Any online entrepreneur, or web worker could benefit from cloud storage. Cloud storage is essentially hard drive space provided by a third party. You have the ability to store files and documents securely “in the cloud,” either for free or for a nominal cost. A lot of times, cloud storage is coupled with cloud backup, where a script will run at set intervals and grab local documents from various locations and “back them up” in the cloud storage.

Sometimes multiple backup files are created to allow the user to restore previous versions if need be. Most often though, cloud storage appears as a folder on a computer, like any other, but is sometimes just a “pointer” to a remote location (the hard drive of your cloud service provider).

Amazon Cloud Drive

File synching

By default, you would think, cloud storage would include “synching” as well. What this means is that the cloud folder on the local machine is more than a pointer. It is a copy of the files in the cloud so that they are available offline as well.In addition, a similar folder can be created on other Internet-connected devices, and all devices would be “in synch.” This way, any device can be used to alter a file, and the changes would be reflected across all devices simultaneously. This makes file sharing and document collaboration across the globe very simple.

File synching however was an after-thought for Amazon’s cloud storage service, and was just quietly revealed very recently. This stemmed the idea to have a look at the feature sets of the top 5 cloud storage services: Amazon, Box, Google, SkyDrive and DropBox.

Top 5 cloud services compared

1) Amazon Cloud Drive – Amazon’s cloud storage offers 5GB of storage (equivalent to roughly 2,000 photos) at no charge. Additional space costs less than $1 USD per gigabyte per year in various upgrade packages. Users may store Amazon MP3 purchases in their cloud drive which does not affect storage limits. The Cloud Player app provides streaming access to the music content from up to ten devices. Recently available is the ability to synch files on multiple devices including Macs, Windows computers, handhelds, and Kindle Fire.

2) Box – Box includes Personal, Business and Enterprise plans with various features. The Personal plan offers 5GB for free, with upgrades: 25GB $9.99/month, 50GB $19.99/month. Both upgrades increase the individual file size limit from 250MB to 1GB as well.

A key feature for Box is file sharing using web based links. Anything beyond the personal plan also allows password protected file sharing links. Box has been around for a long time and in fact was a popular way to store password protected premium WordPress plugins a few years back. Developers would redirect users to the DropBox location providing a password in their “thank you” email. Newer, more sophisticated systems that are easier to implement have been developed and made more readily available since.

3) Google Drive – Google Drive offers what seems to be the standard 5GB for free. It is less than $2.50 a month to upgrade to 25GB. As expected, file synching on multiple devices is part of the core features. It integrates well with Gmail and offers a simple “file attachment” alternative. Data collaboration, and sharing are standard features. Google Docs is integrated as well offering the ability to create and edit standard doc types.

Video: Google Drive

The video below, although about Google Drive, gives a great general description and demonstration for cloud storage.

4) Microsoft SkyDrive – Microsoft upped the ante a little and provided 7GB of sotrage for free, rather than the standard 5GB we often see. Adding 20GB comes at a price of $10/year, all the way up to 100GB for $50/year. It works seamlessly with Microsoft Office, as expected, including the web based version. There is support for simultanous user file edititng as well, and version tracking.

5) DropBox – DropBox is simple. It has offered synching out of the gate as far as I know. While you only get 2GB for free, you get an additional 500MB free for every referral to a maximum of 18GB. There are Pro and Team plans available starting at 100GB and $9.99 monthly. As with all other cloud file synching and sharing services of any value, DropBox has mobile apps to simplify sharing.

In conclusion

I feel that including extra functionality specific to media types (like photos, music, videos, docs, etc.), sure helps one service to stand out from the rest. Allowing the ability work with files in different ways, rather than treat them as just “dead storage,” I think is an important feature, maybe even more than price when considering a service to work with. While Box is sort of a different animal I thought that I would include it in this cloud storage comparison article for completeness.

You might suggest that in order to be “complete” Apple iCloud should have been included. Perhaps so. But, even though I think of iTunes when I think of mp3s and podcasts, I’m really not immersed in the Apple world at all. The “proprietary-ness” of almost all of its “stuff” reminded me of why I detested working on IBMs in my PC repair days, and with the GoDaddy web hosting Control Panel before I knew any better. Everthing just seems harder, albeit “prettier,” with Apple products. For the money and the solid architecture I always LOVE Amazon. 

  • Tip: Get free space for referring people on Dropbox

For the simplicity though, I tend to opt for Google’s products. Strangely though, with that said, I currently use DropBox because it lets me get extra storage free for referring others, and Google Drive has always crashed on me. With the ability to synch now, and highly considering Amazon for cloud web and video storage and hosting, I may just look at it for cloud storage, and perhaps even TV streaming and mp3s while I’m in the buying mood.

While many fault Amazon for not having synching available immediately, announcing it now sure makes the service known to many that didn’t know of it before as it makes news and lands in articles like this one. A bunch of new customers will come as a result I’m sure of it. I may be one of them.