Google — Is the Future No Longer Free?

google drive

For educational institutions far and wide, public and private, kindergarten to graduate school, Google services have one thing we all love — the price was right! For many of us, that meant it was free. There have always been some premium services that you can choose to pay for if you are a Google school, but the vast majority of the services were free.

Over the past several weeks, educational institutions have learned about some changes that will affect these free services. This blog is not the right place to detail all those changes, but if you have not read about them yet, take a look at this website: https://edu.google.com/products/workspace-for-education/editions/.

After looking at the webpage, your first reaction may be that Google still lists a clear set of free services. However, I write this blog from the point of view of a technology manager. Scroll down the page, particularly to the section that outlines the Google Meet differences. Under the free version, Meet is limited to 100 participants and does not have many of the attractive features to classrooms (polling, breakout rooms, attendance tracking). Additionally, it currently allows you to save a recording to Google Drive, but it will soon move those to temporary recordings. A temporary recording is similar to recording to the cloud in Zoom. You don’t actually get the file, and in this case, it expires after 30 days. Not ideal for a faculty member trying to do class capture over a semester.

However, the biggest issue for many schools is the end of the “unlimited free storage.” Google is now moving to a model of 100 terabytes pooled for all your users. For higher ed — in particular — unlimited storage was a big deal, as it allowed us to use Google as live and as cold storage. Faculty tend to accumulate lots of data over their careers, whether via datasets, images or whatever. Many of my colleagues and I would tell our faculty to store that data in Google. Again, the price was right. I believe this unlimited storage is what Google really wanted to change — and then threw in a bunch of other features to keep the complaints down. For many higher-ed institutions, this will require them to start paying for Google. Paying for the Education Plus model, you get the 100 TB pooled, but you also get 20 gigabytes per user. Conversations happening on the lists I am on indicate that schools are ready to pay because they are already over the 100TB limit.

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OK, at this point, you are probably checking to see if you are reading an AV blog or an IT blog. But this announcement has a lot to do with AV. First of all, one has to spend some time thinking about this change. To me, it is clear that Google is trying to move to a model where it gets at least some money from the majority of its customers. While this makes sense for Google as a corporation, it also gives the company some different responsibilities. How?

One of the things that free Google schools resign themselves to is that we get what we pay for since … we didn’t pay for it. Google never claimed to be an enterprise solution, so when it did things like change behind-the-scenes data schema that messed up our data syncs — oh well. Or when it changed the name of its products with a one-month notice — oh well. But now, the “oh well” will change to, “We are paying you for a service, and we expect you to provide it professionally.” Alternatively, it will cause many free Google schools to explore other options, and they may already be paying for some of these options, like Microsoft, for example. Alternatively, they may choose to double down on Google since they are now paying for it and will use the Meet features, moving away from alternatives like Zoom.

For integrators and manufacturers, these changes are essential to be aware of — as you should begin preparations. You may have clients who need to think about changing their touch panels’ programming or the code that drives their automatic systems if they change their service providers. This is possibly a good opportunity for integrators to reach out to their educational customers and talk to them about different products’ built-in collaboration features. It is also a good time for integrators to think about introducing BYOM products to clients.

I think this will also be an interesting change for manufacturers. Few of them have worked to integrate Google, leaning more heavily toward Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Is now a time to integrate Google Meet for educational customers? Or is it time for more manufacturers to move to a BYOM product line?