Given that about halfof American consumers think cloud services can impact the weather, it's clear the appeal of online storage still isn't widely understood. This confusion hasn't stopped the cloud business from exploding, though; even those who don't fully grasp the concept still use clouds for things like browser-based email. Though the definition of cloud in the popular lexicon might be evolving slowly, the demand for cloud services is ever-expanding.
The trends driving this demand will only continue to accelerate. More data is being generated and stored than ever before, and because clouds generally scale more easily than on-site drives, the ascent of online storage shows no sign of stopping. Mobility is also a driver. More and more content is being accessed on tablets and smartphones, and tasks that begin on one device are often picked up on another. Clouds can provide an easy way to access documents from any location and to ensure that updates automatically spread across all of a user's tools.
With clouds providing so much utility, competition within the market has grown fierce. That gives customers many options -- enough options, in fact, to cause confusion.
Thanks to good timing, free entry, and high ease-of-use, Dropbox became one of the first options to break out. With more than 100 million users, it's very popular, but it's certainly not the panacea for all storage needs. In fact, though the service has been attempting to boost its enterprise appeal for some time, businesses have been cautious about security risks. A high-profile hacking incident was a particular setback for the Dropbox brand, and though the company isn't likely to exit the scene, a recent Zenprise surveyfound that Dropbox's mobile app is among those most frequently blacklisted by IT administrators.
As you consider competing services, it's important to identify which factors are most important to your specific uses. If you work with videos and other big chunks of data, for example, services need to offer high transfer speeds and support for large files. If you need to archive important but seldom-used content, meanwhile, online capacity might be your biggest consideration. Then again, if you're simply looking for productivity boosts, storage capacity might be less important than a simple interface that supports automated functions. BYOD might make platform agnosticism another consideration, and in many environments, IT controls could be a deciding factor. The ability to integrate tools such as Microsoft Outlook or Salesforce might be an additional consideration.
In almost any scenario, cost and security will be concerns -- but even then, there's wiggle room. Entry-level prices might sway some, but a user who anticipates ramped-up activity in the future will likely be more interested in how costs scale over time. While virtually every service offers encryption, some do so only when data is in transit and not while content is idle. Even staple features require deliberation and planning.
The cloud storage equation, in other words, forces users to weigh a variety of factors. Read on to learn about seven cheap cloud storage options that run the gamut of focuses and features.
If Cubby's name evokes a preschool storage space, that's appropriate since Cubby, as a beta release, is less mature than many competing projects. Cubby, however, is a precocious kid who learned to read early thanks to an attentive parent.
That parent is LogMeIn, which has years of experience creating remote access tools. The company has passed on a number of capabilities to Cubby.
The product offers 5 GB of free storage, and users can gain up to 20 more by convincing friends to sign up. Whereas some competitors use Amazon Web Services for capacity, Cubby is built on LogMeIn's Gravity Data Services, the company's proprietary cloud. A PC with Cubby installed can set up syncing to the cloud through a simple drag-and-drop interface. Updates are automatically synced thereafter unless the user specifies otherwise.
Security comes in the form of 256-bit encryption, the same level that most banking and online shopping sites use, and content can be shared both publicly and privately. The service offers unlimited versioning, meaning that if an updated version of a document is synced to a user's account, the user will still be able to access previous iterations.
Cubby also includes a function called DataSync that, rather than connecting to the cloud, establishes a peer-to-peer tunnel between two devices. This option is a nice touch for those who simply want to move files between computers; even nicer is the fact that these transfers don't count against a user's storage limit.
Acknowledging that the product isn't fully polished, there are some missing pieces. Linux compatibility, for example, is planned but has yet to be implemented. There also isn't any support for Windows Phone or BlackBerry, and it's not clear what kind of add-on features or extra security will be included -- or at what cost. For these reasons alone, Cubby won't work for everyone. Whether it will become suitable for deployment across a large workforce is particularly uncertain.
Even so, Android and iOS devices can already link to the LogMeIn cloud, meaning that most users' mobile needs are covered. With strong security and free services, Cubby could be a viable option for individual users, SMBs, specific groups within an enterprise -- basically anyone looking for secure, simple, and low-cost options for storage, sharing and syncing.
Syncing is supported, and storage ranges from 150 GB to 3 TB. Collaboration among remote workers is facilitated via secure links or shared, permissions-based access to specific files. The service works with Windows and OS X on the desktop and iOS and Android on the mobile side. Desktop integration is particularly simple, as users can access their cloud repositories through Finder on Macs and Explorer on PCs. Security features include 256-bit encryption, and a base package called Personal Local Cloud supports up to five users for $24.99 per month.
Egnyte offers a number of features that target the enterprise, including integration with Google Docs, Salesforce, Outlook, and Active Directory. File versioning is also on the features list, as is the ability to set expiration dates after which stored files are no longer accessible. Administrators can define permissions granularly to control who has access to certain documents, and they can also establish FTP access or run audit reports that display access and encryption data for stored content.
Unfortunately, many of these more advanced functions are reserved for the more expensive Office Local Cloud and Enterprise Local Cloud options. As a result, Egnyte might be a better option for businesses than for individuals or small teams -- but with a relatively generous 150 GB available in the base package, even solitary users might be persuaded.
When IT Becomes A One-Man Show
ShareFile, which is owned by Citrix, doesn't appear cost-competitive at first glance: Its basic plan provides only 5 GB of storage for a monthly fee of $29.95, and even its corporate plan, which runs $99.95 per month, offers only 20 GB. The enterprise-level product, which is priced on an individual basis, appears similarly stingy with a mere 100 GB capacity.
ShareFile, though, isn't aiming to be a catch-all repository for files of all kinds; the service instead targets users who need to move particularly large files quickly and who value security and personalized customer service.
ShareFile can store file up to 10 GB, imposes no expiration dates on file hosting, and offers syncing designed to handle multiple employees simultaneously working in the same cloud-based storage folder. It also includes numerous administrator controls, including granular user-permissions tools, settings for optional file expiration dates, and the ability to audit and remotely wipe lost or stolen mobile devices. Like most cloud storage services, ShareFile facilities mobile access for iOS and Android devices -- but unlike many of its competitors, it supports Windows and BlackBerry smartphones as well.
The service also offers a plug-in that allows users to upload, send, and request files directly through Outlook. The plug-in can embed links to stored files into emails, and it permits email attachments to be routed through ShareFile rather than the internal email server.
On the security front, ShareFile encrypts data not only when it's in transit but also, unlike some of its competitors, while it's at rest. Its data center is locked down, with biometric authentication required for access to all entrances and exits, and the company employs redundant off-site monitoring to reduce the risk of data loss. Customer service offerings, meanwhile, include a dedicated account manager to help with system set up and support.
At the low end, the basic plan provides 5 GB of free storage for a single account and supports files of up to 100 MB. The base package caps daily bandwidth at 1 GB and limits transfer speeds to 200 KB/second -- enough to fit many needs but certainly not up to power user standards. For somewhat more demanding needs, the company also offers a Home plan that removes speed caps, allows three users, boosts capacity to 100 GB, supports files as large as 1 GB and ups the daily bandwidth allotment to 25 GB. As a monthly subscription, the Home version runs $5, but if a customer commits to a full year OpenDrive charges only $50. An Office option, meanwhile, provides 500 GB of storage for as many as five users and can transfer 3 GB files. Budgeted for 100 GB of bandwidth per day, the Office version runs $15 per month, or $150 per year.
The Pro plan sits farther up the scale. It offers 1 TB of cloud space, can use 250 GB of bandwidth per day, and supports up to seven users. With the ability to transfer single packages as large as 5 GB, it also qualifies as a legitimate big-file solution. Users pay $25 per month, or $250 per year. Unlike many competitors, OpenDrive also allows customers to build custom plans.
All plans include file encryption, unlimited direct linking, and automated syncing and backup. The paid versions offer additional customer support perks, IT user profile controls, and data-recovery features.
All versions of the service provide data backup, 256-bit encryption for data in motion, and 448-bit Blowfish encryption for data sitting in storage. Depending on the version of Mozy, direct file-sharing is either limited or unsupported, which will be a deal-breaker for some potential customers. Even so, Mozy's Stash feature automatically syncs to every computer linked to a given account -- a potentially appealing simplification for users who constantly email themselves documents or carry around USB drives.
A Home account offers 50 GB of storage for $5.99 per month or 125 GB for $9.99 per month. Both options offer price-reducing discounts to customers who sign on for longer contracts. These products lack the 24-hour customer support and a suite of IT-centric controls that round out the Pro packages. These more fully featured services offer capacities ranging from 10 GB at $9.99 per month per computer to 1 TB for $379.99 per month per computer. As with the Home product, enticements are offered to customers who opt for longer contracts. An enterprise-grade service is also available; contact Mozy to discuss pricing. It provides additional IT tools, including Active Directory integration for easier authentication.
When IT Becomes A One-Man Show
Compared to some of its upstart competitors, Google Drive is a household name. It doesn't offer the granular IT controls seen elsewhere, and some users might be underwhelmed by its security features, which encrypt data in motion but not data sitting in storage. Still, the service offers thorough Google Docs integration -- and for many, the appeal of an ecosystem could be a meaningful differentiator. The fact that Google offers a relatively competitive 5 GB of free storage only bolsters the appeal, and power users will appreciate that additional capacity won't break the bank: another 25 GB runs only $2.49 per month, and even 1 TB pushes the cost to only $49.99.
But despite Google Drive's appeal and widespread use, the service faces competition within the larger cloud storage scene and specifically from other ecosystem-driven services. Microsoft's SkyDrive, for example, boasts 7 GB of free storage. It also integrates with Microsoft Office, which is a more essential resource than Google Docs. For Mac users, Apple's iCloud is another option in this space. If offers appealing perks such as the "Find My iPhone" feature and includes 5 GB of free storage -- but its approach is generally consumer-centric, making it fine for photos or music but not necessarily for business use.
When IT Becomes A One-Man Show
Some users need cloud storage for archival purposes instead of day-to-day productivity. For these requirements, Amazon Glacier, a recent addition to the widely harnessed Amazon Web Services portfolio, might fit the bill. The cost is certainly appealing: Storage starts at only a penny per GB per month, and though it is slightly more expensive to transfer stored data back out of the cloud, the total expense is quite modest. Security is also formidable, with 256-bit encryption. Amazon claims 99.999999999% of stored bytes will be maintained without incident, and thanks to constant system checks and multisite redundancy, even files that become corrupted should be salvageable.
If other cloud services are the digital equivalents of briefcases, then Glacier is a storage locker. That is, in terms of capacity, it's tough to beat -- but it's not always convenient. Archived data can take hours to summon -- a far cry from the instantaneous, on-the-go access offered elsewhere. So while it won't appeal to everyone, Glacier offers an intriguing way to handle files that are important but rarely accessed. The service is a natural fit for legal records, media clips and anything else that needs to be preserved for compliance reasons or "what-if" scenarios.