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The Best Cloud Storage Services

posted by Suzanne Kantra on May 20, 2014 in Computers and Software, Computer Safety & Support, Guides & Reviews, Top Picks :: 20 comments

cloud storage conceptIn the world of cloud storage services, there are two basic types: backup and sync.

Backup services are designed to provide a copy of your files in case something happens to your computer and serves as a digital archive. As such, most services offer full system back up, not just files, so they're the solution for restoring your computer should it fail. Backup services typically allow one computer to be backed up, but you can view those files from mobile devices. Backup services are fairly low cost, with unlimited storage options starting around $60 annually.

Most backup services store files on their own servers, but some backup services, like CrashPlan and PogoPlug Cloud, let you store your files on a friend or family member’s computer. There are also standalone hard drives for backup that are Internet-connected, including the Western Digital My Cloud (4TB drive: $219 on Amazon) and Seagate Central (4TB: $199 on Amazon). Both of these backup options also let you access your files remotely and share folders and files with family and friends. They provide a personal cloud sharing service.

Sync services also store copies of your files on their servers. However, sync services are designed to work across multiple computers. Any computer linked to an account has access to all of the files, and changes to files are automatically synced across all of your computers.

Sync services focus more on files you're actively using, rather than serving as an archive. Services often only backup files in a designated folder and its subfolders, SugarSync being a notable exception. Some sync services, like Google Drive, Dropbox, SugarSync and Microsoft's OneDrive, will let you selectively sync folders, so you aren't storing copies of every file on every computer. Data storage is more costly for sync services than for backup services, with no major services offering unlimited storage. All Most provide a limited amount of free storage, usually 2GB or 5GB.

So how do these major services compare?

Important features to look for

When evaluating a cloud service, there are a few key features you really shouldn’t do without.

Encryption: All of the top services encrypt your data while en route from your computer to their servers (look for the "https" in the url) and some, like SugarSync, Dropbox, Box, iCloud, Carbonite and Mozy will store it encrypted on their servers. Services, like Carbonite and Mozy, will also encrypt files on your computer using your own encryption key, so even the service companies themselves can’t access your information.

Versioning: When you use a sync service, only the most recent copy of a file is visible on your computers. Services that have versioning let you open files at prior save points. Usually you can go back and access at least the five prior save points. Some services will only save copies for 30 days.

File/Folder Sharing: If you're working on a group project or want to share a photo or an album of photos with friends and family, you'll need file and folder sharing. Most services will let you designate whether a person can only read a file or folder or if they can change and upload files. Some services will only let you share links to files.

PC, Mac and Mobile Apps: Look for a service that covers all of the computers in your home and business, as well as those you collaborate with, if you're going to share files. You’ll also want the ability to access your files from your mobile devices. Most services let you view, download and email your files from within their mobile apps.

Extra features

These features aren't must-haves, but they may be important in determining which is the best service for your particular needs.

Selective Sync: You may not want to sync every file that resides on your cloud service with every computer. As its name suggests, Selective Sync lets you decide which folders and files you want to sync on a per machine basis.

Sync Outside Service Folder: Many services create a folder on your computer where you must place all of the files you want to sync. A few services let you designate folders outside of the main service folder to sync.

Media Streaming: Some cloud services, including DropBox, Sugar Sync, iCloud, and OneDrive, allow you to listen to music or watch videos streamed from their servers (Carbonite allows just music streaming). That means you don't have to save large movie files to your mobile device if you have a high-speed data connection. (Note: Only copy-protection-free files can be streamed, unless they’re streaming to an app that can verify your purchase.)

System Restore: Services that focus on file backup, like Carbonite and Mozy, offer full system restore if your computer dies. So your operating system and programs can be restored in addition to your files.

Best File Sync Serive: SugarSyncThe Best Cloud File Storage Services

The best cloud sync service is SugarSync. It offers every one of my important and extra features for a cloud sync service, allowing you to save your files where it makes the most sense, instead of a specific folder, store your files encrypted and supports a wide range of mobile devices.

Techlicious Best Cloud Backup ServiceIf you need a service with full system restore, my choice for the best file backup service is MozyHome. It has the best file sync options of the back up services and gives you the option of encrypting your files with your own key on your computer, so even Mozy can't take a peek. 

Cloud File Storage Services Compared

 Site Google Drive Microsoft OneDrive SugarSync Dropbox iCloud Box Carbonite MozyHome
Free Storage 15GB 15GB  None  2GB 5GB 10GB None 2GB
Cost per year for 100GB $24  $23.88  $100  $99 No 100GB option
50GB is $100
$120 (Personal), $60 per user (Starter business) Unlimited for one computer, $60 $110: 125GB & 3 computers
Encryption  In-transit encryption only In-transit encryption only In-transit and stored encrypted In-transit and stored encrypted In-transit and stored encrypted In-transit and stored encrypted Encrypted before upload, use your own key Encrypted before upload, use your own key
Versioning  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes No For business plans Yes, all files 30 days or 3 months for synced files  Yes, 30 days
Sync outside
service folder
 No  No  Yes  No No No There is no service folder  No
Selective Sync  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes No Yes Yes, for devices with Sync & Share software. Only files used within 30 days  No
Share files and folders  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes Yes Yes Yes, with Sync & Share software or share links to files. Yes, only with Mozy Sync software.
Apps PC, Mac, iOS, Android PC, Mac, iOS, Android,
Windows Phone
PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone,
BlackBerry
PC, Mac, Android,
iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry
PC, Mac, iOS PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry PC, Mac, iOS, Android PC, Mac, iOS, Android
Media Streaming Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes Yes Yes  Yes  Yes
System Restore  No  No  No  No No No Yes, Windows only. For higher tier plans  Yes
File Limits 1TB, except for Google Docs files 10GB  No  No Photos, videos, documents & other files that can be used with Apple's software Personal Free: 250MB, Personal paid: 5GB, Starter (100GB): 2GB. 5GB for higher-tier plans Manual backup of files over 4GB. Auto for higher tier plans  No

 

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SugarSync, really?

From Caleb on May 20, 2014 :: 7:34 pm

I have to say, I’m a little confused with your recommendation. Have you actually used SugarSync? I mean seriously, they DO NOT offer 5GB of free storage, so I don’t know where you’re getting that. The minimum you can get, in fact, is a 60GB account for $75 a year. Sure, you can get a 30 day free trial, but that’s completely pointless unless you want to commit to SugarSync. A lot of services offer promotions or referral programs that can get you pretty close to 60GB in free storage (2-5GB limit? that’s just a flat out lie), so I don’t see it as a viable option for personal use. Those extra features aren’t really going to be that useful, beyond sharing, anyway, so I don’t see how that makes up for the pricing. For the most part, all of these services are going to work, but they’re also all going to experience their own unique problems. So there’s really no point in paying for a personal account if you can get basically the exact same service and almost the same amount of storage space for free. Just go with a GoogleDrive or MicrosoftOne.

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Correct!

From UVT on May 21, 2014 :: 5:04 am

you are right this info is a bit stale.

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Thanks for the correction

From Josh Kirschner on May 21, 2014 :: 10:43 am

We updated the chart to fix that error. However, the change doesn’t affect our recommendation, which was based on SugarSync’s superior feature set that bests the other providers.

Yes, you can get larger amounts of free data on Google Drive, Microsoft One and Dropbox through special promotions. But those promotions are only for buying specific devices and when the promotional period ends, you’re back to paying the standard price.

For those who only have a small number of files to back up, the free offerings may be the better choice. Though you will give up features like encryption for stored files and more flexible syncing options. That’s why we list all of the features for each of the services - so readers can determine which is the best for them.

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Family data

From UVT on May 21, 2014 :: 5:02 am

These Sync and Backup services are so 2013. We now have cloud backup services like SOS and SnapOne that offer way more features and easy sharing with family through Family Room.

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What about...

From George Kaplan on May 23, 2014 :: 11:49 am

What about the CloudLocker? You mention the My Cloud and Seagate Central but no mention of the CloudLocker…our company switched to the CloudLocker back in April when My Cloud was having all sorts of issues and so far we’re much happier with the CloudLocker. It offers many more functions and has better reliability than the My Cloud.

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Not what we focused on for this article

From Josh Kirschner on May 27, 2014 :: 11:34 am

We mentioned Seagate and MyCloud as a point of comparison, but those (and CloudLocker) aren’t cloud storage services. They are local storage services that offer could sharing features.

The distinction is important. With cloud storage, your backups will be safe even if your house burns down, you experience a flood or your computer equipment is stolen during a home break-in. With local storage, you run the real risk of losing both your computer AND your backups in any of these scenarios. Also, if you lose power in your home, your files will be inaccessible.

For these reasons, we don’t recommend local storage as your primary backup solution (for home or small business).

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I see your point and

From George Kaplan on May 27, 2014 :: 12:04 pm

I see your point and it’s definitely a valid one. We had an issue a couple years ago with our data on a public cloud (not one of the major ones you listed)...long story short we think there was a hack or a major malfunction of some kind and we lost all our files. That’s when we started exploring private cloud options like the My Cloud and the CloudLocker.

However I should mention that we aren’t using the cloud or these storage servers exclusively for backup purposes. I can see your point about the house burning down if you only need the cloud to back up your info but we needed to share files and stream content, etc. Plus our company has a lot of private information that we can’t afford to get leaked on a public cloud.

In the end, different strokes for different folks I guess. Good article nonetheless!

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Thanks!

From Josh Kirschner on May 27, 2014 :: 3:30 pm

SugarSync and the other sync services (as opposed to backup services) are perfect for sharing and can stream, as well. We use Dropbox to share business documents across our team and it’s been great.

One reason we picked SugarSync as the best over the others (including Dropbox) is that your data is encrypted on their servers so, in the event the servers are hacked, your data should still be secure.

Anyone using personal storage should consider what would happen if that device “went missing”. If your personal storage device is not encrypted, would whomever had access to that device have access to all of your files, as well? Some storage devices may have login protections, some may not. These personal storage devices could be hacked, too, if someone was inclined to do so.

At the end of the day, if you have critical business files that must remain private, ensure they are encrypted on either your device or your cloud storage provider.

Stay safe out there!

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What about ZipCloud?

From CamC on May 24, 2014 :: 2:41 pm

Just installed ZipCloud which was highly rated by Mac/Life ... easy to rescue documents.  Replaced Mozy which was no help whatsoever when I really needed one.

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I'm not sure how open

From George Kaplan on May 27, 2014 :: 4:52 pm

I’m not sure how open and honest we can be on here. I wouldn’t want to offend a sponsor or anything but let’s just say I have strong suspicions on the security of all the public cloud companies and we go out of our way to avoid them. In any case I agree with you that personal cloud servers do have their drawbacks too but as you said you can protect them using encryption and other security tools such as 2-factor authentication.

In terms of them going missing, you just have to protect them like you would any equipment like a laptop. We keep ours in our IT room under lock and key and its so small that most people won’t even know what they’re looking for.

Of course the other option would be the hybrid platforms. The ones that combine on-premise with cloud backup for extra security.

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You can be as open and honest as you want.

From Josh Kirschner on May 27, 2014 :: 6:19 pm

We welcome all helpful feedback from readers on their experiences. The vast majority of our articles (including this one) are purely editorial - no sponsors to offend. Those posts that are sponsored will always be clearly labeled as such.

Best,
Josh

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I use moo.pw for images.

From Steve on June 06, 2014 :: 9:15 am

I use moo.pw for images.

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MyPC BackUp

From Tony on June 06, 2014 :: 9:55 pm

I use MyPC BackUp for two personal computers. Had a good restore experience when one crashed.

It was highly recommended when I did a Google search for best online back up service, but now it doesn’t even seem to make the list in this article. I’m so confused. What happened here??

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Sugrsync for free

From mel faraj on June 08, 2014 :: 9:03 am

i used Sugarsync in the past at its inception when they did offer 5 gb of free memory. Subsequently, however, Sugarsync withdrew their free offer altogether , so I went back to my trusted Onedrive which offers one of the largest memory for free.

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20GB from copy.com beats all

From Tomek Bawey on June 16, 2014 :: 8:11 am

Copy.com is by far and wide the best at the moment with 20GB for free, +5GB for every referral (unlimited referrals), shared folders usage split between the collaborators, versioning and Mac/Win/Linux clients.
To get 20GB right away register here: https://copy.com/?r=79614r
Without the referral link you start at 15GB. Needless to say, this would also yield me 5 extra GB so thanks in advance for trying it out.

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The link above does not work

From tomek bawey on August 16, 2014 :: 5:53 am

As new limits have been introduced and I reached them. Thanks for registrations.

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The link still opens for

From Tony on August 16, 2014 :: 4:29 pm

The link still opens for me but I haven’t actually signed up. Do you simply mean it doesn’t work for you to get any more additional storage as a bonus?

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Why SugarSync vs Carbonite?

From Alex Rodriguez on June 16, 2014 :: 1:54 pm

After reviewing your chart, I’m not sure why you’ve chosen SugarSync above Carbonite. Judging by your chart, carbonite seems to have what SugarSync has and more, but carbonite offers unlimited storage for a lesser price than SugarSync.  I do use carbonite and haven’t had a problem.  The only draw back is that for basic services it only backs up specific folders automatically, but once you manually set other folders it will automatically back it up from thereon. Carbonite has another option, of course at a price, to mail a hard drive with your backup.  This is great for those who have tons of files, which would take hours (if not days) to restore.

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For $60, Carbonite will only

From Suzanne Kantra on June 16, 2014 :: 4:37 pm

For $60, Carbonite will only backup one computer and the file sharing is somewhat cumbersome. Those were the big factors in the service not winning.

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What about Backblaze?

From Ann Matuszak on July 15, 2014 :: 7:28 pm

I see that Backblaze was not one of the evaluated/listed backup services.  Did you review it?  If so, what about it kept it off the list?

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