Cloud Storage Showdown
A Comparison of Today’s Top Services
t's a great time to be in the market for a cloud storage service. With mobile devices at the center of so much that we do, onthe-go access to your documents, photos, videos, and music is becoming increasingly important. In the last year, digital storage prices have dropped precipitously, and after a year full of cyber security concerns, providers are strengthening measures to protect their customers' private data. Read on to learn the strengths and weaknesses of a handful of industry leaders: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, Box, and the newest addition, Amazon Cloud Drive.
IHow Cloud Storage Works
Instead of storing your documents and photos directly on your hard drive, cloud storage services allow you to upload your data to a remote third-party location that you can access online. Typically, these services use a combination of application programming interfaces (APIs) that govern the look, feel, and function of the software. Unlike USB drives, which can risk being lost or stolen, or your computer, which can unexpectedly fail, cloud storage is an effective solution for storing files without the frustration of having to keep copies on multiple devices.
Launched in 2008, this San Francisco-based cloud service company serves over 300 million users. One of the main reasons Dropbox is so popular is because it's reliable and easy to use, allowing you to synchronize your files between multiple devices and offering one of the simplest user interfaces of any cloud storage service currently available. Best of all, there is no size limit on the files you upload—unless you are uploading them through the website, in which case there is a 10 MB limit. Unfortunately, there isn't a range of storage options available outside of the free 2 GB you initially receive. You can either purchase 1 TB of space—currently priced at $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year—or you can receive 500 MB of additional storage for every new user you refer (up to 18 GB total).
Numerous organizations have raised concerns over Dropbox's privacy and terms of service, especially when it comes to storing sensitive information. As a result of this pressure, Dropbox released a transparency report detailing government requests for access to users' information in 2014; however, users are still advised by IT professionals to use caution when uploading confidential documents.
Google Drive has been the go-to choice for Google fans since the cloud service's release in 2012. The cross-platform application syncs files to all your devices and works well with Google's many other free services, including Google Docs. Gmail users can bypass the 25 MB email size limitation by linking to Google Drive files, rather than attaching them in the email. You can keep your files private or share them publicly, in which case they become searchable by Google's search engine.
While Drive comes with a generous 15 GB of free storage, keep in mind that it's shared between Google Drive, Gmail, and Google+ Photos. Paying for additional storage with Google is astonishingly cheap, starting at $1.99/month for 100 GB.
In an effort to boost security, Google has collaborated with Dropbox to create a partnership with research and development organization Simply Secure. Users of either Google Drive or Dropbox should expect to see security changes in the future as this collaboration gains ground.
For those of you invested in the Apple ecosystem, iCloud may be the simplest solution. While limited historically compared to its rivals, Apple's recent release of iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo Library, and Family Sharing make it a much more attractive offer.
With iCloud Drive, you can now save and sync any file across your desktop and iOS devices. For instance, on a Mac, you can save a Pages document to iCloud Drive in your Finder, and it will appear in the Pages app on your iPhone. With Apple's overhauled photo management system, you can now back up photos and videos taken on your iPhone and access them online at iCloud.com (for more on iCloud Photo Library, see pg. 34).
One of the greatest features about iCloud is Family Sharing, which lets up to six family members share files like music,
books, and apps. iCloud also seamlessly integrates with iTunes, allowing you to access purchases you made on any device.
Compared to Google Drive's 15 GB, iCloud offers a meager 5 GB of free space, although the cost of additional storage is only $0.99/month for 20 GB.
The main drawback with iCloud is pretty obvious—if you own an Android or Windows mobile device in addition to an Apple product, you cannot access your iCloud files from those devices; iCloud is only compatible with iOS devices and your PC, Mac, or Windows computer.
Cloud storage service Box launched in 2005, earning a strong reputation for its enterprise solutions. While Box offers some basic services for personal use, including a rather generous 10 GB of free storage, its strongest features are for business users. The starter service—which allows for 3-10 users, 100 GB storage, and a maximum 2 GB file size—is $5 per user per month. You can comment and assign tasks to documents and assign granular permissions when sharing files ranging from “view only” to “upload only.” Box also offers enterprise-level features that allow for tracking, reporting, and managing through activity reports.
Amazon Cloud Drive
It should be no surprise that Amazon—the market juggernaut set on revolutionizing every industry it touches—recently released a new cloud storage solution. Cloud Drive's main fo- cus is on media syncing. While you can sync documents via the desktop app on your Mac or PC, only photos and videos will sync to the Cloud Drive mobile app.
Amazon Cloud Drive offers unlimited photo storage to Amazon Prime members and Amazon Fire device owners, and automatically backs up from pictures from your phone to the cloud server when you're connected to Wi-Fi.
While Amazon offers 5 GB of storage free, paid plans start at a very economical $10 per year for 20 GB. That's a cost of only $0.83 per month—by far the cheapest storage solution of its class. Even the 100 GB tier of services is extremely economical at $50 per year ($4.16 per month). Higher space options are dramatically more expensive, though, with the 1 TB option costing a whopping $500 per year ($41.66 per month). If you don't need more than 100 GB of space and you're mainly interested in syncing photos and videos, Amazon Cloud Drive is a great alternative to Dropbox or Google Drive.
A Few Final Notes about Cloud Storage
While you're exploring these different services, don't be afraid to make the most of all the free storage you can from each service. Eventually, however, you may find it simplest to pay for your favorite cloud service to handle all your storage needs.
Charity Kountz is a freelance writer and author of the award-winning children’s book Jason, Lizzy and the Snowman Village. An aggressive researcher capable of covering a wide range of topic areas including business, education, IT, and finance, she enjoys tackling new challenges in writing and beyond. Charity’s nonfiction work has been published by Coldwell Banker, Strategy Magazine, and Moxie Lady.