Online storage, also known as storage in the cloud, is an incredibly convenient way of storing your data so that it’s always available.
By choosing to use online storage rather than physical media like an external hard drive or USB thumb drive, you can view and download your files from anywhere and from any device, so long as you have an internet connection. This means your files are available from your desktop at work, your laptop at home, and your tablet or smartphone when on the go.
Not all online storage is built the same, though. Here are five important factors to take into account when comparing the best cloud storage options available today.
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It probably comes as no surprise, but cost is one of the first things people look at when comparing online storage solutions. However, pricing structures can vary widely between products, so comparing them isn’t always straightforward.
Depending upon your needs, you may not even need to pay for cloud storage. Most providers offer a free tier, although the features may be limited. One of the best options for free storage is Google Drive, which includes 15GB of free storage (spread across all your apps, including gmail and photos). pCloud also does well in this regard, with 10GB free storage and free encrypted transfers of files up to 5GB.
Some products offer more granular pricing than others. iDrive, for example, only offers 2TB and 5TB plans, while Zoolz includes a 1TB plan. OneCloud offers 100GB for just $1.99, and then a 1TB plan above that. Backblaze, on the other hand, has just one tier: $6 per month for unlimited space. It’s not very feature rich and it only works on one device, but it’s a steal if you just need space online.
As you can see, you’ll need to carefully consider just how much space you need and find the plan that best fits without spending needlessly.
Finally, you’ll want to take into account, for example, student discounts or cheaper rates if you sign up for annual rather than monthly payments. Some providers also offer lifetime access for one large initial payment, which can be cheaper in the long run.
Security is another important factor. That’s especially true for professional accounts, but you shouldn’t downplay the importance of excellent security for personal files, either.
The best security is offered by services with end-to-end encryption, as offered by Tresorit Business Cloud, iDrive, and OneDrive. Google Drive, which did well in the cost category, falls short in this regard.
Encryption in storage is just as important as when accessing, so make sure that your stored files are encrypted with either AES 256 or TLS encryption.
You’ll also want to make sure you can set up two-factor authentication, although this may not be a deal-killer if you’re happy with a service’s other features. Zoolz, for example, has tonnes of great features but no two-factor authentication. iDrive is pricier, but offers two-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption.
There are a few limits you’ll have to contend with when choosing a provider. The first and most obvious is the total amount of storage available to you. As already mentioned, Backblaze offers unlimited storage, but falls short in other areas. iDrive is a little more costly but has a convenient 5TB plan if you have large storage needs.
Most providers also limit the size of the files you can upload or share. iDrive, for example, has a fairly low limit of 2GB. If you need cloud storage for large files, like videos or hefty databases, you’ll probably want to go for something like OneDrive, which has a 15GB file size limit, or SpiderOak, which has no limit.
Another limit to take into consideration is how long your deleted files will be kept. This doesn’t just refer to files you delete manually but also to version history. If you’re using your online storage to sync work files that you edit regularly, this can be an important factor.
Look for providers with dedicated cold storage for files you want to keep stored for a long, long time. Zoolz has an elegant solution to this, for example, at no extra cost. Otherwise, Google Drive, and the accompanying G Suite, offers extremely long-lasting file versioning.
4. File Sync
File syncing is one of the most popular features that customers look for in a cloud storage provider. If you’re planning on using your online storage to continuously or automatically back up and sync your files, make it a priority to compare services and pick the one that does so most effectively and efficiently.
OneDrive and Google Drive both do a great job of file syncing, although they’re not your only options. GoodSync and Sync.com also offer feature-rich file syncing at competitive rates.
5. Interface and ease of use
Finally, the very best cloud storage in terms of prices and security isn’t worth much if you can’t find your way around the app or use it on all your devices. You can find in-depth reviews in our list of top cloud storage providers to get a better look at interfaces and check device compatibility.
OneDrive and Google Drive stand out again for ease of use and an intuitive interface.
pCloud, on the other hand, while excelling in other areas, has some questionable design choices that make it a bit less intuitive. When adding a folder to your online storage, for example, the contents are added individually rather than in the original parent folder.
Zoolz doesn’t boast download speeds as fast as those of others, but has an attractive and intuitive interface on desktop (although the mobile apps could use some work).
By considering these five important factors when choosing your next online storage, you can be sure to find the right provider for your needs. You’ll need to balance overall storage space with cost, make sure any limits fit your workflow and that the file sync, if you need it, works as expected. Finally, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with the interface.
With all this in mind, head over to our guide to the best cloud storage solutions to start comparing your options.