Let’s set the scene. It’s 2007, you’re riding a bus to work and you realise you’ve left the USB stick with all of your work on it at home. You’re frustrated that this keeps on happening. What do you do? Well, if your name is Drew Houston, you sit down and code the world’s first cloud storage system. And with that, Dropbox was born.
Fast forward to the present day and there are many different cloud storage services available for both personal and business use. But which one is best for you? Let’s unpack some of the considerations you should be making when choosing a cloud storage provider.
What is cloud storage?
When you save a file on your computer, where does it go? Traditionally, you had two options – your hard drive, or an external drive connected to your computer. Either way, it was locally stored on something you could physically see in front of you.
Cloud storage is the opposite. When you save something to the cloud, you’re actually saving it to a remote database. All this means is that your data is saved in a remote data centre that’s connected to your device via the internet. When you need to access your information, you get to it through a web-based interface which ‘connects’ your device – whether laptop, computer or phone – to the data server that’s housing your data.
Is your data better off in the cloud?
To answer this, let’s look at how cloud storage works. With cloud storage, you don’t have to worry about running out of space on your hard drive or compromising your device’s performance as storage space runs out. You also don’t have to worry about data being lost if you have issues on site – it’s all saved and backed up off-site, accessible over the internet.
For extra peace of mind, most cloud storage systems store your data across multiple servers in multiple sites – a digital equivalent of ‘not having all your eggs in one basket’ in case of power failures, natural disasters and other catastrophes you can’t really plan for but should. If one server or data centre goes down, there will be another that can pick up the slack.
How do you choose a cloud storage service provider?
When comparing cloud storage service providers, think about the following factors.
As a rough rule of thumb, most cloud storage systems work in many gigabytes or even terabytes of storage, with some offering unlimited storage to business users (at a higher price). How much storage you’ll need depends on the kind of information you handle. If you only work with simple documents, you’ll need less than someone who needs to store large video files, for example. Top tip: only pay for what you or your company will actually use.
Level of security
Cloud storage isn’t just about having your files saved somewhere safe. It’s also important to consider if the service offers cloud backup too, and how your files are going to be kept safe if disaster strikes. It’s also worth checking you can easily encrypt your files in the cloud for maximum protection against your sensitive data ending up in the wrong hands. Some cloud storage services offer this, some don’t – be sure to investigate if security is important to you.
Ease of use
It doesn’t matter how great a system is, if it’s hard to use, then you won’t be able to make the most of it. When choosing a provider, get a demo of how the platform works and try it out for yourself. If the interface is hard to use, it’s pretty safe to assume that clever features may be missed and you won’t be getting the most out of your money. Make sure to factor in which operating system you’ll be using too, as some are a far better user-experiences than others.
Integration with other tools
Cloud storage services that are linked or can integrate with systems and programs you already use are likely to be best for you. For example, if you’re already a Windows user, using OneDrive might make the most sense. If you’re already a Google user or primarily use a Chromebook, Google Drive will probably suit you the best out of convenience.
Value for money
When it comes to cloud storage, it’s often a case of how much do you want to pay for it. Whichever provider you go for, make sure you’re only paying for features you need. For example, over-paying for the privilege of unlimited storage for the sake of it when you really only use a fraction of it isn’t good value for you.
So which is the best cloud storage service?
Those that are free might not have all the functionality you want. Those with the most storage space often come at a higher cost. Each individual or company will have different needs and requirements, so there isn’t really one definitive answer to which is best. It all depends on what you want to be able to do with your cloud storage system.
Top tip for choosing a cloud storage service: instead of asking which cloud storage service is the best, think about which is best for you.
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