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The G Drive and Cloud Computing

Submitted by Daniel A. Freeman on January 30, 2009 - 1:02am

There has been a lot of talk recently about Google's newest big development, the G Drive. If you haven't heard, the G Drive is a giant, Google driven file storage system that will essentially allow anyone to access a giant hard drive through the web. Rather than worry about transporting your files from your laptop or desktop, you would simply be able to store just about anything you want (with few size limits) on the G drive.

There has been a lot of speculation about this topic, and reporting  has been subject to a lot of rumor and hearsay, but Mashable reported today that the idea is getting freakishly close to reality (Hat tip: Lone Wolf Librarian).

If the G drive does become a reality, it could potentially be a transformative development for computing in general, and libraries in particular. If the G Drive becomes an effective and popular tool, we will likely see a much smaller emphasis on hard drive size in new computers. Sales of external hard drive and flash drives may plummet.

Most libraries have at least a few public workstations--computers with access to the ILS and a small range of other tools that are for patron use and are not meant for the long term storage of user files. These are computers that often take a lot of abuse, so it important that they are kept "lean and mean", with as little software and as few stored files as possible so that the hard drive and memory do not get congested and slow down functionality.

Essentially, Cloud Computing is a style of computer management that when used in a networked environment, allows programs and resources to be utilized and regularly updated, potentially on many machines at one time through the Internet without making any changes to the technology infrastructure itself.

According to InfoWorld:

Cloud computing comes into focus only when you think about what IT always needs: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT's existing capabilities.

As vague as this may sound, the important thing is that this is potentially a way for libraries to use machines more efficiently while saving money and resources. Of course, its a new technology and there has been plenty of criticism. The biggest is the fact that Cloud Computing makes users dependent on the Internet for software and service, which inherently takes control of the program away from the user.

Charlie Sorrel at Wired summarizes a key functionality problem:

The main problem is ubiquity. By definition, your most important files are the ones you need with you at all times, or at least at any time. But what if the internet connection is down? How do you get the spreadsheet from Google docs, or refer to the map in that email when you are offline?

The standard scenario is that you have your connection chopped of when you’re on a plane, although I actually like the relaxing offline time of a plane ride. This is a problem, but in truth you are cut off whenever you are away from home or office.

As Sorrel points out, the G Drive, if it ends up being all its cracked up to be, has the potential to solve this problem. By using G Drive, librarians could have access to all of the files they need for Cloud Computing while minimizing the need to use the hard drives on public computers.

As with any hot trend, we should probably look at the G Drive with some caution. It's certainly a cool idea, but it must be launched before we can determine how functional, secure and user-friendly it really is. Still, it's hard not to get excited about the potential.

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