As ethereal as cloud computing sounds, it simply refers to an external server where you store data. It's essentially a hard drive on which you lease space. Cloud computing has improved over the past several years, which has extended to storage space, software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
For our buying guide, we chose the best cloud services that let you store all your data, including media files, documents, emails, contacts and calendar information. They also let you access those items through the cloud service's desktop and mobile app, and via browsers, which is important whether you're running a small business, you're an entrepreneur or you're an individual who simply wants more space.
Some cloud service providers in our guide are made for Mac lovers, and some are great for any device. A handful let you edit files in the cloud, whereas others require you or your client download files first. All the services we included here let you store music, photos, videos and documents, while others offer broader storage options.
Choosing the best cloud service comes down to personal preference based on whether you want to access files on the go, back up your files for security or collaborate with colleagues on projects. Many of these services are excellent choices, regardless of your storage needs, but if you're running an enterprise-level business, you may require a business cloud storage service. For more information on what the cloud is and how it can change how you do business, read our articles on cloud computing.
Best Cloud Service for Personal Use
More than 50 million Americans subscribe to Amazon Prime. That's a huge number of people who get free access to Amazon Cloud Drive for their photos. A Prime member gets 5GB of space for photos, videos and music at no extra cost.
If you need more space and want to store data other than just family photos, you can subscribe to Amazon Cloud Drive for less than $5 per month – and its unlimited storage space. The only caveat is that it's for personal use only.
Amazon Cloud Drive
Amazon Drive touts itself as your personal hard drive in the cloud. While its basic functionality is virtually identical to other cloud services, Amazon distinguishes itself from the competition with a unique and appealing focus on media. Subsequently, the cloud service is a win for music lovers, but for others, Amazon noticeably lacks the convenience and usability of its competitors.
Most Affordable Cloud Service for Small Businesses
As a small business owner, you're trying to save money at every turn. When choosing a cloud service, you want as much free space as possible and the lowest cost for the most space available. Microsoft OneDrive is the most affordable cloud service out there.
Out of the gate, you get 5GB of storage space free. For less than $2 per month, you can sign up for the basic plan that nets you 50GB of storage. Business plans start at $5 per month for 1TB of cloud storage per user. If you're willing to pay double – $10 per month per user – you can get 5TB of storage for each employee, but you need at least five users to be eligible.
If you already use Windows 10, you probably already also use OneDrive, Microsoft's well-integrated cloud service. It was previously known as SkyDrive, and it works well for both backing up your important documents, photos and media as well as giving you easy online access to those files.
Best Cloud Service for Editing on the Fly
One of the biggest conveniences of storing your files in the cloud is the ability to access them anywhere you are. Some cloud services take that convenience one step further and allow you to edit your files in real time. This can be a huge timesaver for anyone who needs to make changes immediately, such as writers, designers, editors and lawyers.
The best cloud service for editing files is G Suite by Google Cloud, previously known as Google Apps. If you're familiar with Google Docs, or Google Drive, you'll easily pick up on G Suite. Using a Chrome extension, you can quickly open a Microsoft Office file, edit it and the changes are saved automatically. You can also set permissions on files that allow others to edit, comment or access certain files.
Google introduced its cloud computing service solution as Google Apps, and now it's known as G Suite by Google Cloud. This cloud-based service can be tailored for both individual users and businesses of any size. There's no single cloud cupboard, or online space, where the service stores your content. Rather, G Suite is consists of an extensive lineup of apps that function independently rather than as a collective whole. It offers rich functionality, unrivaled accessibility and loads of value, but it comes at the cost of a rather fragmented cloud experience.
The Cloud Service for All Your Storage Needs
Whether you're in the market for home cloud storage or cloud services for your business, if you have a variety of large and small files, you need a solution that won't limit you. Egnyte lets you store all types of files, from email and contacts to documents, music and video files. There's also no cap on the file size, so you can upload large files, which many cloud services won't allow. Not only do you have limitless storage capabilities with Egnyte – if you're willing to pay for more allotment – you can also share files or folders with others. You set permissions for specific files or folders, and you can decide whether a user can simply view files or have the ability to edit or delete them.
Egnyte was designed for businesses from the ground up – the company provides a proprietary cloud solution that seamlessly combines the flexibility of the cloud with local storage on existing infrastructures. This unique hybrid approach enables easy accessibility, collaboration and scalability for businesses of all sizes.
The Cloud Service with More Free Space
A popular cloud storage and cloud backup service is Dropbox, and for good reason: You earn up to 16GB of free storage space with the basic account and up to 32GB of free storage with the pro account. Compared to the amount of storage space you get with a paid account, it doesn't seem like much, but for free space, it's a considerable amount. Most cloud services offer about 5GB of free storage space.
Dropbox has a program that allows you to recommend the service to your friends, and when they sign up, you get a bonus to your free allotment of storage space. If your storage needs and funds are low, this can be a great way to save files and money.
The Best Cloud Service for Mac Users
As a Mac user, you're often limited to software and services that are for Mac users. The good news is that most of the services you're able to use are excellent, and iCloud is one of the best cloud storage services available, regardless of operating system. You can store and access emails, contacts and calendar information, which most services don't support. This cloud service also lets you keep documents, slideshows, music and video files. The biggest benefit to using iCloud for your files is that it syncs with all of your devices, including your Mac laptop, iPhone, iPad and other iOS devices.
iCloud is Apple's commendable attempt to unify its wildly popular product lines with a seamless, integrated cloud solution. The service has an intuitive ease of use, supports a range of file types and offers its well-known syncing functionality, which wirelessly pushes your stored files to all of your devices automatically. iCloud may not make much sense to use if you aren't already on Apple's system, but for those who are, this cloud service is a winner.
Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Cloud Service
- What do I need to store, and how much space do I really need? Before you can settle on a service, first analyze your needs. If you absolutely must have a place to upload your calendar or your email and contacts, then you need a service that allows it. Additionally, you don't want to pay for more than what you'll use. Having said that, you also want to make sure the cloud service you choose grows with your business or your music and photo collection. Most of the cloud services in our guide offer seemingly unlimited space, but be prepared to pay for it, which leads to the next question.
- What am I willing to pay? While you can get free storage from some cloud services, it's limited. The convenience of cloud storage extends to the cost – most cloud services let you pay a low monthly fee for data storage and access. These prices generally range from $3 to $10 per month and increase as your data needs grow.
- Is it important that I access my files from different access points (i.e., Android, iPhone, Windows, etc.)? Each cloud service lets you upload, download and access files via an internet browser. So, really, all you need is an internet connection to get to your data. However, it may be preferable to choose a service that offers an app for both iPhones and Android devices. If this is necessary, avoid cloud storage providers that only service Mac users.
Accessing Files from Your Phone
Mobility is the biggest convenience of technology today. For so long, you could only work at the office or take your physical work home with you. Cloud services make it easier than ever for you to access files, emails and contacts through your phone or tablet, which expands your office to your morning commute on the train, to the coffeehouse while you grab a latte or even on the beach, if that's where you want to work.
Being able to access data from your mobile device also means that your clients can do the same. So, you can meet with a client outside of an office, or simply send a link to a file, which can be viewed, or even edited, immediately. This level of convenience is available from most cloud services.
What About Security?
When you have control over where your data goes and who can access it, you get to decide how you protect that data and access. You may have an IT team that manages the security of your servers and hardware, which can be comforting. Relinquishing that control can be scary, but security over the cloud has improved and increased over the years.
One of the biggest concerns about security is a data breach. If you store usernames and passwords, proprietary information or other confidential information, a data breach can be devastating. The good news is most cloud services employ encryption to protect your information and multiple authentication processes for logins.
Whichever cloud storage service you choose, you're getting secure backup and easy access to your files. Once you determine your needs, you can pick the one that suits them, whether it's for more free space, low monthly cost, no file size limit or automatic syncing across all of your devices.