove all barriers to entry on getting efficiency out of these cloud tools. Drive is a way to get started, you don't have to change your existing workflows."
To that end, Google is also addressing some longstanding complaints with Google Apps and Office file compatibility by integrating QuickOffice, acquired more than a year ago, into the suite. Now, users will be able to edit Microsoft-formatted files directly within Google Apps without converting them to Google's file formats. Some features, like real-time commenting, will still require files to be converted, but Google Apps director of product management Ryan Tabone promises that round-tripping will be more reliable in these cases. Google Apps is also getting revision tracking and commenting, another long-overdue feature inherited from QuickOffice.
In addition to making storage size irrelevant, Google is also offering features designed to reassure IT managers who might be nervous about moving files to the cloud, including much more granular permissions, with support for groups stored in existing directories. "Within Apps, we have the concept of organizational units. Those sync with [Microsoft] Active Directory, or with any generic LDAP framework," Johnston said. There will also be much better visibility into what users are doing with files, and an API into the audit log for developers, who will be able to build special-purpose apps for industries where compliance is critical, like banking. On the security front, Google will offer encryption at rest on its servers. (In addition to encryption in transit and between data centers, which was already in place.)
Overall, the improvements are an important indication that Google has not given up on the enterprise. The Apps suite has been pretty static for the last couple of years, and it seemed that Larry Page was satisfied to keep the product around as a decent side business (advertising still makes up 90% of Google's more than $40 billion in annual revenue) and a thorn in Microsoft's side, but didn't think of it as a core part of Google's larger strategy.
Today's announcements, along with the improvements and aggressive pricing for the Cloud Engine announced in March, show in fact that Google won't cede any part of its enterprise cloud business to newcomers. You shouldn't expect Google to get into verticals like CRM or HR management, but as far as broad-based infrastructure and horizontal SaaS offerings go, Google is in the enterprise game to stay.