What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage is a service where your files are stored remotely and accessible from any device connected to the internet. Using these services at work and home means we can keep our files handy whenever we need them. This can be useful for documents, audio files, photos or any other file type you want to keep accessible.
How does it work?
There are several ways to access your files stored in the cloud: browser, desktop application, or mobile app.
- A browser version allows you to go to a web address in Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer etc. and see all your files, share them with others or download them.
- The desktop applications for Windows or Mac OS allow you to keep a version of the files on your computer which are kept synchronised with other devices and the online versions.
- If there is a mobile application available, you can also access your files through your mobile phone or tablet.
Is it secure?
On the whole, yes. Although the term ‘cloud’ suggests your files are stored in the air somewhere, they are in fact on a big hard drive at another location. This means there is a degree of vulnerability so if you plan to store private and sensitive documents, you should make sure you are happy with the security level of the option you choose. All providers offer some level of encryption so you are protected against your files being stolen but for sensitive documents you should consider other methods of protection such as password protected .zip files.
There are some big players who have been around for a while and some newcomers to the market too so here’s a summary of what the different options have to offer.
Dropbox is a long established and the most popular cloud storage option. The standard amount of storage with a free account is 2GB which can be boosted by linking to Facebook and Twitter and referring friends. File syncing is reliable and flexible with folders created on your mobile phone appearing quickly on other devices. Compatibility is also hard to beat with applications available for any platform you wish to use. This means your files are truly accessible and the service from Dropbox remains a benchmark for other providers.
|Maximum Free Storage||18GB|
|Maximum Paid Storage||1TB|
|Compatibility||Mac OSX, Windows, Linux, Blackberry, Android, iOS, Windows Phone|
|Security||AES 256-bit encryption from server side|
Google Drive comes as part of the Google suite of apps. If you have a Gmail account, you will already have Google Drive storage and maybe don’t know about it! Sign in and head over to drive.google.com to start uploading files. The standard introductory storage is 15GB, which is significantly larger than Dropbox and therefore more suitable for storing larger media files along with your documents. Compatibility is reasonable but Blackberry and Windows Phone owners don’t currently have an app available. In practice, the Google Drive service works well in browsers but the downloadable programs for Mac and PC don’t seem to work as well as some of the other options and are slower, especially on poor connections.
|Maximum Free Storage||Add by promotions only|
|Compatibility||Mac OSX, Windows, Android, iOS|
|Security||AES 128-bit encryption from server side|
A newcomer to the cloud storage market from New Zealand is MEGA. Doing exactly what the name suggests, the introductory storage for a free account is 50GB which should be enough for almost any user. Paid options allow you to increase this to 4TB and the compatibility is across pretty much every device you can think of. Security is extremely good with the encryption taking place on the user side, something which most of the other providers don’t currently offer. MEGA is yet to stand the test of time but if you don’t currently use a cloud storage service, this is definitely one worth trying.
|Maximum Free Storage||50GB|
|Maximum Paid Storage||4TB|
|Compatibility||Mac OSX, Windows, Linux, Blackberry, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, plugins for Chrome & Firefox|
|Security||AES 256-bit encryption from user side|
This is the Microsoft offering (previously SkyDrive) which also provides 15GB storage as standard. For users of Office 365, you can get 1TB of data which is huge for any user and particularly beneficial for businesses. The service is compatible across all the main devices but if you go for the free option there is less security than other providers with the encryption only taking place during transfer of the files. Microsoft also reserves the right to scan your files which may be off-putting for some users.
|Maximum Free Storage||20GB|
|Maximum Paid Storage||1TB (Office 365 users)|
|Compatibility||Mac OSX, Windows, Android, iOS, Windows Phone|
|Security||Encrypted during transfer only. Microsoft reserves the right to scan your files Office online.|
For users of Apple devices exclusively, iCloud is the obvious option. There’s no availability for Android, Blackberry or Windows phone. The main attractive features are document syncing for Pages, Numbers and Keynote files meaning you can start work on one device and finish on another. Safari bookmarks and keychain passwords are also synchronised meaning there is a seamless transfer between devices for Apple users.
|Maximum Free Storage||5GB|
|Maximum Paid Storage||1TB|
|Compatibility||Mac OSX, Windows, iOS|
|Security||Minimum AES 128-bit encryption|
Copy is a simple alternative to the likes of Dropbox, Onedrive and Google Drive, providing many of the same features. The main difference in this option is some of the advanced features such as versioning (where previous copies of your files are kept), granting access privileges, groups and separation of storage for home and work use. A serious contender if you are looking for advanced options or online storage for your organisation.
|Maximum Free Storage||25GB|
|Maximum Paid Storage||1TB|
|Compatibility||Mac OSX, Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone|
|Security||AES 256-bit encryption|