5 best and worst cloud storage tools
Are they safe? And which ones offer best value for money?
We all know that crushing feeling when you’ve lost holiday snaps that weren’t backed up. Can you imagine if that happened to your life-or-death business files?
Now cloud storage services are more scalable, bullet-proof and cheaper than ever, small business owners can back up and share important files easily with colleagues.
And with every document encrypted and tracked by experts in cybersecurity, you can make sure everyone else is kept well and truly out.
Online storage keeps all your business files accessible, traceable and secure to help your start-up or company work smarter. But there are a few key areas to consider before deciding.
Of course, price is a big one for small business owners, but you also want to know your important documents are in the safest of hands, on a platform that does everything you want it to and saves you time.
Plus you'll want your new storage tool to scale as your business grows, so you can avoid the pain of trying to migrate all your files to a new online storage solution later on down the line.
Since naming cloud storage as one of the top six trends to disrupt the workplace in 2017, our readers told us on Twitter you wanted help finding the best cloud storage tools.
That's why we've created this page including everything you need to know to help you get the right provider for you – plus our bias-free list of the best and worst cloud storage tools on the market today.
In this article we cover:
What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage simply means storing data online
Cloud storage is really just online storage. Rather than backing up your files to your local storage device (like a hard drive), many people today like to save them to a remote database using their Internet connection.
Why use the cloud?
73% of businesses are planning on joining the cloud
The number of businesses – big and small – using cloud storage tripled this past year, and 73% of companies are looking to move their data to the cloud. That’s according to a recent report by Intel Security.
These are the main advantages of using cloud storage:
- Protect your information – Cloud storage software uses encryption to prevent data breaches and keep hackers out.
- Never lose a file again – We all know we should be backing up our important files, but many of us forget until it’s too late. A key advantage of most cloud storage tools is they automate the process of saving your data online, so you can relax knowing it’s all taken care of for you.
- Save more – With online storage, you’ll often get much more room to save your files compared with local devices like your computer or an external hard drive.
- Get 24/7 access – Get your hands on your data wherever you are and whenever you want it – on your desktop or mobile.
- Enjoy group access – Cloud storage is often the easiest and quickest way of sharing important documents with your team. You can always decide who you want to gain access to your files with and what permissions you’d like them to have.
Cloud storage vs local storage
So are there any disadvantages?
With more and more businesses joining cloud services, it’s fair to say for many people today the benefits of cloud storage far outweigh its limitations. Here are the main factors to consider when deciding if it’s for you:
- Access comes with one condition – Of course, because your files are saved online, you’ll need an Internet connection whenever you want to reach them.
- Bandwidth may vary – Some providers will want to restrict your bandwidth allowance, and some will offer it unlimited. You’ll just want to check this to make sure you have the flexibility you need.
- But what about the risk of a data breach? – Although hacks of start-ups are almost unheard of, some people are worried about the risks of storing data remotely. That’s why it’s so important to pick a reliable cloud software provider.
Is cloud storage safe?
64% of IT professionals trust cloud security more than on-premise storage
With millions of us now uploading our personal and business documents to cloud storage services, it’s essential to know these companies are protecting this data against even the smartest of hackers.
Safety fears are the main reason people hesitate to join the cloud. But are these worries founded? Here’s how cloud storage providers are able to keep your data secure:
- Encryption – It is now industry standard for online storage companies to encrypt all your information, so it can’t be read by anyone who doesn’t have your passwords.
- Identity management – They also rely on robust layers of security such as passwords and user permissions.
- Multifactor authentication (MFA) – Two-factor authentication (often confirming your identity using your phone or email) is now becoming mainstream, but you can often add more than two layers for your most sensitive information.
- Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – By only allowing devices within your organisation to access your data, you can stop any unknown users trying to get in.
- A combination of data centres – Many online storage providers own multiple data centres, so all your important information is split between them for added security.
Perhaps that’s why according to Cloud Security Alliance, two thirds of IT professionals now trust the cloud more than on-premise storage devices.
To be sure your cloud service vendor is reputable, it’s a good idea to check they comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and ISO 27001.
Keeping your data secure is a top priority for online storage services. As an example, Microsoft spends over $1 billion (£750 million) a year on security.
How do I choose the right cloud storage provider for me?
Here are some important questions to ask yourself:
How much data storage will I need?
With raw data storage becoming cheaper every year, you won't need to be quite so precious here. But as a rule of thumb 2GB is around 2,000 photos or one hour of video. 15GB is ideal for around 5,000 photos and 100GB will get you closer to 33,000 photos.
Most people consider 1TB unlimited storage. But if you mostly just save small documents, some small businesses could make do with a free subscription. Though you may still like to consider more advances cloud storage plans to get you added perks like multiple user access.
Does the cloud computing company have their own data centre?
When picking the right cloud storage solution for you, you’ll want to know the company you sign up for will be the ones in charge of safely storing your data. Some cloud storage providers have their own data centres, whilst others outsource using a third party service.
If it’s the latter, you’ll need to check who they are and what their track record is for cybersecurity. All our recommended providers on this page had to score top marks in this area.
Will you want to share your files within your teams?
Sharing your data is a major plus point of cloud storage, and lets teams collaborate from wherever they are. With some providers, you’ll need to get shared data as an add-on, but it usually isn’t expensive.
And if you’re often on the go, you might want to make sure you can install the company app on your phone. That way, you’ll stay connected to any decisions made in meetings, wherever you are.
Cloud storage pricing comparison
How do the top 3 cloud storage providers compare?
OneDrive offers all the features start-ups need, plus some nice touches that go beyond just file storage.
What’s it like to use?Microsoft OneDrive is a doddle to start using, and there are handy tutorials to help any first-timers. It’s a simple, easy-to-use software with some of the fastest download speeds we tested.We like being able to edit our files online, and the option of reverting back to a previous version of a file if anything goes wrong.Then there’s the live syncing of information, so all your devices are kept up-to-date, and the file sharing works well. Small businesses can really rely on this software for most functions, even for playing office music or watching shows when you’re travelling.Is there anything to watch out for?OneDrive uses encryption to keep your information secure. We just think it would be a good idea to have the option of using a different password from your regular Microsoft one for an added boost of security. Though the two-factor authentication can help you get round this.Microsoft OneDrive pricingTypical annual price: £0Get 5GB of free storage or pay from £1.99 a month if you'd like more.
£5.99 / month1TBOffice 365
(including Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc.)
Should I get it?We think Microsoft OneDrive is a great option for small business owners wanting an easy-to-use and affordable cloud storage tool. You can also save on your Office 365 Home bundle.If you’re interested, you can read more or sign up on the Microsoft website.Dropbox BusinessOne of the biggest, and still one of the best
As a specialist cloud storage provider, we think Dropbox have thought of just about everything growing businesses would ever want.
What’s it like to use?It’s easy – you can use Dropbox on Windows, MacOS and even Linux and there’s a nice little tutorial to get you on your feet. It also happens to perform tasks in a flash.Dropbox users enjoy a host of features – it lets you auto-sync your devices, edit your documents on their software, rewind to old versions of files and collaborate with friends or colleagues.Is there anything to watch out for?Dropbox pricingTypical annual price: £79Dropbox Plus gets you a whopping 1TB of storage space for £7.99. Or 2GB is free, but we don't think that'll be enough for most small businesses (it's around 2,000 photos or one hour of video). It's not bad, but OneDrive is just that bit more generous.There's also the option of Dropbox Professional if you fancy extra bonuses like creating jazzy presentations and tracking who's seen what, but if not Dropbox Plus is also a fine option for small business use.Should I get it?Dropbox is a great choice because it specialises in cloud storage and is used by millions of big and small businesses around the world. That means if you want to add staff members to your business account, there’s a good chance they’ll already be familiar with this software.How does Dropbox compare to Google Drive? They’re two top-notch options, but many heavy users tell us they find Dropbox download speeds a tad faster.You can compare all of Dropbox's plans and try any one you like for free here.Google DriveGenerous free storage but access too open
Google Drive is a breeze to use and it’s easy to access your information from wherever you are – though perhaps a little too easy with the lenient password controls.
What’s it like to use?We find Google pretty fast for uploading and downloading photos and it has a good mix of must-have features like file sharing, online editing and syncing your devices. These will all make your life easier.Is there anything to watch out for?For business use, we really think it’s important to be able to limit your privacy settings for different users – after all, you don’t want your whole team pulling up the file on salary information.It’s little things like this that make Google Drive perfect for your personal back-up, but more limited for small businesses.What’s more, if you ever want out, you’ll also need to say good-bye to your Google account. But the good news is that your data will be well and truly gone.Google Drive pricingTypical annual price: £0Google Drive gives you the most bang for no buck: 15GB of free storage. If you need more, you can choose between:
- 100GB – £1.59 a month
- 1TB – £7.99 a month (the same as OneDrive and Dropbox)
Should I get it?If you’re looking for bags of free storage, you’ll be hard pressed to find better than Google’s 15GB for free. Where do I sign? You can head to the Google Drive page to track your storage and take things further.Cloud storage providers to avoidMozySlow and expensive for what you get
This is really little more than a storage tool – there’s no in-cloud editing or file sharing, which makes the tool much less helpful for business use.
What’s it like to use?Cloud storage newcomers beware – Mozy doesn’t have any introductory tutorials, so it can be a little tricky to get to grips with.The app works fine on Apple and Android devices, and the rollback feature (which lets you return to an earlier version of a document) is a great idea you don’t often find. But in general Mozy is missing quite a few handy features you get with other providers.Is there anything to watch out for?Mozy uses encryption and encourages you to change your password a few times a year, so there’s little to worry about. But we think it would offer added protection if it advised you on the strength of your password when you’re choosing one, just like with other tools.Mozy pricingTypical annual price: £60Mozy is one of the least cost effective online storage providers we found. Here's what it costs:
- 50GB – £4.99 a month (OneDrive and Google Drive both cost under half that)
- 125GB – £7.99 a month (again, with alternatives you'll get 1TB for that amount)
But if you'd like to try Mozy, it's free for 2GB.Should I get it?We wouldn’t recommend Mozy as an online storage tool for business use. It’s one of the more expensive providers, but actually offers much fewer features than its alternatives. And it’s got one of the slowest upload and download speeds.But if you'd like to check it out, feel free to read more on their website here.Amazon Cloud DriveFine, but you can do better
Amazon Cloud Drive is great for uploading and downloading photos in a flash. But it really doesn’t do much more. With other online storage providers, you’ll get much more functionality.
What’s it like to use?Amazon makes cloud storage easy using its slick app – and they’re taking security seriously with two-factor authentication for when you sign in.But we think features like file editing, sharing and rollback are a must for effective business use. And even for personal use, Amazon Drive is fairly limited – video files are slow to download and they need to be under 20 minutes long for video streaming.Is there anything to watch out for?Just hope you won’t ever want to delete your Amazon Cloud Drive subscription fully because the only way is to cancel your Amazon account as well.There’s also the risk that you might want to end your Prime membership one day, which would make this storage option less worthwhile.Amazon Cloud Drive pricingTypical annual price: £0All users get 5GB worth of free storage and for Prime members there’s no limit to your photo uploads. Small businesses will probably be wanting more space though.Should I get it?We wouldn’t rush to sign up. There are plenty of alternatives that will make your life a lot easier.But if you’re still interested, here’s where to go.In a nutshellWe know that even if monthly subscription packages don't have to cost the earth, choosing the right cloud storage provider for your small business is an important decision. No one wants the headache of trying to migrate all your files to a new service further down the line.Start-ups and small business owners tell us they're looking for ease-of-use, decent (business-friendly) features, security and value for money. And each one of our top three scored well in all these areas.So, the top three we would recommend our readers are:#1 | Microsoft OneDrive
#2 | Google Drive
#3 | DropboxMozy and Amazon Drive are really just reasonable cloud storage tools, but for professional use you'll need a bit more functionality.Google would be your best free option, but we don't think it's quite up to scratch for business use with its lenient password controls and limited privacy settings.Of the remaining two, Dropbox is our winner – it's a specialist online storage tool that's slick, fast and does everything small businesses need. But it's fairly pricey compared to Microsoft OneDrive which is another exceptional option and our number one for value for money.
If you'd like to start a free trial or sign up for any of the online storage services we covered on this page, here are the links you'll need:
- Microsoft OneDrive – Best for value for money
- Google Drive – Best for free or personal use
- Dropbox – Best for functionality
|OneDrive||Free||£1.99 /mth||£5.99 /mth||£7.99 /mth|
|Google Drive||Free||£1.59 /mth||£7.99 /mth|
|✅ PROS – Easy set-up, great smartphone app, low cost, live synchronisation of files
❌ CONS – Same password as Microsoft accountEase of use ★★★★★
Value for money ★★★★★
|Free||5GB||This is mostly to test it out|
|£1.99 / month||50GB||Not yet…|
|£7.99 / month||5TB||Office 365 Home
(which lets you add up to five users)
|✅ PROS – Great security controls, user-friendly software, fast transfers, most features small businesses need
❌ CONS – No password protection of individual filesEase of use ★★★★★
Value for money ★★★★★
|✅ PROS – 15GB free storage, easy-to-use, editing tools, encryption, stellar app (Android and iOS), fast data transfer
❌ CONS – Password settings could be stricterEase of use ★★★★★
Value for money ★★★★★
|✅ PROS – Simple app, encryption, easy to delete account, useful rollback function
❌ CONS – No tutorials for first timers, limited features (no document editing, no sharing, no two-factor authentication), slow download speedsEase of use ★★★★★
Value for money ★★★★★
|✅ PROS – Real-time file syncing, user-friendly app, speedy downloads, two-factor authentication, Prime member perks
❌ CONS – Restricted file sharing and editing, no rollback, uses Amazon passwordEase of use ★★★★★
Value for money ★★★★★