Google Develops Storage Technology; Time for HP, EMC and Others to Get Nervous

Last Updated Oct 15, 2010 12:59 PM EDT

Google (GOOG) has some of the highest R&D spending as a percentage of revenue that you can find in the high tech industry. It's gone to Android (now a proven money maker), the company's flagship cash cow search engine, and even to wash-outs like Wave and the Nexus One.

But, really, storage technology? That's apparently another big area for the company, as 14 patent filings made public this week suggest. No matter what Google plans to do with the technology, it will likely have a significant impact on the computer industry, and probably not for the better. HP (HPQ), Dell (DELL), IBM (IBM), EMC (EMC), and others -- you have permission to sweat.

Look at the applications (and, remember, these aren't as yet granted patents) and it's a pretty amazing collection of claims that includes systems that use multiple memory devices divided into channels with separate command and status buses; data storage devices with multiple solid state memory boards; and ways of striping data to solid state devices, effectively turning them into corporate-style RAID arrays. Here are the patents I found:

Don't assume that these patents, if granted, would give Google ownership over all previously developed storage devices. However, the company has clearly done some heavy-duty work in storage. I wouldn't be surprised if that was due to its own unquenchable thirst for processing in its massive data centers. Google may have absolutely no interest in bringing enterprise-style hardware to market. But whether it does or not, the fact that it develops its own proprietary data center technology has a major impact on the tech sector.

Even if intended for internal use, remember that Google powers a lot of companies through its current cloud offerings and is one of the largest consumers of major computing technology in the world. If it builds its own high-performance storage and -- why leave it there? -- servers and networks, there are three big implications for the computer industry:

  1. It loses one of its biggest customers, because Google can buy parts in volume and roll its own -- possibly with better performance than it can get from outside vendors.
  2. As its cloud services continue to race ahead, Google effectively builds systems for its customers as well, becoming one of the world's largest system integrators. And so, Google cuts the number of sales to other companies as well.
  3. Google can license its technology to others, enabling other large-scale companies to build their own systems.
Assuming that Google isn't filing patent applications for no reason, then no matter how it follows with its technology -- even if the patents aren't granted -- industry loses. The only question left is how much and who gets wounded most. It puts another light on why EMC (EMC) would bring its own database appliance to market.

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Image: RGBStock.com user jdeboer, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.