Users sound off as new Google Workspace for Education storage limits near

But should free tier users in universities not invest in their own IT infrastructure?

Educational users of Google Workspace will soon be facing a new storage policy that limits the free tier to 100TB shared between all users at a site, and some are expressing their dissatisfaction with the change.

Google Workspace for Education, formerly G Suite for Education, is Google's offering for schools and universities. As part of the rebrand last year, the free tier was renamed Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals, alongside paid-for Standard and Education Plus editions.

Most institutional IT people have absolutely no idea what the actual data needs of scientists are like...

At the same time, the Chocolate Factory notified users of a new storage policy it was introducing.

"Google has traditionally offered unlimited storage to qualifying schools and universities for free. However, as we've grown to serve more schools and universities each year, storage consumption has also rapidly accelerated," the firm said.

In response, the new storage model provides schools and universities with a baseline of 100TB of pooled cloud storage, but that is shared across all the users at the site. According to Google, this is "more than enough storage for over 100 million docs, 8 million presentations or 400,000 hours of video."

This policy is set to come into effect in July 2022 for all Google Workspace for Education editions that are being used by existing customers, and also applies to any new customers signing up this year. Google said it expects that more than 99 per cent of institutions would fall within the pooled storage provided by the new policy.

However, Google does not offer users the option to just purchase extra storage, instead requiring customers to move to a paid-for tier if they wish to go beyond the 100TB limit.

"Can I only purchase additional storage? No. You can get additional storage through Education Plus or Teaching and Learning Upgrade," Google's FAQ states. Alternatively, users are encouraged to purchase more storage options via Google Cloud Storage.

Although these changes were announced well in advance last February, some users are venting their anger at the move, as the deadline draws closer. Bryan Jones, a retinal neuroscientist at the University of Utah, tweeted: "Looks like the unlimited storage that Google promised my university a couple years ago is being discontinued, and the entire institution is being limited to 100TB… I can fill that 5 times over with our data."

Jones went on to state that his establishment had fortunately maintained its own servers "as a proper investment of taxpayer dollars," and if he had instead relied upon Google to keep to its promise, "I would have effectively had a couple of months to figure out how to migrate .5 PB of data to a new solution on top of the grant deadline I need to make."

Others noted the changes as well, with Mike Barker of the University of Arizona commenting: "Yes, this happening to all the infinite University Google Drive agreements! They announced it last summer and we (UA) have just reinvested in a major local storage update for our HPC to address the loss of storage. I have been migrating TBs of data off Google for months now. SLOW."

However, some respondents to the original posting were less sympathetic, and blamed schools and universities for not investing in their own IT infrastructure, especially in providing storage space required for the growing size of data sets these days, and assuming that Google would offer unlimited free storage forever.

Wallace Marshall, a professor at University of California San Francisco noted that "the problem is that most institutional IT people have absolutely no idea what the actual data needs of scientists are like."

The issue also started a debate on Hacker News, with some commenters suggesting Google had followed a bait-and-switch tactic to lure users in with the promise of free storage, and then introduced charges at a later date. Others expressed the view that this is simply a cost controlling measure on behalf of Google, to pre-empt costs from eating up profits as the cloud giant continues to expand.

This is one of those moves that is likely to divide opinion, since people should know not to expect to get something for free forever, although that being the case, should Google have promised free unlimited storage to users without expecting them to take it up?

As some commenters pointed out, 100TB is not much more than a handful of drives these days – Toshiba announced only this week that it plans to ship a 20TB drive this year, and a 30TB model by 2024.

We asked Google for an explanation, and it simply pointed us to its original blog post outlining the change in storage policy. ®

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