Reading this recent article on ZDNet I was struck by the pointlessness of Google’s 1TB of user storage offering. This may seem like a bold statement, but let’s look at the figures and the offering. If you buy a Chromebook Pixel, it comes with 1TB of Google Drive storage for three years. Sadly the ZDNet article in question goes on to try and highlight how this is a great deal, if you need 1TB of space.
However, what doesn’t get discussed is the time it would take to both make use of that storage and get off it in three years’ time if you went with another storage provider.
Average UK broadband speed is now apparently 9Mb/s, although there are hotspot areas (me included) where bandwidth is available as high as 100Mb/s. I do see that speed at quiet times during the day (in fact I’ve seen it as high as 120Mb/s) but in reality at busy times it doesn’t get above 20Mb/s. It’s also worth remembering that almost all the broadband delivery in the UK (even the super-fast Virgin service) is asymmetric, so download is much faster than upload. Upload is what counts for using cloud storage, because if we can’t get it into the cloud – then we can’t download it.
If we do calculations on throughput, making simple assumptions of 100% efficiency on the line, 8 bits per byte and a 10:1 ratio on upload speed, then we see that at 9Mb/s, it would take 105 days to upload 1TB of data to Google Drive. In reality we’re never going to achieve that level of efficiency, or dedicate all our bandwidth traffic to uploading files to Google. In addition, broadband providers have limits on upload volumes too. Even if we use the full bandwidth during an eight hour day, that still means it would take almost a year to load up 1TB of content.
There are a few other things worth noting here. The terms and conditions for the free space offer seem a little confused, referencing smaller capacity values. However moving past that, we see that the 1TB offer is per Google account. Buying 10 Pixels only gets you the 1TB of storage, not 10TB.
Second there’s the question of caching. The Pixel only comes with 32GB of SSD, of which the usable capacity will be less. This means an awful lot of network traffic back and forth to access your content. At best, only 3% of your content will be on the local device. This again cuts into your upload bandwidth capacity.
Third, if you’re using a Google Drive account on non-Google devices, then all of the content will be stored locally (except any Google Docs files). So, if you share your Google account across devices, your capacity will be limited to the hard drive size of your biggest device, not the 1TB figure.
Lastly, we should talk about the cost of providing this storage. A single external 1TB hard drive can be purchased for as little as £55 ( $85) on Amazon today. Retail 3TB hard drives are as low as £92 ($138), or $46 per TB. Assuming Google even pay retail prices (and we know they won’t), then even with a mirrored configuration (RAID-1), Google have made their money back on the disk in 2 months, during which, you will have failed to upload anywhere near 1TB of content to make use of your allowance.
The Architect’s View
What seems like a good deal frequently isn’t. Retail prices for cloud storage far outstrip the cost of using local drives. Of course large data centres cost money to build and run and that adds increases Google’s cost of providing that 1TB to you. However, some people in the industry have decided that we don’t need a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The Transporter, for example lets consumers share data without requiring it being placed into the cloud. Cloud storage is good for many things, but at this stage, the financials of storing terabytes online just don’t stack up.