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In 2007, Drew Houston, Dropbox’s CEO, got sick and tired of misplacing his USB drive, so he created the first personal and small business cloud storage service. It was a radical idea in its time, and everyone loved it. Today, there are dozens of cheap or free cloud storage services. But — beyond giving you storage — they’re very different.
How do you choose which one is right for you? You could just pick on the basis of how much free storage space you get from them. That’s simple, but it only tells part of the story. The real value from a cloud storage service comes from how well it works for you or your business. As you’ll see, some work much better with some operating systems and business plans than others.
Let’s start, shall we?
Disclosure: ZDNet may earn an affiliate commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review.
AWS for business is great, but Amazon Drive isn’t so hot
Amazon Drive for personal and business users isn’t a first-rate storage service.
Mind you, it has gotten better. Amazon Drive now has sync services for Android, iOS, MacOS, and Windows. Alas, it still doesn’t have a Linux client. There is a third-party program, odrive, which enables you to sync between Amazon Drive and your Windows, Mac, or Linux desktops.
On the plus side, Amazon moves files by using block-level file copying (aka “differential sync” or “delta sync”). With this method, which Dropbox uses as well when you sync a file, you only send and receive the differences, the delta, between files. This makes syncing files much faster on these services than their rivals.
Amazon Prime members get 5GB of storage for use with Amazon Drive and unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos. If you want more, Amazon’s current annual storage plans start at 100GB for $19.99 and 1TB for $59.99. Other Amazon cloud plans will take you up to 30TB for, brace-yourself, $1,799.70.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, Amazon Drive is worth it. If you’re not, keep looking.
Box is both cloud storage and a document work-flow program in one
Box starts you out with a free cloud storage account and 10GB of storage. For $10 a month, the Box Personal Pro Plan lets you upload files up to 5GB and provides you with 100GB of space.
But, while Box is a fine cloud storage service, where it really shines is as a groupware or work-flow application. Used that way, it enables you to share files with colleagues, assign tasks, leave comments on someone’s work, and get notifications when a file changes. It integrated with Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365.
The Box Business Plan for small and medium-sized businesses offers unlimited storage. Yes, that’s right, unlimited storage, for $15 per month per user with a minimum of three users. So, the starting price is $45 a month.
Oldest personal cloud storage shows it age, but it’s still good
Dropbox came first, so it’s no wonder so many of us have Dropbox accounts. Sure, its free storage is only 2GB, but you can use it on any platform. You can get to your files from Dropbox’s website, desktop applications for Mac, Windows, and Linux, the native file systems, the iOS, Android, Kindle Fire mobile apps, and even Blackberry phones are still supported. It’s a snap to set up, and you don’t need to worry about syncing files for a second.
If you need more storage, Dropbox’s personal plans move up to 2TB for $9.99 a month and 3TB for $16.58 a month. Dropbox Business plans start at 3TB for $12.50 a month. If you need even more, Dropbox offers unlimited storage starting at $20 per user per month. All these plans come with a 30-day free trial.
Where Dropbox shines the most is its sheer simplicity — and the simple fact that you can use it on almost any platform you care to name. If you value simple, fast, and easy, Dropbox should be your first choice. I don’t need to tell you that. You’re probably already using it.
Google Drive boasts great storage and a lot of extras
Google Drive used to be just storage. But then Google took its online office suite, Google Docs, and pasted them together. Now, for simply having a Google account, you get 15GB of free storage and an excellent office suite. It’s good enough that many businesses and Chromebook users are now using it as their complete cloud-based office.
Need more storage? No problem. Under the name Google One, Google Drive storage prices start at $1.99 per month or $19.99 a year for 100GB. Or, for $2.99 a month or $19.99 a year, you get 200GB. For a 2TB, you pay $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually, and 10TB costs $99.99 per month. You can go all the way up to 30TB for $299.99 a month. With all these plans, you can share your storage with your family.
If you’re a Chromebook or Google power user, I don’t need to sell you on Google Drive. It’s the best cloud storage option for you. Personally, while I’ve used all these storage services, Google Drive is the one I use every day.
Apple’s good at many things, but cloud storage isn’t one of them
Apple’s cloud entry is awkward. iCloud Drive shows its best advantage when you use it with Apple’s latest and greatest gear — but, even then, it’s quirky.
Perhaps, iCloud’s most annoying “feature” is the confusion between iCloud and iCloud Drive. They’re not the same thing. In addition, iCloud Drive, in my experience, is prone to be slow and quirky. I’ve had trouble syncing files between my Macs and iDevices for years. I used to think iCloud Drive would eventually be for Apple users what OneDrive already is for Windows — the desktop and the cloud merging into one. I can’t see that happening now. Apple simply doesn’t appear interested.
Apple’s iCloud comes with 5GB of free storage if you’re using it from a Mac or an iDevice. If you’re using it from Windows, you can get 1GB. For 99 cents per month, iCloud offers 50GB. For $2.99, you get 200GB, and 2TB costs $9.99 per month.
Don’t let its name confuse you, IDrive is a top-notch cloud storage service
IDrive is for everyone who likes to combine a cloud backup service with cloud storage. While it’s main job is for backing up personal and small businesses, it also works well for personal cloud storage.
Unlike many other cloud backup services, iDrive doesn’t lock you down to a single computer. You can use one account to backup your Windows and MacOS desktops, your Android smartphone and iPhones and tablets, and your network drives. There’s also a Linux backup option, but it’s meant for Linux servers. There is no Linux personal storage.
IDrive starts its offers with 5GB for free. That’s OK, but if you want to make the most of it for backup, the real deal is in its Personal iDrive offerings. These start at $52.12 for 2TB for a year or an even better deal of $74.62 for 5TB annually per user. There are also business packages with unlimited users, but the price goes up for less storage. For example, it’s $74.62 for 250GB.
If you’re looking for a personal or small business backup, iDrive demands a long, hard look. It’s both easy to use and inexpensive. It’s also good for cloud storage. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
Do-it-yourself open-source cloud storage for the ultimate in privacy and security
Nextcloud is an open-source program that enables you to set up your own cloud storage service using your existing servers and hard drives. This do-it-yourself cloud is for everyone who values security and privacy.
You can use Nextcloud to set up your own cloud storage either on an office server or off your own external servers. How much storage can it give you? How much do you want? I have a 4TB Nextcloud drive in my office and another terabyte off my co-hosted server rack. Still, NextCloud, while easy to set up for a Linux power-user, might prove a challenge for some.
Nextcloud comes in both a free and a business edition. With the free version, you set it up yourself using your own computers. Here, you get as much storage as you have available on your machines. If you don’t want to run it yourself, the business version, Nextcloud Files, comes with basic support for up to 50 users for 1,900 Euros a year.
This cloud storage solution is for anyone who wants the maximum amount of control over their cloud and doesn’t mind doing some extra work to get it just right. I highly recommend it.
Microsoft merges your Windows desktop and the cloud
OneDrive is baked into Windows and they’re very tasty together. As far as a Windows user is concerned, OneDrive is just another directory in the file explorer. Talk about it easy! Anyone can use it on the web, with a desktop app for Mac and earlier versions of Windows, and with OneDrive apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Xbox. Yes, Xbox.
Microsoft OneDrive’s real selling point is –besides working hand-in-glove with Windows — it also works closely with Microsoft Office programs. With Office 365, you can also collaborate with others in documents and spreadsheets in real-time with your partners.
OneDrive comes with 5GB of free storage. Office 365 users get an extra terabyte per user for starting with the $6.99-per-month subscription. This plan maxes out at six people or 6TB of storage. If you’re an Office 365 user, this is a no brainer. You can also add 50GB to OneDrive for $1.99 per month.
There’s no question who will get the most from OneDrive. It’s anyone who’s wedded to Windows and Microsoft Office. If that’s you, starting using it already. You’ll be glad you did.
What’s the best cloud storage for you?
It depends on what you use and what you want to do with it. All these services give you more than enough free or cheap service for small business purposes. In short, don’t be distracted by how many free gigabytes of storage you get; it’s not that important.
Personally, I prefer Google Drive and Nextcloud — but those meet my needs best. For you, it may be a different story.
To sum up:
- All-in-one office/cloud/workflow: Box, Google Drive, or Nextcloud
- Apple users: Amazon, Dropbox, or Google Drive (until iCloud Drive matures)
- Backup: iDrive
- Ease of use and multiple devices: Dropbox
- Google users: Google Drive
- Linux users: Nextcloud
- Users who place a high value on having data control: Box or Nextcloud
- Windows users: OneDrive
So, get out there, find a service and start saving and backing up your files to the cloud. It will make your life much easier.