The best cloud storage for your buck

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The best cloud storage for your buck

The cloud is a confusing term. It’s used for so many different applications and types of services. That said, the simplest definition could boil down to the cloud being any device on the internet you can interact with, other than your own. Where does Netflix store its movies or the music streaming service you listen to store its music? How does your phone know to populate your address book without transferring it from your old phone? The answer to both is the cloud. In this article we will focus on consumer cloud storage, meaning accessible data storage services on the internet that backup, keep and maintain your data.

Cloud storage has a number of interesting features for the consumer and chances are you’re already using cloud storage in some form. However, while data storage is somewhat commoditized, the services rendered by the larger competitors in the space vary heavily.

From dumb storage with little more use than a remote hard drive to highly sophisticated sync mechanisms, none of the myriad of options are quite the same. The top competitors in the space are Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Google and Microsoft. There are a number of smaller competitors as well, however in the interest of risk mitigation being backed by a billion dollar business has its advantages. As Apple’s iCloud was the victim of a high profile celebrity photo hack, companies are paying more attention to security than ever.

There are some important terms to know before getting started in the comparisons:

  • Photo Backup: A backup system specific to photos allowing for cataloguing of photos, backup of compressed or original sizing and restoration in the event of local data loss.

  • File Versioning: A file system wherein multiple versions of a file are stored so as to allow restoration of deleted files, tracking changes to a file or revert to a previous version of a file.

  • Synchronization: A system to keep the most up to date version of a file on multiple devices, allowing for 2 or more devices to have identical files and potentially simultaneous collaboration.

Amazon CloudDrive

Amazon’s CloudDrive probably doesn’t rank among the most popular on this list, however given the popularity of AWS (Amazon’s business cloud offering) and the massive amount of engineering and hardware behind this product, it is worth listing. CloudDrive is fairly bare bones, as it doesn’t allow for file sharing, synchronization or versioning however photo backup is free (through their iOS app) for Amazon Prime members. Beyond that, for $59.99 per year and after a 3 month free trial, it offers unlimited storage, making this fairly robust in terms of storage for the buck.

  • Features: Photo and file backup.

  • Pros: Free unlimited photo backup for Prime members. iOS and Android apps.

  • Cons: Bare Bones in terms of feature set.

  • Cost: $59.99/y - unlimited storage for all file types.

Apple iCloud

Apple’s iCloud is only available on Apple devices. This can be both a bane and boon to consumers. If your whole world is Apple, syncing across devices is seamless. iCloud offers file versioning, synchronization and 15GB free to all Apple users. Above 15G the tiers are reasonably priced, however there is no unlimited option. iCloud also doesn’t back up files piecemeal, meaning if you delete a file on your phone there is a chance (depending on how many backups you can hold in your storage tier) that it no longer exists in the cloud after a certain period of time.

Features:

File versioning, Synchronization and multiple operating systems.

Pros:

Seamless for Apple users. 15G free storage tier.

Cons:

No Android support. Windows support a bit clunky.

Cost: Free for 15G, price starts at $0.99/m for 50G.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a Silicon Valley startup that exploded in 2007 and has focused heavily on consumer cloud storage. Dropbox arguably created the market for consumer cloud storage. Dropbox offers 2GB at the free tier—which is low for the market— however has a rich feature set including file versioning, synchronization, file sharing and fair pricing for heavier usage tiers. Dropbox also offers apps for Windows, iOS, Android, OSX and Linux, meaning consumers have the vast majority of operating systems at their disposal with Dropbox.

  • Features: File versioning, Synchronization and multiple operating systems.

  • Pros: Has a native client for all major operating systems and mobile phones.

  • Cons: 2G is one of the smallest amounts for any competitors free tier.

  • Cost: Free for 2G, price starts at $8.25/m for 1T (1024G).

Google Drive

Google Drive is another option that started out as a dumb drive and has expanded to include possibly the most feature-rich of the consumer cloud storage options. Drive starts at 15GB at the free tier and has all the same features of Dropbox with some massive add-ons. Office-style files (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) can be edited using Google’s other apps, what Google now calls Gsuite. Gsuite offers Word, Excel and Powerpoint clones as web applications that directly hook into Google drive allowing for powerful multi-user real time editing.

  • Features: File versioning, Synchronization and multiple operating systems.

  • Pros: Native clients for all major operating systems and mobile phones, tight integration with Gsuite. Real time editing and sharing.

  • Cons: No unlimited storage option.

  • Cost: Free for 15G, price starts at $1.99/m for 100G.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft’s OneDrive is a hybrid of several of the above. The free tier starts at 5GB, however the higher tiers come with a subscription to Office 365, Microsoft’s powerful business software suite. OneDrive works with iPhone, Microsoft and Android phones it also has both Mac and Windows support.

  • Features: File versioning, Synchronization and multiple operating systems.

  • Pros: Tightly integrated with Office 365 in higher tier plans.

  • Cons: Small storage limit at free tier.

  • Cost: Free for 5G, price starts at $1.99/m for 50G.

Winner:

Google Drive has a significant advantage over the competition in the cloud storage category by way of Gsuite. With it’s storage options, all major devices supported, integration with Gsuite and real time collaboration Google’s offering presents a difficult to match value add. That said, if the goal is to simply storage as much as possible for cheap, Amazon is the frontrunner. All in all it’s about what makes the most sense for an individual's setup.

Consumer cloud storage is rapidly changing due to rampant competition and some very large players in the game. With that in mind, consumers will only continue to benefit from the players adding massive amounts of features to their offerings in the future. No matter which option you choose use one of them: Backing up your data to the cloud can avert disaster, enable productivity and most importantly allow you to live with a little less worry in your life.