There was a time when businesses had to spend a considerable amount of money to set up the right IT infrastructure to store data online and also make it accessible for everyone working in the organization. Such costs included setting up servers, rolling out seemingly endless LAN cables and everything else associated with digital storage.
The one-time set up costs were then usually followed by never-ending maintenance costs. For many small- and medium-sized businesses, these costs ate up a lot of their already shrinking budget and made digital storage a daunting prospect.
All that changed when cloud storage providers came onto the scene: these services have a subscription-based combined payment system, easy to use interface and no setup or maintenance costs. Whether you are flying solo or have a small team, you can get cloud storage at an affordable price and scale as your team and requirements increase.
However, choosing the right cloud storage provider is not as easy as it seems: the Internet is flooded with cloud storage services and new ones are cropping up every month. Cloudwards.net has a handy list of best cloud storage and backup solutions for business, but to further help you along we have put this guide together. If you’d like to know more about what the cloud can do for you, make sure to check out our 30 apps for small business article.
In our opinion, these are the factors you should keep in mind when choosing the right cloud storage solution for your business.
Before analyzing any other criterion, it’s crucial to estimate the total amount of storage space you require because every cloud storage provider offers a different storage limit.
While looking for cloud storage, you will come across roughly three types of plans:
- Storage limit per user
- An overall storage limit for the entire team
- Unlimited storage space
Plans with an overall storage limit might not be ideal for a big team as it may become difficult to manage space when the company grows. On the other hand, storage limit per user can create a problem when employees leave the organization since you probably don’t want to pay extra for an employee that is no longer there.
That is why if you have a small team, it’s better to have a shared total storage space. On the contrary, if you have a big team, picking a plan with any of our best unlimited online storage providers may turn out better in the long run.
If you have a rather new or small business, chances are that keeping costs low is one of the most important factors for you. At the same time, you don’t want to compromise on the features that you need.
The best way to go about it would be to list down all your requirements and then compare the prices. Cloudwards.net has an extensive cloud storage comparison guide, which will definitely make it easy for you to make that decision.
Some cloud providers have a monthly cost, which may seem like less, but it can add up to a lot over a year. For instance, Sync.com is $5 per month while OneDrive costs $60 per year. When you calculate these numbers, you will realize that both OneDrive and Sync cost exactly the same across the year (though Sync.com would be our preferred choice, here as we feel it’s among the best online storage for business).
If you aren’t ready to invest in anything at the moment, then you can use a free business service like Google Drive which only counts uploaded documents towards the total storage limit. All the documents and sheets created in Drive do not count toward the total limit.
This means you can create and share as many docs as you wish, as long as they are in Google’s format and not directly uploaded. You can also upload Microsoft Office files, convert them into Google Docs, and then delete the Microsoft Word files to save space.
Cloud storage companies are also partnering with phone and laptop brands to provide promotional storage space. For instance, I received 100GB free storage space for Google Drive when I signed into my ASUS Android tablet with my Google account and similar offers are available for HTC and Samsung Galaxy smartphones as well.
HP also offers 25 GB free storage space on Dropbox when you buy a new laptop from the company.
While using a full-fledged project management tool for assigning tasks might be a great option if you are dealing with complicated projects and a large team, for smaller assignments and to-do lists a cloud storage provider may be enough for your needs.
For instance, Google Docs now makes it possible to assign action items to other users through comments. To assign, you have to type in “+” followed by the email address of the assignee and then check the “assign to” option. If you want more tips, we have a handy Google Drive guide.
Dropbox has also recently launched a competitor of Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, which provides more sophisticated task management options: you can create a checklist of tasks, assign a task to another user and set deadlines as well.
When you use a cloud storage provider that has seamless third-party integration with tools that you use on a daily basis, it makes running a business a lot easier.
For instance, Asana, a project management app, can directly attach files from Dropbox, Google Drive and Box to its tasks. This means you don’t have to go to Google Drive or Dropbox every time and search for the file link to share a document.
Another such app, Trello, also allows users to attach files from all of these cloud storage providers plus OneDrive (we’ve compared Asana vs Trello, as well as given an overview of the best virtual team software tools, if you want to know more).
Even if your cloud storage service doesn’t directly support the third party apps you would want to use, you can always integrate them with apps like Zapier and IFTTT. IFTTT is a free service and Zapier is a paid app, but the latter supports more premium services as well; either will help you integrate a host of apps and programs with whatever else you’re using.
One of the major benefits to using a cloud storage provider is the ability to access your business files on the go, but that will only be possible if your service of choice has cross-platform mobile support.
That is why, before making a decision, test out all the apps of the cloud provider and make sure you are able to share files with other users, view shared files, or check the revisions made by other users on the mobile app.
For instance, the Dropbox mobile app lets you easily view and edit documents. You can also get notified instantly on your phone when someone leaves a comments and tags you in it. Google Drive also has great mobile functionality.
Ease of Use
It’s important to choose a robust and intuitive cloud storage tool with an easy-to-use interface. If you have to constantly go trawl knowledge bases to find out how to do a specific task or set up an entire seminar each time you need to instruct a new team member, then it may not be worth the time to invest in that service.
After all, a cloud storage tool is supposed to save your time and make your life easier by allowing you and your team to share and collaborate seamlessly. Add to that the fact that not all of your team members may be technically adept, and finding a service that’s easy to use should be high on the list of priorities.
The perfect cloud storage solution would be the one which has such an easy interface that you don’t need anyone’s help with it, whether you are using it for the first time or the hundredth.
Security and Privacy
The biggest concern that businesses often have when they think about storing their business data on the cloud is security and it’s hard to blame them when you keep the rise of cybercrime in mind. On top of that, most of the top cloud storage providers, including Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive, are based in of the U.S., which leaves them open to governmental snooping thanks to the PRISM program.
If you need to use cloud storage for easy collaboration, then the best way out would be to only upload non-sensitive documents on the cloud. If you do need to store sensitive data on the cloud, then it’s better to opt for a cloud storage provider located outside the U.S. that has an end to end encryption and a zero-knowledge policy like Sync.com or SpiderOak (for a full list, check out our article on the best zero-knowledge cloud services).
Please not, though, that when using end-to-end encryption, users will only be able to view files after downloading it and collaborating online won’t be possible.
You could also use two separate cloud storage services — one for collaboration on non-sensitive documents and another for storing critical documents. Or you could use a tool like Boxcryptor which provides end to end encryption and then directly stores your data to the cloud service provider of your choice.
Boxcryptor supports more than 20 cloud providers including Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, SugarSync and Box. If you want to know more about keeping your data safe, check out our article on cloud storage services with the best security.
Sharing and Collaboration
The best part about cloud storage services is that it allows teams to collaborate with each other even when the team members are working from remote locations. If your team will be using the cloud storage tool to edit documents online, then it is crucial to consider the following factors, though you may want to also check out our article on best cloud storage for sharing.
There should be a single version of the updated file at all times, and all users should be able to see the real-time editing being done by the other users. Not all services implement this equally well, with Google Drive’s editing features being the golden standard.
Sharing Via Link or Email
Apart from shared folders, a cloud storage provider should also allow users to share files either directly by email or link. For extra security, tyour service should also give you the option to only allow file access if the users have logged into the corporate site.
Google’s business tool G suite allows users to only access a certain file if they are logged in from their company’s official email address, thus ensuring that no one outside the organization can access the file, even if the user forgets to set the correct sharing settings.
Password Protection on Links
With password protection on shared file links, you can be absolutely sure that your company files are secure. Some cloud storage services like Dropbox also allow users to set an expiration date on the shared file links, a feature only available to business users.
With multiple users editing the same file, it’s crucial to choose a cloud storage provider which saves all the previous versions of the file so that it is easy to revert back to a previous version in case there is any issue with the latest one. You should also be able to clearly see which user made which changes.
With your entire staff using cloud storage for everyday use, visibility and access control are extremely important because you don’t want your team members to keep deleting common files by mistake and then contacting the IT team every day. On the other hand, you may want certain files to only be accessible by higher level employees.
Almost all the cloud service providers that have a separate business plan provide an admin dashboard where you can customize all the access control settings.
While buying a cloud provider subscription, check what kind of customer support they provide, be it through phone, chat or email. If they do provide all three kinds of support, then check if they provide support 24/7, or there is a specific time support staff is available. Cloudwards.net has a list of the cloud storage services with the best customer support, so check it out to get a feel for what’s out there.
It’s better to opt for a provider with 24/7 support because you might be working on a different timezone than the provider and you shouldn’t have to wait several hours just to get a single query answered. If the provider only has email support, then it’s paramount to check their response time before subscribing to the service.
When it comes to making a choice on business storage, there is a long list of best cloud storage providers to choose from and easy to get confused. But the idea is to start by listing out all your requirements and then finding the cloud provider which fulfills all, or at least most, of your requirements.
Almost all cloud storage services offer some kind of free trial, giving you plenty of opportunity to figure out which service suits your needs best. If you have any thoughts or questions, please let us know in the comments below; thank you for reading.