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You may never see the familiar four-color logo on a Fibre Channel storage array, but it's a safe bet that Google has a significant role to play in the future of enterprise storage just the same. Google's influence and market clout are so great that it can't help but generate ripples felt throughout the culture, let alone the industry, with each of its frequent maneuvers.
Google has built, for its own use, what may be the greatest distributed storage and processing system in history. Yet its reach into the storage market is limited, even tangential, as it focuses its enterprise energies on search, increasing the capabilities of its Google Search Appliance and Google Desktop for Enterprise. To date, Google-related news that's made it into the storage press has largely been about partnerships with storage companies around search integration. When, in March, the company seemed to let slip a plan to open up some if its storage capacity to customers ("GDrive"), it appeared to signal Google's interest in more direct participation in storage.
'King of Search'
GDrive remains a rumor. But Google's growing involvement, through search, in enterprise storage is undeniable.
— Arun Taneja
"Google has been very open and clear to the marketplace that if it has to do with data, or accessing data, or isolating data, no matter where that data is, they have an interest in it," says Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at the Taneja Group. "That's sort of been their mission statement."
Google entered the enterprise search arena with the debut of its appliance in early 2002. Since then, Google has continued to make upgrades to the appliance family, delivering configurations with greater speed and capacity, enhancing security, and expanding the types of documents that can be indexed.
In the process, Google has also become a significant player in enterprise search. The company has stated that just a few percent of its overall revenue come from its enterprise products, but even a few percent of six billion annually is enough to put it in a league with enterprise search leaders such as Autonomy, Fast Search and Transfer, and Convera.
Meanwhile, enterprise search is a technology segment that has itself grown in visibility among storage pros. Information classification and management (ICM) vendors build solutions that classify unstructured data based on content and file system metadata, with the resulting classifications available as in input to information lifecycle management (ILM) managers. These classifications can also be fed into indexers such as the Google search appliance, increasing the reach and the precision of these tools. It's not surprising, then, that ICM startups StoredIQ and Kazeon were among those partnering with Google in the last nine months.
In fact, Google moved even closer to ILM this week with a partnership with ILM provider Solix Technologies.
"The whole industry is going through a massive learning process," says Taneja, describing the increasing awareness of the importance of classification and searchability. "I think there's a recognition that data that is stored, but not searchable, doesn't have as much meaning or relevance. You could argue that it has no relevance."
Stephen Arnold, managing director of ArnoldIT.com and author of The Enterprise Search Report, says Google occupies a unique position in the divided enterprise search space. First, there are the established enterprise search players like those mentioned above, with dedicated search solutions. Then there are what Arnold calls the "superplatforms," enterprise systems and database vendors that "give search away." Superplatform vendors include IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle.
"It's an inflection point," says Arnold. Google is a search, and not a systems vendor, but its position as Web search leader makes it impossible to overlook, he says. "Google is unique in that it is challenging the superplatform," adds Arnold.
Taneja sees a similar picture from a storage perspective. "Google's biggest advantage is that they are the 'king of search,'" he says. "They come to the enterprise side with all of that knowledge and understanding."
Enterprise search is not Web search. There are differing requirements in a number of areas, including file formats and access control. But Taneja doesn't see much difficulty for Google in making that transition, arguing that the company can easily enhance its position through partnering or acquisition. "When you've got that much market power," he says, "even if you don't have full understanding of the market, you get it pretty darn fast."
Into the Enterprise
For all of its power, Google's experience in selling to enterprise IT is limited. It remains to be seen what part of its resources it will continue to dedicate to pursuing the enterprise market, for now just a sliver of the pie to the internet search giant. It also remains to be seen how successful it will be.
One strategy in Google's approach to the enterprise is partnering with companies that are already there, most visibly through its Google Enterprise Professional program, launched last year. Consulting firm Bearing Point is probably the biggest name in the partnership list, which also includes storage-focused companies such as StoredIQ, Kazeon and Solix. Data-protection software vendor Avamar last week announced that it, too, had joined the program, planning to extend Google search capabilities to disk backup.
But is this as far as Google gets into enterprise storage? Given the size of the market, the size of the vendor, and Google's internal storage expertise, it doesn't seem likely. "Ultimately, I have to assume that that giant has a bigger appetite than just partnering," says Taneja.
Still, any kind of "GDrive for the Enterprise" — the theoretical entrance of Google into the enterprise storage market as a storage services provider — seems far-fetched. "The Fortune 500 guys are not that amenable to letting their crown jewels out of their own building," says Taneja of the SSP model. One need only review the collapse of the last round of storage service providers, back in the days of the bubble, to confirm that sentiment.
That resistance hasn't changed. Google's February release of Google Desktop Search 3, including a "search across computers" feature, illustrates the point. The feature allowed customers to search one desktop from another, but the mechanism that made this possible required indexed customer data to be copied to Google's servers. Although the data was encrypted, the feature caused an immediate flap among enterprise users, and Gartner issued a recommendation that it be enabled only with the utmost of care.
Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) may be more comfortable with storage services, and it is there, as well as among consumers, that a GDrive may take hold. Storage vendors have noticed that SMBs, especially on the smaller end of the range, are frustrated by the complexities of storage, and have begun to make an effort to deliver more easily managed products. Online storage may be the simplest option of all. "Either [SMBs] will buy some simpler-to-use storage," says Taneja, "or somebody at the right moment will come in and say, 'I'm going to take all that burden away from you,' and maybe they'll go for it."
— Stephen Arnold
Arnold, also the author of a book called The Google Legacy, holds that Google's real strength is enabling information access, not merely search. "Google is the leader in the development of a massively scalable, clustered architecture that supports search-centric applications," he says.
In his view, Google's long-term enterprise play is in bringing this architecture, supported in miniature by its high-end search appliance, to the data center. These appliances, each participating in a distributed network of redundant storage and processing power, will tackle problems that go beyond search, he says.
"Once the appliance is in a server rack in a big company, Google can build on that," says Arnold. "Its stuff snaps together in a way that Microsoft can only fantasize about."
That scenario would mean changes for enterprise application and storage vendors, although not immediately.
"Google is going to penetrate where Microsoft, Dell, HP, and the superplatform vendors are. And then it's going to move up the company," says Arnold.
But because access and storage are an integral part of the system, Google would become a significant force in enterprise systems and software, not just search.
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