Regardless of the type of business you conduct, chances are you are generating data - sales figures, financial documents, marketing assets, etc. Many of these could be critical to your business, and losing them because of a hardware or software glitch could result in more than just minor frustration. One way to ensure the safety of your key business information is to look at storing your data in the cloud through cloud storage and backup.
A recent McAfee report found that 80 percent of all IT budgets will be committed to cloud solutions by the end of this year, and that 73 percent of companies plan to move to a fully software-defined data center within two years.
If your business is among those looking for data storage solutions in the cloud, you may be wondering just what services you need and which provider will be the best match. Let's start with the basics.
What is cloud storage and backup?
Cloud storage allows companies to store large amounts of data without having to worry about doing it on internal servers. And while "the cloud" may sound ethereal, it's actually not that different than a storage system you would host yourself. It is made up of multiple servers in different physical locations that include software, hardware, and services that are accessible through the internet.
While there's often significant overlap of backup and cloud storage services, it's important to keep in mind that these are not the same things. Cloud storage services store your files, but they may not be designed to protect your data. And while some backup services offer folder-syncing, there are still few syncing services that offer true backup capabilities.
Many cloud storage and backup providers offer the basics, like data storage, backup, and encryption services. But there are many more options available, like file sharing, collaboration, workflow, application development, and integration with email, browsers, and other applications. Knowing which of these services your business needs can be daunting, especially if you aren't sure of your exact needs. We've put together a quick explainer of many of the services offered so you'll have a better understanding of whether your company may need them.
Storage. Just what it sounds like, storage is the place to "park" your files so that they are safe and accessible from various desktop and mobile devices, typically from anywhere in the world. Business data is saved in various formats, and most providers handle all file formats, but you can also find those dedicated to images or music if that best fits the needs of your staff or customers.
Scalability is important in storage, allowing you to pay only for the amount of storage you need. Several cloud storage providers will give companies free storage, typically 2GB - 15GB worth, just to try out their product. From there, most providers offer storage plans with increasing amounts of space and cost. You may be able to get discounts for purchasing annual payment plans as opposed to monthly plans.
Synchronization. In the real world, we know that many of our files are not static but are updated on a regular basis. To ensure your cloud storage has the most recent version of your work product, many cloud storage providers offer various ways to sync your local work-in-progress files with those stored in the cloud. Some sync options include:
Automated - Local files are synced to the cloud, virtually in real-time
Scheduled - User-defined timeline for syncing data
Selective - User-defined selection of which files to be synced automatically or scheduled
Sharing. For many businesses, it's not enough just to store and backup files to the cloud. There is also a need to share those files between co-workers, customers, and vendors. Sharing allows users to view, edit, or download files from the cloud. A file is shared by the creation of a URL that links others to your cloud and directly to the specified file or folder. Depending on your security specifications, shared files can be encrypted, password protected, or have expiration dates.
Backup. Backup differs from storage in that it's all about continuity planning and recovery if something should happen to your stored data. Whereas local hard drives and servers may have limited life cycles and single-source points of failure, most cloud backup offers automated and redundant backup to ensure data stays current and safe. Backup also differs in that your file structure is retained so if you do need to restore your data after a catastrophe, your files are reinstated as saved on your local servers.
Security. An important feature for most small businesses is the type of security offered. Many cloud storage providers invest millions in safeguarding their hardware, software, in-transit data, and stored data from intrusion by bad actors/hackers. How robust your cloud security should be depends on the type of data that will be stored.
Encryption - turns readable files into coded files that require a "key" to read. There are different levels of encryption to look for, including cloud-based encryption, which protects your data as it resides in the cloud, and end-to-end encryption, which also protects your data while in transit to the cloud. Some providers also offer "zero knowledge" encryption, which means your data is encrypted before it's sent to the cloud and you maintain the key. The service provider is only storing the encrypted version of your files and cannot access your data.
Two-factor verification - requires a secondary form of user identification when a user logs in to the cloud. It is usually a code that is sent to a registered mobile device or key fob and expires in short order. This prevents someone accessing your files by a stolen or hacked password.
Compliance support - if your data contains confidential or sensitive data that is covered by regulatory requirements such as HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) look for providers who specialize in compliance support for your industry.
Editor's Note: Looking for Cloud Backup for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:
Cloud storage and backup: Advanced features
There are many cloud storage providers who provide more than just your basic storage and backup plans, offering added capabilities to enhance user experience. While our comparisons focus on the basic features, other functionality that might appeal to small business includes Cloud Content Management capabilities such as:
Tracking and Alerts
Enhanced security through endpoint and ransomware protection
Cloud application development
The cost of migrating to the cloud
For small business, the cost of migrating to the cloud centers on two things: the volume of data being moved and the level of security and compliance required during the migration. Likewise, your ongoing costs will depend upon your growth and needs in these two areas.
While it may seem hard to nail down your specific costs, many providers have simplified the process by offering cloud cost calculators. Trying out several of these can help you get a better feel for what your overall costs may end up being.
To find the best cloud storage and backup providers for a wide variety of small businesses, we began by talking to small business owners. We asked what features were most important to them and what features they would change or improve. Across the board, cost, security, and ease of use were mentioned as the most important features. Scalability of services as business needs changed was also important to users, as was support.
We also researched online consumer and professional reviews, and dug into provider information on all of the services they offer. We then narrowed our list to 12 cloud storage and backup brands, comparing and contrasting the options offered.
Based on this research, we developed these criteria to evaluate each product:
Overall Winner, Best Cloud Storage and Backup for Small Business: OneDrive for Business
OneDrive offers many of the same features as other storage and backup providers like Dropbox and Google Drive, but is fully integrated with Microsoft products. In fact, One Drive was developed for the Windows operating system and is even bundled in Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 product.
OneDrive offers the ability to store, backup, share, sync, and secure your data and a whole lot more. The key to its ease of use is integration. If your business currently uses Windows 10, you already have OneDrive. If you are not a Windows shop, you can still use OneDrive as it works with Macs and all mobile device operating systems.
OneDrive for business also offers a powerful search capabilities, collaboration, and 24/7 technical support.
There are three different plans available, aptly named Plans 1 and 2 and then Office Business 365 Premium. Plans 1 and 2 differ primarily in their storage limits.
Plan 1 offers 1TB of storage and allows for files up to 15GB for $5 per user per month.
Plan 2 offers unlimited storage for $10 per user per month, but also provides advanced data-loss prevention to identify, monitor and protect your sensitive information, and the ability to preserve deleted and edited documents.
Office Business 365 Premium offers everything Plan 2 does, plus the full cloud-based Office Suite including OneDrive, Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. along with other services such as Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, and Yammer. It costs $12.50 per user per month.
See our OneDrive for Business Review.
Best Free Cloud Storage and Backup for Small Business: MEGA
MEGA is our hands-down winner for free cloud storage. If this Kiwi company's 50GB of free storage isn't enough for your business needs, they offer four more tiers of service, with plans from 200GB to 8TB, all available for less than $25 per month. MEGA also offers discounts for yearly payments.
Another excellent feature offered by MEGA is that it utilizes end-to-end encryption to protect your data.
Other MEGA features include:
Global access through all major browsers, desktops, and mobile devices
Secure and real-time collaboration
Live encrypted backup
Public source code
As much as we love MEGA, there is a drawback to be aware of that could impact some users who need to upload and download very large files. MEGA's 10GB bandwidth limit (refreshed every 30 minutes) means you may experience significant delays downloading and uploading. You can, work around this, however, when collaborating with other users by generating a link you can share with them. You can give them full access, allowing them to make changes to your files or restrict them to viewing or adding files only.
See our Review of MEGA.
Best Cloud Storage and Backup for Macs: BackBlaze
BackBlaze was designed and developed by former Apple engineers using Apple's Xcode, making it the logical choice for performance and security for Mac users, but PC users can also use the service.
BackBlaze automatically backs up your data to the cloud. That includes documents, photos, music and even movies.
The price of the service starts at just $50 per computer annually gets you unlimited storage. Need server and NAS (network-attached storage) backup? No problem. These solutions are billed on a pay-as-you-go basis, starting at just $5 per month per Terabyte.
Want it all for less? You can save money by purchasing two years of storage.
Other BackBlaze features include:
Data restore via browser, mail (via USB for a fee), or mobile device
Automatic or scheduled backup
Bandwidth throttling to help manage performance during backup
Read our BlackBlaze Review.
Best Cloud Storage and Backup for Photos and Video: Google Drive
In selecting the best cloud storage for business photos and video, we looked not only at the basic features of cost, scalability, and security, but also for solutions that offered photo- and video-specific features such as viewers, players, editors, and ease of sharing. That solution is Google Drive.
Google Drive offers 15GB of free storage; however, this is shared by other Google apps like Gmail so you're likely going to need to purchase additional storage for your media, particularly if you're backing up and storing video files. Fortunately, you have several options.
To start, Google offers a free, 30-day trial, and there's no credit card required, so it's easy to take a test drive and see how it works for you. If you like it, you have two plans to choose from: Basic and Business. G Suite Basic, which costs $5 per user per month, comes with 30 GB of storage, Gmail addresses that you can customize for your business name, shared calendars and plenty of administrator controls and security.
The paid versions of Drive also give you 24/7 support, sharing controls, and advanced reporting.
If you need more storage - and if you're working with non-compressed video files, you probably will - G Suite Business adds unlimited storage for just $10 per user per month. If you have five or fewer users, however, that storage is set at 1 TB per user. On top of that, you get a secure vault for confidential business documents.
Read our GoogleDrive Review.
In addition to the winners above, we reviewed several other options worth looking at.
Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud storage providers on the market. One benefit of Dropbox is that, like OneDrive, it offers Office 365 integration. Dropbox has two levels of business options: Standard, which provides 2TB of storage with simple sharing and collaboration features for $12.50 per user per month; and Advanced, which provides unlimited storage along with a very powerful set of administrative tools, for $20 per user per month.
iCloud is a reliable storage inherent on Apple iOS devices. It's integration with all things Apple makes it a logical choice for Apple users, making backup for photos, apps, mail, contacts, music and more a cinch. iCloud also provides automatic backup when your device is powered on and connected to WIFI. While iCloud is available for both Mac and PC desktop users, it only integrates with iOS mobile devices.
Box for Business is an up-and-comer with around 80,000 customers and has been recognized for the past five years in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Content Collaboration Platforms. It was designed with collaboration in mind so it can be a solid choice for small business.
NextCloud is a self-hosted solution, meaning that your data is stored on a private cloud on your own servers with your own encryption key. It's also unique in that it is an open-source solution, meaning you have access to the source code and can modify as needed.
SpiderOak One for business is one of the most secure cloud storage solutions in that it offers "zero knowledge" encryption. Zero knowledge means your data is encrypted at the endpoint, before it's transferred to the cloud and you hold the encryption key.
Carbonite covers an unlimited number of computers and servers making it a very cost-effective solution. It works with both the Mac and PC and integrates with SharePoint and Exchange.
OpenDrive for Business offers unlimited storage, automatic or schedule backup, syncing and versioning, and security and was designed to make project management an easier cloud solution by providing workflow, file sharing, and branding. The branding tools allow you customize the OpenDrive interface with our company or project's logo and color scheme.