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What is Cloud Storage?
Cloud storage means storing your digital files online, rather than on your physical computer. It’s a way to backup your files and share them with other people.
Cloud storage services allow you to store digital media such as photos, videos and documents online by uploading the files via your computer or mobile device.
They are accessible via the internet and the data is held physically on huge servers often owned by the service provider.
There are dozens of different cloud storage services available, all offering different prices and features. Use our free comparison tool to get a great deal on cloud storage.
Free cloud storage
Most free cloud storage services offer 15 GB or less free space and are very similar in what they offer. Be aware that from time-to-time some services may change the amount of free storage they offer, but they will usually give you plenty of notice if they do.
When choosing a cloud storage solution for your business, you need to make sure it is safe and secure so that your data is protected at all times. If security is of particular concern, you may want to find out the location of a data centre (the country in which the data centre is located), as different countries have different data privacy laws.
Some cloud storage services come with an auto-upload features. This automatically upload any saved documents on your computer to your cloud storage, helping to prevent any data loss by creating a backup for your documents and files.
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cloud storage features
Different types of cloud storage come with different features.
By understanding what features you need, you’ll be able to choose a service that’s best for you.
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How to choose cloud storage
There’s a lot of ways to compare the different features offered by each cloud storage provider.
They all compete on some aspects, like pricing and file-limits, but some also offer unique features.
Cloud storage services can range from a few pounds or dollars a month to thousands a year. Different plans include different features for business or personal users, which has an affect on pricing. This includes the amount of storage space you have and any additional technical support included.
In many ways, this is the most important thing about any cloud storage provider. Once you reach your limit, you will either have to delete some of your files or upgrade your plan. Make sure you choose a plan with enough storage space – especially if working with large video files.
Ultimately, cloud storage is only ever as reliable as your internet connection. Very rarely will a provider go offline, but it can happen if the hosting provider crashes. May sure you choose a cloud storage service with a great record of uptime, so you can always access your files when you need them.
Collaboration tools allow several people to work on documents at the same time. Some services integrate with software like Google Docs, and Microsoft office which makes working on files incredibly easy. Not all cloud storage providers offer these tools, however.
Cloud Storage FAQs
Here’s some simple, jargon-free answers.
Every system is different, but they all use the same basic idea: you take files on your physical computers and use your internet connection to upload them to the cloud.
This might be done through a web page, where you choose the specific files to upload. Another common method is to install a piece of software that creates a special folder on your computer and automatically uploads every file you put in there.
In turn, the software will also download any files someone else puts onto your cloud account, meaning that you’ll have a perfectly-synced copy at all times.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of cloud storage solutions out there, offered by some of the biggest companies in the world to new startups. Here are some of the most popular.
- Google Drive
The idea of the ‘cloud’ can feel like magic, but in reality, it’s simple. What we think of as the internet is really just servers—other people’s computers.
When you upload your files to somewhere like Google Drive, they live on Google’s servers. The big advantage is that companies like Google have millions of dollars invested in making sure their servers don’t ever crash.
Some cloud storage services are free for upto 15MB of storage. Paid cloud storage services start from around £0.79 per month.
Compare prices of cloud storage using our free comparison tool below.
Even though you have to pay an upfront fee to use cloud storage, it’s often cheaper in the long run. In-house storage means buying and maintaining your own servers, which, depending on the amount of data you’re storing, can range into thousands of dollars.
In addition, it also means you have to plan risk assessments for data loss or corruption, which is much less likely when storing data in the cloud.
It depends on how your business is currently set up.
If most of your work is done using physical paper, then moving everything into the cloud is a big operation that will take a lot of time to adjust to.
But if your team already does most of their work on computers, it’s not a big difference at all to save their work to the cloud rather than a hard-drive. As such, a good course of action for most companies is to transition gradually into cloud storage, rather than all at once.
Security is always more important than you think. As such, if you’re putting confidential business files online, you should expect guarantees that they won’t fall into the wrong hands.
Thankfully, cloud storage providers all take this very seriously. Encryption, which prevents hackers from viewing your files, is essentially universal. That said, some companies go further than others.
If you’re extra-concerned about security, look for solutions that offer ‘two-factor authentication’, also called 2FA. This is an extra layer of security which means you have to use a physical token—usually your smartphone—to access the online files. It’s a bit of extra hassle, but it makes your account essentially unhackable.
It should also be noted that cloud storage companies take physical security very seriously, too. The physical servers which hold your data are kept in secure warehouses which require special access to get into.
The cloud storage best for personal use is whichever is easiest for you to use.
Accessibility and user-friendliness are more important than filesize or security.
Why? Because it doesn’t matter if a service offers you 1000 terabytes of space that you never use because it’s too cumbersome to work with.
For that reason, the best cloud storage for personal use is likely Dropbox, because of how easy it is to get set up and use on a daily basis.
The most secure cloud storage provider is Sync.com. Unlike many other cloud storage systems, they offer end-to-end encryption.
This means that your files can’t be intercepted while you’re uploading them, and that they’ll stay secure even if Sync itself gets compromised.
As a bonus, even Sync itself can’t see your files – only you have the passwords for undoing their encryption.
You can also compare antivirus software to help find the right one for your device.
Wondering which cloud storage is best for personal use?
When it comes to home use, how simple a cloud storage service is to use is often more important than storage limits.
Regular people don’t need to backup several hundred gigabytes of files – just their most important holiday photos or work documents.
To that end, one of the most simple cloud storage apps out there is Dropbox.
Its free plan is quite small, but its focus on seamless desktop syncing makes it perfect for home use.
Microsoft’s OneDrive is a particularly attractive cloud storage solution for small business owners, as many of them will already be subscribing to Microsoft 365 for Word, Powerpoint, Excel and other vital productivity tools.
If you’re deciding which cloud storage is best for teams, we recommend Sync.com.
Having this subscription entails a free terabyte of storage on OneDrive, which instantly makes it the best free storage plans out there.
If you have a lot of footage to store from video editing, you may be wondering which cloud storage is best for your large files?
If you need to store lots of videos online, you’re going to need a cloud storage provider who offers lots of space – videos are one of the biggest file types out there.
In addition, you’ll also want a cloud system that lets you preview and play your videos online.
Needing to download an entire video before you can play it can quickly get anyone if you have hundreds to look through and want to find just one!
To that end, pCloud is the best cloud storage solution for videos.
You can get up to two terabytes of storage, and its integrated media player works great on both desktop and mobile devices.
Almost all providers have some cap on how much data you can transfer in a certain amount of time, usually a day. These limits are usually quite large—in the realm of several hundred gigabytes—but it’s good to know that they’re there.
If multiple users are all downloading one large file, for instance, like a video file, you might find yourself hitting a low limit.
Some providers, like Amazon S3, sidestep this by having no rate limits at all. Instead, they use a pay-as-you-go model where you’re only charged for the data you actually use.
It’s worth considering how much traffic your online files will be getting. If you only expect to be working with text documents, for instance, you can save yourself a fair bit of money by going with a provider with low daily limits.
Cloud storage is a useful tool for storing data and letting people around the world access it. But like any piece of technology, it’s not perfect. Here are some things to watch out for.
Keep your old backups
The cloud is secure, but it’s not bulletproof. You can never have too many backups, so it makes sense to keep copies of your important data in as many places as possible, including offline.
Be careful with private data
Businesses regularly have to handle sensitive information, like people’s names, addresses and passwords. While cloud storage providers routinely provide encryption, you’re still putting things online.
Always double-check your privacy settings to make sure your files aren’t open to anyone someone on your team accidentally sends the link to.
In addition, if you have to follow GDPR guidelines, check if the service provider is also based in the EU. You don’t want to accidentally store user data in a country that doesn’t comply with your data policies.
Plan how to integrate it first
How you store your data isn’t something to rush into. Cloud storage is exciting, but make sure it’s the right fit for your company before you pull the trigger.
- Do you use any specialised software that might not work well with the cloud?
- Will you have support, either in-house or from the provider, when things go wrong?
- Can your employees figure out how to use it, or will they need additional training?
You should look for a service providing end-to-end encryption, or AES 256-bit encryption as a minimum.
Have you ever had your computer crash and lost some important work? If so, you understand the importance of backing up your work—making regular copies of it somewhere else, like another computer or USB drive.
The cloud is similar. But instead of saving your work to a physical computer, it’s kept safe on the internet itself. Because it’s already online, it’s also very easy to share your work with other people.
This makes cloud storage particularly useful for growing businesses with lots of data, who need lots of people at different desks to collaborate on the same documents.
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10 Best Cloud Storage
Sugar Sync Business
Suited to personal cloud storage
- Free trial
- Unlimited devices
- Expensive plans
- Limited team features
SugarSync is generally quite an expensive cloud storage service – around £7 a month – but it does offer a free trial which is useful for deciding whether or not it’s right for you. The trial lasts for thirty days, comes with five gigabytes of storage and works across an unlimited number of devices.
As for the actual app itself, SugarSync aims to compete with apps like Dropbox on being as simple and easy to use as possible.
What makes it really stand out is that unlike Dropbox, you aren’t limited to only having one folder on your computer synced up with the web storage account – instead, you can add as many local files to the sync as you like.
It also comes with unlimited device syncing, which is very useful if you have a set of files that you regularly access from multiple computers or phones that need to stay up-to-date. SugarSync does offer business plans with more appealing pricing than some of its competitors, but unfortunately its online collaboration features aren’t that impressive.
It might be useful to share multiple folders and files between team-mates, but if you want to go beyond that to edit documents online or track who’s accessed which files, you’re out of luck.
Box Business Starter
Ideal for small business users
- Good business & teams features
- Plans are more expensive than others
Box is a cloud storage solution aimed primarily at business users, with many of its solutions being targeted at specific industries such as healthcare, construction or retail. This is likely why its plans are, on average, more expensive than its competitors.
To make up for that, it offers several appealing features for business users. For one thing, all of its major plans offer unlimited storage, meaning you can easily back up all the files you need.
It also integrates well with other services you might already be using, like Adobe products, Microsoft Office and accounting software like Intuit.
There are also several very advanced collaboration tools that let multiple team members work on files simultaneously and track each others’ progress. This makes it very well-suited to office environments where several people need to stay informed of what everyone else is doing.
Google One 15GB
Easy to use, low cost and unlimited devices
- Free 15GB
- Unlimited devices
- Easy to use
- Limited features
No surprises that if you’re wondering which cloud storage is best for Google users, this is it!
This is easily one of the biggest names in the cloud storage world. Anyone with a Google account – half the world, essentially – instantly gets a free 15 gigabytes of storage, which blows most of their competition out of the water.
As you might expect, Google Drive is best if you’re already a Google user, as it integrates well with Android devices and their online suite of Microsoft Office-style productivity software. There are some flaws, however. The web interface, while clean and pleasant to look at, isn’t very full-featured and doesn’t offer many ways to intelligently organise your files.
Thankfully, their Dropbox-style desktop sync app means you rarely have to deal with that yourself. You can use an unlimited number of devices with Google Drive, another very attractive feature which makes it a common sight in business and enterprise environments.
Best cloud storage for teams and small businesses
- 5GB Free
- Excellent collaboration tools
- Very secure
- Annual payments only
Which cloud storage is best for teams? Sync.com! Sync’s main focus is on security and privacy: it offers end-to-end encryption, making it practically impossible for anyone to get at your data, even if Sync itself was hacked.
But that doesn’t mean it’s overly complicated. It’s still easy to use, fast and offers a very well-developed suite of features geared for collaborative teamwork.
It’s a great choice for small offices who need to share private data and work on it together.
Another feature of note is that it offers full file versioning, which means that you can easily get back an older version of a file if you realise you’ve messed something up in a newer version.
A quirk worth mentioning is that Sync only takes annual payments, as opposed to the more common monthly payment plan. For that reason, you should try out their free starter plan to check if it’s right for you before handing over your credit card.
You’ll get 5GB of storage with the free plan, which is more than enough to test things out with.
A great all-rounder for business and personal use
- Great collaboration tools
- Simple to use
- Less integrations than Google
- Expensive plans
Ever since 2008, Dropbox has really been the company to bring cloud storage into the mainstream.
Their claim to fame has always been the service’s simplicity – they really pioneered the desktop sync model that gets taken for granted nowadays. You only get a tiny two gigabytes for a free plan with Dropbox, and their plans tend to be more expensive byte-for-byte than other providers, like Google Drive.
On the upside, their collaboration tools for online documents are very full-featured and advanced. If you work in the business world for long, you’re almost certainly going to end up using Dropbox to use a business’ partner’s files or resources.
All in all, Dropbox is a fine choice for both individual and business users due to its clean, simple interface and long legacy in the cloud storage space. Just consider paying for a more expensive tier to get the space you need.
It offers cloud storage with collaboration tools, but is more expensive and less integrated than other big providers such as Google Drive.
A popular solution for businesses and advanced users
- Excellent for developers and business users
- Unlimited storage plans
- Unlimited plan is only for 1 device
BackBlaze offers a fairly unique service in the cloud storage world. Rather than competing on specific storage caps, they let individual users backup their entire computers for a flat fee – unlimited data storage, in other words.
They also offer numerous plans for businesses, including server backups and S3-compliant cloud storage plans for those developing web apps – which is great for anyone setting up a business.
BackBlaze is simple and easy to use, making it appealing for individual users, but it also offers heavy-grade encryption and two-factor authentication for business clients who need to keep their data secure.
The one downside to their ‘unlimited data’ offer is that their subscription fees only cover one device, so if you need to back up multiple computers, you might want to check out another storage provider instead.
All in all, BackBlaze is one of the most attractive options on this list for individual and business purposes alike. Definitely check it out. Read the full review.
pCloud Premium 500
Best for data protection and security
- 10GB Free
- Lifetime plans
- Excellent security
- No collaboration tools
pCloud differs from most other providers in the cloud storage space by offering an option for a one-off lifetime fee, rather than a monthly subscription. This can often work out cheaper in the long term if you know you’re going to be using it for several months.
One of the biggest downsides to pCloud for business users is that it doesn’t offer any collaboration tools for your uploaded files, meaning that it’s not possible to easily share them with teammates or work on a document together without downloading it first.
It does, however, offer an integrated media player which makes it very well-suited for storing things like image and video content online, which could be useful as a company’s backup media server.
In addition, it’s based in Switzerland, meaning that it’s subject to some of the strictest data protection laws in the world. If you’re regularly storing sensitive data online, this might be exactly what you need for some peace of mind.
pCloud offers free 10GB cloud storage, which is better than many of its competitors but still lagging behind choices like Google Drive.
Which cloud storage is best for data protection? pCloud is definitely up there!
Ideal for Microsoft office users, who get 1TB free
- Free 5GB
- Great features & apps
- Easy to use
- Can only sync specific features
- Less free storage than others
OneDrive is Microsoft’s entry into the cloud storage arena, and it’s one of the strongest contenders in the field. Free plan users get 5GB of storage, which isn’t much by itself.
Much more interesting is that people with Microsoft 365, the subscription service for Microsoft Office products, get an entire terabyte of storage. Given that you might already be using Microsoft Office, that’s a massive amount of space to get for free.
In terms of usability, OneDrive comes with a great set of features and apps. It’s easy to share files with other people, even if they use storage providers besides Microsoft, and you can edit files collaboratively online.
If you’re a Microsoft 365 user, using OneDrive is easily the most sensible choice – a terabyte of storage won’t come cheap anywhere else.
Ideal for personal users already in Apple’s eco-system
- Easy to use
- Limited features
- No Android app
One of the reasons Apple has become such a dominant figure in the technology world is just how wide their ecosystem is.
If you’re already an Apple user, it makes a lot of sense to use their dedicated cloud storage solution, iCloud.
It’s simple and easy to use, and, as you would expect, offers native integration with many other Apple products, such as an iPhone app.
You only get 5GB for a basic plan – less than Google Drive’s 15 – and while the web interface is slick, it’s lacking some expected features, like being able to search through your files.
There’s also no Android app available, which is a pain for people wary of vendor lock-in. iCloud’s best if you’re already a committed Apple fan for its integration with their other products.
People outside of that ecosystem can likely find better cloud storage solutions.
Amazon Drive 100GB
Basic cloud storage, better suited for personal use
- Affordable prices
- Enough storage for photos
- No real desktop sync
- Limited features
As one of the biggest tech companies in the world, it’s no surprise that Amazon has its own cloud storage solution. It’s a surprisingly basic and bare-bones product, however – only five gigabytes of storage for basic users, and it’s geared mostly towards storing your photos online, rather than any other file type.
It’s missing many of the features you would expect in a serious cloud storage solution. For example, there’s no real option for desktop sync – you have to upload and download everything manually.
There’s also no quality-of-life features for two-way syncing, file versioning or backup restoration. Like most of their products, it’s really meant for Amazon Prime subscribers, who get unlimited photo storage space.
All in all, this is a middle-of-the-line product that’s mostly good for casual cloud users.