Does 'to the cloud' mean the same thing as 'let's Google that'?

The Google search engine is so popular, people now refer to Web searches as "googling."
The Google search engine is so popular, people now refer to Web searches as "googling."
©ünay Mutlu

Like many brands, Google has become synonymous with the activity it represents: searching for information on the Web. Today, when you say "I'll Google that," what you're saying is, "I'm going to look up that information online, probably using the Google search engine." With the growth of cloud computing, there are even more options for people to store and share information on the Internet. But how does going to the cloud relate to doing a Google Web search?

To answer this question, let's look at the difference between content you'd find in a Google search and content saved to cloud storage. The content that turns up in your Google search consists of data that Google has indexed from Web pages across the entire Internet landscape. Google uses special software, called spiders, to crawl public Internet resources and to build and update that index. Then, when you do a search, Google optimizes your results using special algorithms, returning a list with sites that rank as the most relevant for your given search terms.


Google's search results don't include actual live Web content. Instead, Google returns the indexed data (links and summaries) gathered from live Web content at some point in time prior to your search. This means that the average Google search result is a list of publicly available resources it found on the Web which you can link to for more information [source: Google].

In contrast, data that's saved to a cloud is often not publicly available. A cloud is an amorphous concept, referring to a group of what could be hundreds or thousands of physical computers designed to act as a single Internet resource. This gives the end user the illusion that the cloud is endless in size, and that there's no limit to the amount of computing power or storage space available.

Cloud resources are particularly useful for businesses that handle a lot of data with constantly growing storage needs. As an individual, you can also open a personal account with a cloud storage provider like Dropbox or Amazon (Cloud Drive). Cloud resources require some type of authentication in order to upload and download data. This could be a password or encryption key, or it could require a physical connection to a company's internal network.

So far, you can see that doing a Google search and going to the cloud are different by nature of the security level of the data stored at each. Google focuses on public Web sites while cloud services focus on private or protected resources. Next, though, let's look at how businesses can put the power of Google's indexing into their own clouds.


Indexing a Cloud with Google Technology

A business can install a Google Search Appliance -- shown here in a screen capture from a Google promotional video -- behind its firewall to apply powerful indexing and searching features to protected cloud resources.
A business can install a Google Search Appliance -- shown here in a screen capture from a Google promotional video -- behind its firewall to apply powerful indexing and searching features to protected cloud resources.
Screen capture by HowStuffWorks staff

While the short answer to the title question of this article is "no," that doesn't mean Google technology can't play a role in the cloud. Businesses that have a lot of internal data to sift through on a regular basis could benefit from Google's search power. Google has capitalized on this by creating Google Search Solutions for business.

The first product that could help in the cloud is the Google Search Appliance (GSA). The GSA is a bright yellow server that a business can purchase and install on its private network. Once it's installed and configured, a GSA will crawl the resources openly available on the company's intranet. The newest models of the GSA have the additional feature of indexing a company's cloud content, even if the cloud resources are located off-site.


What this means for a company's intranet users is that they can find the internal resources they need just by "Googling" for them. Instead of using Google, though, a user browses to an internal Web page with resembles The search results from that app are all from the GSA's index rather than from

A business doesn't have to be concerned with data security when adding a GSA to its network. This is because the GSA is behind the company's firewall and inaccessible outside its intranet. As a result, the index on a GSA should be as safe as the content it's indexing. The GSA has a number of features to enhance searches and to integrate with other network resources, such as Microsoft SharePoint collaboration software.

Another Google product that can enhance cloud searching is the Google Mini. The Google Mini is a small blue server that functions similar to a GSA, but with fewer enhanced features. The Google Mini is more suited to small businesses that need the GSA's indexing and search capabilities, but have fewer documents to index.

Pricing for each of these products, the Google Search Appliance and the Google Mini, is based on the number of documents the server should be capable of indexing. The documents a single GSA could index goes from 500,000 to more than 30 million, and prospective customers are asked to contact Google for a price quote on either a two- or three-year GSA license. A two-year Google Mini license starts at a few thousand dollars for indexing 50,000 documents, and the price increases for the number of documents you want to search.

In this article, we've answered the question with a look at how information storage and searching differ between a cloud and Google. We also went a step beyond that to see how business can apply Google's features to help find internal resources, including those stored in the cloud. For even more on the differences between accessing information in the cloud and via Google, browse on to the next page.


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More Great Links

  • Deleon, Nicholas. "The Big Cheese: Powerful Version Of Google Search Appliance Can Grow Exponentially." TechCrunch. AOL Inc. Jun. 2, 2009. (Sep. 8, 2011)
  • Google. "Google Search Appliance." Google, Inc. (Sep. 8, 2011)
  • Google. "Google Search Appliance Help: Does the Google Search Appliance create any security issues?" (Sep. 8, 2011)
  • Google. "Google Search Appliance Help: What is the price of the Google Search Appliance?" (Sep. 8, 2011)
  • Google. "How Google Works: How Search Works." Google, Inc. (Sep. 8, 2011)