Free File Storage in the Cloud: What’s the Best Option?

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There are tons of places you can put your data: a thumb drive, an external hard drive, a different unit, a private or public cloud, even a tape or floppy disk (if you can find one).

Let’s say you’ve decided you’ve got a little too much data for the space you’ve got available, or you want to keep backup copies in the public cloud for safe keeping. The first thing you’ll need to think about is what type of data you want in the cloud. Company data and personal data are different things. Companies generate a lot of data, likely far more than your personal laptop or family desktop (unless your addicted to HD video), and this data is likely to be absolutely critical for a functioning business.

It’s important to consider what your space needs are, the level of security a cloud offering has, and also the all-important cost. Experts suggest that smaller sized firms will likely need around half a terabyte or 500 GB if their data consists mostly of documents, but depending on the size of the company, and for those that have a lot of videos and graphics, the storage space required could be several terabytes or more.

There are a lot of free storage options available to the general public that also feature larger low-cost storage options available to businesses. Let’s compare a few of the big names in terms of available free space, accessibility, and cost for additional space before we talk about backup. These offerings are very similar in some ways and very different in others, so let’s take a look at each one.

iCloud

5 GB free. $20 a year gives you 10 additional GB, $40 for 20 GB, $100 for 50 GB

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iCloud is preloaded on all newer Apple products and can be used with PC as well. iCloud can be used to automatically or manually sync all of your music and documents between all of your devices. It also has a feature that allows you to automatically download to one device any items you’ve previously downloaded on another device.  Any apps, music, videos and so forth will appear on all of your devices, and you can also access these things without actually downloading them to your device (streaming music from the iCloud, for example). For Mac users, this is likely the simplest option, assuming you only use Apple products (see below) Apple is good at making software and hardware sync automatically with minimal user effort.

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Apple doesn’t always play nice with others, a fact you’ll understand when you have to pay the extra $24.99 to use iCloud to store things (ebooks, music, or videos) that didn’t come from Apple-sanctioned sources, or when you need third-party apps simply to open Word documents or other non-Apple files. Also, certain third-party apps (those not approved by Apple) can’t be saved to iCloud, and iCloud of course doesn’t support Android or Windows phone operating systems.

Amazon Cloud Drive

5GB free. $10 a year gets you 20 additional GB or up to a terabyte for $100 a year. $20 a year gets you unlimited music storage (If music is purchased from Amazon).

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Amazon Cloud Drive is simple, and works over multiple platforms. You can get up to a terabyte for cheap and Amazon doesn’t impose restrictions like Apple.

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You can put any file you want into Amazon Drive, but if you want to stream music you’ll have to download Amazon Cloud Player, which allows you space for 250 song imports free, while $24.99 a year gets you 250,000 song imports you can stream from wherever with any device, including Apple devices. The extra cost to stream your own music seems silly, but that is an awful lot of songs.

Google Drive

5 GB free. $2.50 a month for 25 GB additional space

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It works well with Google docs, both on mobile devices and computers. It allows you to open and view all Microsoft files types. JPG,GIF,MOV,AVI files can also be opened.  Google Drive also allows you to access things like HD video and Photoshop files, even if you don’t have that software on your computer.

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Google Drive focuses mainly on document storage and doesn’t currently allow you to stream music. But, with Google Play, you can stream music, share photos and other media on your home computer, or mobile device.

Dropbox

5 GB free. For each friend referral, you get 500 MB up to a full 18 GB.  $9.99 a month to get 100 GB or Team pricing starting at around $800/year for a terabyte for five users.

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Simplicity describes Dropbox. Get started free, or upgrade to a version that allows multiple users to share a box. You also have the option to add as much storage as you need—and any additional users—so it’s scalable.

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As far as I can tell, it’s very simple, you can upload any type of file, and there are no file size restrictions. Dropbox allows you to view many file types, but not nearly as many as Google Drive, and there is currently no way to stream music with Dropbox alone, but as Apple is so fond of saying, “there’s an app for that,” both on Android, and iPhone, though neither are free.

Microsoft Skydrive

7Gb free: $10 a year for 20 additional GB and $50 a year for 100 GB.

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Skydrive offers the most free data storage at 7 GB. It lets you share with everyone, works on iPhone, iPad, Android, and is the only storage service I’ve listed that supports Windows Phone. Skydrive is designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft Office, and lets you share nearly anything with anyone via skydrive.com. For the buck, Skydrive is the most open and allows for the most sharing and collaboration. You can even use another computer to grab files from home that are not on skydrive.com, assuming your home unit is on.

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If you are a Windows user, and frequently use Microsoft Office, this is probably your best option. I have no real complaints other than it doesn’t include a way to stream music.  You can download apps like SkyAmp that can stream your Skydrive music, but reviews for these applications are generally poor because functionality is often an issue. Google Drive and Dropbox both give you some options to control how files are synced, while Skydrive does not. Files synced to wireless devices aren’t saved to the device, and are therefore unavailable offline.

*Microsoft has a nice diagram showing what you can expect from the services I’ve mentioned. However, it leaves out certain things like streaming music, and since the purpose of the diagram is to promote Skydrive, Microsoft probably didn’t want to mention the lack.

Conclusion:

These services have limitations and can’t offer you the robust backup that backup and disaster recovery software can, but can be useful as part of a healthy backup and disaster recovery plan—the more copies of critical business data you have, the more options you have to retrieve it when you need it. Plus, these services are quite useful when it comes to sharing files between colleagues, or family members, and a certain amount of data is free. Since many companies are moving towards bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, file storage and sharing services might offer a fair solution for backing up data contained on mobile devices—something older backup plans might lack. Plus, individual users can take advantage of the free storage themselves, rather than a company purchasing large blocks of space. They can also take advantage of document sharing between their mobile and stationary devices.

When you’re running a business, storage isn’t the only thing you need. While the above examples are probably great for smaller data storage solutions, you’ll likely want to explore more cloud computing options like infrastructure services, software services and other cloud computing choices. Companies like Amazon offer these services and can be bundled into a package that’s useful for more than just being a place to put your data.

When thinking of how to backup and recover company data, access is very important. If you use a service like Dropbox, iCloud or Skydrive, you won’t be able to run a virtual machine from the cloud, and although all the files saved there will be accessible from multiple devices, it’s unlikely your iPhone will allow you to open and edit Microsoft Word documents without additional applications, so you must decide what your platform needs are, and understand the limitations of file-storage and sharing services.

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Casey Morgan

Casey Morgan

Casey Morgan is the marketing content specialist at StorageCraft. U of U graduate and lover of words, his experience lies in construction and writing, but his approach to both is the same: start with a firm foundation, build a quality structure, and then throw in some style. If he’s not arguing about comma usage or reading, you'll likely find him and his Labrador hiking, biking, or playing outdoors -- he's even known to strum a few chords by the campfire.

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