Cloud storage is a valuable asset for practically any type of business. But not all cloud storage companies are the same. Do you know which features will work best for your needs, and which features you should avoid?
We’re here to help! Our expert team has extensively researched the top online cloud storage providers in the world. We analyzed file sharing, encryption, security, cost, customer service and other important features you need to know about.
What’s the absolute best cloud backup service?
The answer is actually very easy: There isn’t one.
Rather, the best company for you is the one with the features which best fit your specific needs. Knowing how and why you plan to use cloud storage is the first step to success.
Below is our overview of some of the most popular and top rated cloud storage companies. We’ve listed the pluses and minuses of each so you can see which features match your needs:
JustCloud focuses on both cloud storage and online back-up. They’re a popular choice for situations where many people need to work on files simultaneously, and those files must also be properly backed-up on a regular basis.
JustCloud also focuses on providing a superior alternative to physical storage such as external hard drives. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles with this company, just reliable performance and an emphasis on ease-of-use.
- Secure Cloud Storage - All files are secured in a Google powered cloud.
- Automatic File Backup - JustCloud allows you to schedule automatic backups of your files, documents, and photos silently in the background.
- Access Files Anywhere - Justcloud makes it easy to access your files from anywhere in the world with their Iphone and Android mobile app.
- Sync Multiple Computers - The ability to sync multiple devices to a single account is a huge convenience.
- Free Accounts with 1GB of free storage is available.
From Canada, Sync.com is relatively new on the scene but they’re already making a big impact. They offer a robust selection of features common to cloud storage including syncing, encryption and mobile apps. One of their most popular features, however, is fairly unique. Sync offers zero-knowledge security, which means user data is encrypted on both sides.
- Private Cloud - Sync.com takes your privacy seriously!
- Automatic Backup & Sync - This feature makes access to your files as easy as possible.
- Fantastic Accessibility - Obtain your files from just about any device!
- File Sync - Easily transfer files from person-to-person; even if they don't have a Sync.com account.
- Easy Collaboration - Teams will love Sync.com and it's ability to make accessing and collaborating on files remotely.
Swiss security you can count on.
A relative newcomer, pCloud was founded in 2013 in the country of Switzerland. Swiss laws combined with pCloud’s commitment to customer privacy make this a secure choice. They offer a 20 GB storage plan for free, although encryption is only offered as part of a premium plan. Plans are relatively inexpensive, however, starting at $3.99 a month for 500 GB of storage.
Review of The Top 10 Cloud Backup Services
Sync touts itself as a "zero-knowledge" cloud storage provider with state-of-the-art encryption, fast speeds, and a very easy to use software, which includes a mobile application. It has all the features you could want in a cloud storage provider such as automatic backup and sync, access files from anywhere, and easy file sharing.
JustCloud is one of the top cloud storage solutions around. Automatic file backup, secure storage, easy synchronization between devices, and the ability to access your files from anywhere are just a few of the reasons that JustCloud deserves to be near the top of your list. It's simplicity and easy to user interface make this a perfect solution for novice users.
pCloud has a lot of features that make it an attractive option for both advanced and novice users. With pCloud, you can sync an unlimited number of files with an unlimited number of devices and then access them from anywhere in the world. The only downside of pCloud is that you have to pay extra ($3.99 per month) if you want their Crypto client-side encryption. This is a useful feature that prevents someone from accessing your files in case your device is lost or stolen.
Backblaze is a great cloud backup service which can be easily used to back up your whole computer. With unlimited storage and affordable pricing, it is perfect for users who do not want to think about what to backup and what to leave behind. Of course, the fast speeds are a definite plus.
ZipCloud is an excellent cloud backup and syncing service for users who do not have much data, but they want to use a single service for both backup and file syncing services.
MyPCBackup is an automated cloud backup service with strong syncing features. The sharing settings make it easier to collaborate with other team members in remote locations and mobile apps make sure your phone pictures are always backed up.
One of the only truly unlimited cloud storage solutions, Carbonite has a lot to like. They offer both home and office plans, starting at just $5 per month, which is one of the cheaper options on the market. Carbonite is also very simple to use. Just simply install their software, choose which files to backup, and then access the files anywhere an internet connection is available.
SugarSync is a popular option for those constantly on the go, and need a solution to sync folders across an unlimited number of devices. It doesn't have as many features as other backup solutions, and it's a little pricey compared to similar solutions. However, if you're just looking for an easy way to sync files across all your devices and want the ability to access them from anywhere, then SugarSync is worthy of consideration.
Mega Cloud Storage
Mega Cloud Storage offers some of the best security features among cloud backup providers. And their 50 GB of free cloud storage is the largest among providers that we've reviewed. The biggest downsides are the slow speeds and minimal features compared to other solutions.
Spideroak is a decent backup service provider that provides many features that advanced users find useful. This company really puts an emphasis on data privacy and security, with a 100% "zero-knowledge" policy. Unfortunately, the user interface for Spideroak can seem confusing to novice users with the plethora of options that are available. Overall, a decent backup solution, but not the best.
How We Ranked The Best Cloud Storage Providers
Our reviews were created after extensive hands-on research. We created accounts and used the services ourselves. In order to review each cloud service thoroughly, we took the following factors into consideration:
1. Company Background
The people behind the company are important. You want helpful, reliable experts. We looked at when the company was founded, who is in charge and how customers have responded over the years.
With cloud storage, user privacy is often an important consideration when selecting a service. The level of user privacy, however, is often intertwined with the laws of the country where the cloud company’s headquarters are located. So we took a look at the country of operation, and how that country’s laws affect user security.
2. Who Should Use this Cloud Service?
Here we examine which groups of potential users might benefit from the features of the cloud service being reviewed. We determine this by looking at the price plans, privacy features, ease-of-use and overall general direction of the site.
In some case, the cloud storage companies themselves were geared towards certain types of users. In other cases, features themselves seemed particularly useful for specific types of businesses or organization.
3. Backup and Restoration
When a cloud storage service was designed for backup, then we reviewed it accordingly. Note that if a company was focused on File Sync, we didn’t penalize them for poor backup service, but we did make note of what backup capabilities they did have.
For backup cloud services, we asked the following types of questions:
- How much storage space is offered at what price point? How does that compare to other services?
- How much control does the user have over backups regarding frequency and other scheduling issues?
- How easy is the service to use? Can you use existing folders on your PC or do you need a designated folder created by the company?
- How fast and easy is the recovery process?
4. File Sync and Sharing
Much like for sites related to backup, we reviewed sites geared towards file sync on specific criteria. Here’s what we looked for:
- What features are offered and at what price point? How does this compare to other cloud services with similar features?
- How easy is setup across multiple devices?
- Does the file sync easily integrate into your existing word processing, photo manipulation and other programs?
- What levels of access are available? How secure is the document kept from external and internal threats?
5. Web and Mobile Support
Can you access your files from your smartphone or tablet? How mobile-friendly is the layout of the app?
6. Pricing and Plans
We give you a complete breakdown of each company’s price structure. For those which offer a free plan, or a free trial, we’ll tell you exactly what you get and for how long.
7. Pros and Cons
Are there any significant features that sites of this type normally have but this one does not? We’ll let you know so you don’t miss out on any necessary features.
The best cloud storage system is the one which helps bring your business to the next level. You want to find reliable, affordable storage and file sync. Transfers should be fast, security should be high and the company should be committed to user privacy. Whether you’re looking for file storage or collaboration, when you look towards the cloud you’ll find business success.
Cloud Storage Defined
Like an actual cloud, the term “cloud storage” can be a bit nebulous. Basically, any type of online file storage where data is remotely maintained and stored is considered a type of cloud storage.
Files are backed up usually at certain time intervals or stored at will. Users retrieve files from the cloud service by webpage or app. Security levels of cloud storage can be set to private, public or anything in-between.
According to researchers at Tufts University, the development of cloud computing is directly tied to the development of the Internet. While already widely used, cloud computing in general, and cloud computing specifically, is poised to explode in popularity. Basically any type of business can benefit from cloud computing.
Cloud computing for businesses generally falls into three categories:
- File Back-Up
- File Syncing and Collaboration
- File Storage / Cyberlockers
Glossary of Terms
Whether you’re new to cloud storage or an old pro, there are still probably some terms you’re unfamiliar with. Here’s a few terms which you might run across:
Backup Scheduling – This is the schedule when your files are backed up to the cloud. Depending on the service, this could be hourly, daily, weekly, at-will or some other time period.
Bare Metal Backup – This is a restoration technique where the computer system is restored regardless of any previously installed software or operating system. The computer is reformatted with a new operating system and software in response to a catastrophic failure. If possible, files are then restored.
HIPPA Compliance – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a series of legal standards regarding the handling of medical information. If your organization stores medical information on the cloud, that cloud server must me HIPPA compliant.
Local Encryption – This is the process where data is encoded so unauthorized parties can’t view it. Local encryption is any encryption on your PC or system.
Server Side Encryption – This is encryption used for data in storage. In the case of cloud computing, this is the encryption given to data while it resides in the cloud. Large companies such as Amazon use advanced server side encryption to protect both themselves and their customers.
File Versioning – This is a system where multiple version of the same file are allowed to exist simultaneously. File versioning is used often in collaborative cloud storage in order to provide access to earlier drafts of documents. Different companies follow different versioning rules.
Folder Collaboration – This is where a virtual folder is created where files which can be shared among multiple people via the cloud. Notes and other information can easily be added to the folder contents. Dropbox is particularly famous for their folder collaborative abilities.
Why You Should Use Online Cloud Storage
Physical storage media has a big problem – it’s physical! This means it can be damaged, destroyed or even stolen. Passwords and encryptions can’t put up much of a fight against a flooded basement or an electrical short.
Cloud storage is impervious to physical damage. Data is stored across multiple servers in multiple locations. Plus, your data is archived frequently. Even in the unlikely event that one server is compromised by physical or virtual damage, other servers – ones in distant locations – will still have copies of your files.
Aside from keeping your data safe, cloud storage is also very easy to work with. This is especially true for large teams working on one project. Everyone will always be on the same page, often literally, with the cloud’s ability to sync together edits and change in real time.
Cloud storage also helps save money. Organizations save on external storage drives, paper, physical storage space and other day-to-day operating costs. In fact, the U.S. government -- one of the largest organizations in the world -- has implemented a Cloud First policy in an attempt to cut costs.
Businesses don’t have to be the size of the federal government to benefit from cloud storage. Small businesses, with small budgets, often turn to cloud computing. The University of California at Berkley has identified three major benefits cloud storage provides to small businesses:
Hardware resources can be increased with demand and business growth. There’s no need to purchase space you won’t use. Businesses also don’t have to worry about maintenance costs associated with owning on-location servers.
2. Unlimited Growth
Cloud storage really has no limit. As your business grows, you can always add storage space. This allows you to plan for business growth without provisioning.
3. Short-Term Additions
There are many reasons your business might experience a sudden period of growth for a short period of time. Some examples include a new product launch, a seasonal sale or something similar. Instead of permanent adding processing power, hardware and storage space, you can save money with cloud storage. When server demand returns to normal, scaling back from the cloud is easy.
Common Cloud Storage Uses
Why do businesses like cloud storage? Let us count the ways…
With cloud storage, all team members have real-time access to all necessary files. Say goodbye to the “attachment shuffle,” that confusing email chain where everybody sends their individual versions of a document. Instead, the entire team will work off of one, consistent file at all times.
With file syncing, you can work on any device, anywhere, and your data will automatically be updated universally. This is usually a superior alternative to USB drives, self-emails and other “on the go” backup plans.
Don’t worry about mistakes in any files becoming permanent. Most cloud storage services offer archival features. Sometimes called “file versioning” or “past documents,” users can recover deleted files as well as access older drafts.
Cloud storage also offers administrative options so you can maintain existing corporate hierarchy. Not every member of the team needs access to every file related to a project. Cloud services allows project leaders to set access levels.
Cloud services can be set up to automatically archive folders, files and whatever other data you want to keep safe. Backups can be timed to fit your schedule. Retrieval is usually just a simple matter of using the software provide by the service. Most cloud storage companies also offer a mobile app so you can retrieve files from anywhere.
Free up storage space on your office servers. Cloud storage is a popular “cyberlocker.” Unlike cloud space used strictly for backup, a cyberlocker is a digital storage devices which holds data not kept in any other location. Often, users are able to retrieve data from a cyberlocker easier and quicker than from a backup cloud system.
Cloud storage doesn’t require constant internet access. File synchronization means you can work offline whenever you like. You can then sync the files to the cloud at a later time. In most cases, you can set up the service to automatically sync files to the cloud as soon as your device has internet access again.
Features To Consider When Choosing A Cloud Storage Provider
Not all cloud storage services offer the same features. Some services are loaded with all the bells and whistles, while others focus on one or two core features. Before you purchase any cloud storage, identify what features will directly solve your business needs. This will help you avoid paying for any features which you’ll never use.
Some common features include:
Many cloud services focus solely on providing easy, secure backup. If this is an important feature for your business, you’ll want to consider a few factors. The servers must be stored in a safe location. Transmission from your PC to the backup servers must be secure (ideally, encrypted).
Finally, you’ll want flexibility in setting up the backup schedule. You might need to back up your data hourly, daily, weekly or something else entirely. You’ll likely want a cloud service which lets you set when automated backup will occur.
Cloud storage often needs to be accessed by multiple people, such as fellow co-workers or other team members. Most cloud services allow some type of file sharing. If you’re going to be sharing a lot of files, however, you want make sure doing so is intuitive yet also secure.
Generally, cloud services will allow the user to create a URL for whichever files need to be accessed. The URL can be sent to relevant team members. This provides easy access to select documents while also allowing for secure file access overall.
Note: While most businesses primarily deal with text-based documents or databases, photographs and images are also common stored and shared. Our article Cloud Storage for Photos is a great source of information on this topic
Unlike file sharing, where other people gain access to existing files, file syncing allows multiple people to work on one project simultaneously. File syncing is also an effective way for one person to work on a file across multiple devices.
File syncing is when one folder, file or other data is updated in real-time whenever changes are made. This is usually easier and simpler than dealing with multiple individual drafts.
Most cloud storage services which offer device syncing also offer file archiving. Previous drafts are always available.
Device syncing is also useful for individuals. Cloud syncing is far easier than transferring data by thumb drive or self-emails. Write on your tablet at home on the weekend and arrive at work to find updated files on your desktop.
One related feature you probably want here is file archiving. Also called “file versioning,” this is the ability to return to earlier drafts of a file. This prevents accidental edits or wrong additions from becoming permanent.
The amount of prior drafts available will depend on the service provider. If you’re working on a large project where multiple people will be making many changes, the number of previous drafts available can be pretty important.
For most backup cloud storage, you simply drop the files you want to back up into a designated folder. In this case, you probably don’t care too much about how well the cloud storage provider’s software works with other programs on your PC or mobile device.
If you’re using cloud storage for file syncing, collaboration or other project management, integration becomes more important. Some service providers, such as DropBox and Microsoft OneDrive, seamlessly fit into many common existing programs.
Integration is often useful if you (or you and your team) often use specific software. You can send files to the cloud directly from the menus of your existing programs including word processing, photo editing and more.
Any online service is only useful if you can access it when you need to. You want to check both the reliability of the service and the ability of the company to provide help when needed.
First, look into the company’s history. Have they been around for a long time? According to the East Coast Polytechnic Institute, cloud computing wasn’t even officially defined until 2011. This means a cloud company can be only a few years old and still be considered a seasoned veteran of the industry.
Plus, sometimes a cloud company only a year or two old can have a lot to offer. Cloud technology is growing at a rapid pace. Sometimes the smallest companies will develop the biggest features. Don’t be too afraid of subscribing to a relatively new service if they have a feature you’ll find useful and if they seem otherwise reputable.
Is “The Cloud” Secure for My Data?
If you keep your data only on your PC, and malicious software or physical damage renders that PC inoperable, then all of your data is lost.
If you back your data up to an external drive, and that drive is physically damaged, all of your data is lost, too. Another potential danger is accidentally transferring malicious software from your PC to your external drive. This could compromise your entire external drive!
But if you use cloud storage, your data is stored in multiple servers across the world. There’s simply no way one attack – either virtual or physical – can compromise your data.
Whether you want a virtual storage space or a real-time, automated backup system, cloud storage is an effective and inexpensive way to keep your files archived safely.
For more information on how cloud networks differ from traditional external storage, check out our article “How Does Cloud Storage Work?”
Virtual Security Issues
Cloud services protect your data from all sorts of problems only associated with physical storage. But be wary of any cloud service providers who don’t acknowledge the risks associated with cloud storage. Digital data always has some degree of risk.
The three most common cloud storage issues are:
- Server hacks (such as the PlayStation network hack and the IRS hack)
- Physical server damage (such as a fire at one of the company’s server farms)
- Government intrusion (more information is available at Google’s Transparency Report)
Cloud storage is usually perfectly safe as long as you take a few common sense precautions. According to a report published by Boston University, some of the most effective ways to stay safe in the cloud are:
- Pick an appropriate password. This means a password you’ve never used anywhere else, has no particular connection to you personally (i.e., not your birthday or pet’s name) and which you never, ever share with anyone else. A solid password prevents data theft on your end.
- Ask questions of your service provider. Does the company have a long-standing reputation for honesty? Are they easily reachable at any hour? What security guarantees do they make?
- Use encryption as much as possible. Aside from encrypting your data while in transmission, are you also able to encrypt your data during storage? In some cases, such as with financial and medical information, certain encryption is mandated by law.
Final Note About "Cyberlockers"
Unfairly or not, cyberlockers are often associated with online piracy. This is because some cyberlocker services allow for anonymous creation and use. Megaupload is probably the best known example here. Don’t be alarmed if somehow the topic of piracy comes up occasionally in the search terms when you’re looking for file storage systems. Most cyber storage services, including all of those mentioned in this article, are reputable and safe.