What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage means storing data and applications on remote servers and accessing them via the internet, as opposed to saving or installing them on your office server.
The term cloud is used when data is stored on remote servers owned by other companies.
With cloud computing, all your data can be stored on the effectively infinite space of the internet rather than on space-limited hard drives on premises.
Cloud storage can also be accessed anywhere on your desktop, laptop, mobile phone or tablet. None of your business info is confined to single hard drive, server or location.
Even if one server goes down, you can still access your data because it would also be held in another server. This way, you avoid the disaster of data loss if your own onsite server went down.
How does cloud storage work?
When you upload a file into a cloud-based service such as Google Drive or iCloud, the file gets copied over the internet into a data server. Data servers are where companies store your files on multiple hard drives. Most companies have thousands of these servers known as server farms spanning multiple locations, so if one goes down you won’t lose your data because it will be backed up to another location. That is known as “redundancy” and it keeps your data from getting lost.
The backend of a cloud storage system consists of data storage, a central server and computer network. The central server monitors the system, tracking demand and making sure everything is running smoothly.
Can you lose data in the cloud?
Of course, it is possible for individual cloud servers to fail as a result of physical damage to the hardware. But while servers or even entire server farms could go out of action, it would be practically impossible for the cloud in its entirety to crash. The cloud, much like the internet, is not one single system reliant on one single connection.
Cloud storage vs. onsite server – pros and cons
Cloud storage pros
- Always-on, 24/7 access to data
- Extremely unlikely to have an outage or lose data
- Unlimited capacity
- Enterprise-level security
- Access your data on any device
- Others are responsible if things do go wrong
- Reduces IT problems and costs – you don’t need your office computers to be hi-specification, just to be able to connect to the internet.
- Saves physical office space
Cloud storage cons
- Although a monthly fee per year looks innocuous, it can quickly ramp up into thousands of pounds each year
- Buying your own server could cheaper in the long-term
- Your data is the property of a third party
- Danger of a high-profile company such as Google or Microsoft getting hacked
- Cloud storage companies, being private, can unilaterally delete accounts
- You need an internet connection, which means data can be stolen in transmission.
Onsite server pros
- Faster than cloud-based storage, which depends on broadband connectivity speed
- Puts you in control
- Decide your own level of security
- Cheaper in the long-term
- Control who has access to server data
- Doesn’t need internet connection
- Disconnecting your server from the network keeps your data safe from attack
Onsite server cons
- Vulnerable to fire and theft
- Complete loss of data if something goes wrong
- Expensive and difficult to insure
- Tech goes out of date quickly
- Your responsibility to maintain and upgrade
How to choose the right cloud storage
Many of the seven providers listed below offer similar services. It might be easiest to simply go with the one you company already uses as its office-suite solution. So, if you have PCs then go for OneDrive; if you’re already using Gmail, then go for Google Drive; if you’re an Apple-based company, then go for iCloud.
Once you decide on a provider, three questions to ask:
- How many users will need access?
- How much cloud storage will your company need?
- Does your cloud storage provider run its own data centre?
What is the best free cloud storage?
To tempt you, small business cloud storage providers offer free space in the cloud. Google Drive offer up to 15GB of online storage space for free. If you think that 1GB is equivalent to roughly 7,000 Word pages. At 15BG, that’s the equivalent of 105,000 Word pages. Dropbox by comparison offers only 2GB of space for free.
BT Cloud goes even further, bundling up to 1TB (1,000 GBs) with broadband subscriptions, so the monthly cost is sunk. Ditto OneDrive, which bundles storage of 1TB and up per user with its monthly Office 365 subscription.
How much does 1TB of cloud storage cost?
OneDrive offers the cheapest 1TB of storage at £5.99 per user per month but iCloud offers double that capacity at 2TB for just 67p more a month. Most expensive is Google Drive at £8.28 a month.
Small business UK cloud storage tariff comparison per user/per month
|*Minimum three users/no maximum. Unlimited storage above 100GB|
|**Comes with Office 365|
|***Depending on broadband allowance. Extra 50GB £3 p/mo. Extra 500GB £9 p/mo.|
|****Only available on yearly plans|
Amazon Drive – most flexible pricing plans
Amazon Drive offers barebones storage, enabling you to create folders, upload and sync files but with no functionality to create or edit productivity-suite files within the Amazon Drive locker.
Another downside with Amazon Drive is that you have take out a yearly subscription, as opposed to the rolling monthly contacts rival platforms offer.
Amazon Drive does offer the widest range of storage plans though, starting at £16.99 per year for 100GB’s worth of storage and going up to a stupendous 30TB of storage for £2,399.70 per year.
- Two-factor authentication
- Very keenly priced
- Windows, Mac, Android and iOS
- Cannot edit documents in Amazon Drive nor share or view previous versions – lacks functionality
Free – 5GB
100GB – £16.99 (1 year)
1TB – £79.99 (1 year)
2TB – £159.98 (1 year)
6TB – £479.94 (1 year)
Apple iCloud – best for iOS and Mac OS
Because it integrates so seamlessly with all of Apple’s products and devices, iCloud is the best storage solution for someone who runs their business on end-to-end Apple: laptops, mobile phones and iPads, who works on Apple’s own version of Office (Pages, Numbers and Notes). Plus, iCloud is a user-friendly, reliable service.
If you’ve ever bought an Apple device, you already have an iCloud account. That iCloud account is already split into two: one for storing Apple app data and the other for more general storage, called iCloud Drive.
And because iCloud is so firmly wedded to the iOS environment, it makes little sense to run it on Windows, as it is so limited compared to OneDrive for PC users. You cannot even create an iCloud for Windows account on a PC unless it has already been used on an iOS or MacOS device.
Vice-versa, there is no way you can double-click on a Microsoft Office document if you want to read it immediately on your Apple device. All you can do is download them.
Like OneDrive and Amazon Drive, iCloud offers 5GB of storage for free, after which you must migrate to a sensibly priced paid-for plan. However, that 5GB includes iOS operating system backups, eating into your allowance.
- Specially designed for Apple hardware, seamless integration
- Privacy – Apple doesn’t know or have access to the encryption key iCloud encrypts your data with. That’s linked to your Apple ID.
- You cannot run iCloud for Windows without creating an account on an Apple device
- No official Android app
- You can only share individual files with other users but not folders
Free – 5GB
200GB – £2.49
2TB – £6.99
Box – best for medium-sized companies
Box’s focus is on collaboration, so it’s aimed at medium-sized and enterprise-level companies as opposed to sole traders or microbusinesses. Organisations that use Box include BT and the Metropolitan Police, as well as multinationals like Coca-Cola, Gap and Toyota.
Rather than just a vanilla cloud storage system, Box acts as a central content hum, letting employees use productivity software such as Office 365 and Google Suite, Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) and Oracle NetSuite business management software (ERP). Unlike a barebones system such as Amazon Drive, you do not have to download files to open them up again.
Also you can add context to files through Box’s Notes app, which acts as a kind of workflow management system (CMS), enabling you to add status updates on documents, create marketing plans, project outlines and daily to-do lists, drafts for blog posts, meeting notes, etc.
Although Box offers 10GB free storage, its £12 per user p/mo Business Plan jumps up to unlimited storage, providing you have at least three users.
- Enterprise-grade security
- Password protection, expiry dates
- Workflow management tools
- Integrates with Office 365, Google Suite, Salesforce, Adobe Sign
- Works on PC, Mac and Android
- No password protection or expiry links for editing
- Files on its servers are unencrypted
- 250MB file upload limit on free version
Free – 10GB
100GB – £4 per user p/mo
Unlimited – Business £12 per user p/mo; Business Plus £20 p/mo
BT Cloud – best for occasional cloud storage
BT’s 9.2m broadband subscribers, including small businesses, might not even know they have complimentary cloud storage as part of their broadband subscription.
On one hand, BT Cloud storage could be seen as free because it is bundled with any broadband subscription. Customers on BT’s limited broadband or limited Infinity packages get a measly 10GB storage allowance; Unlimited broadband and Unlimited Infinity 1 customers receive a generous 200MB allocation; any small business on BT’s top-tier Unlimited Infinity 2 package enjoys a huge 1TB of free cloud storage.
BT customers can bolt on 50GB extra cloud storage for £3 per month and 500GB for £9 a month.
However, Dropbox offers 2TB of storage for just £7.99 a month, while Google offers 1TB of storage – double BT’s offer – for £8.28 a month, making BT look expensive by comparison.
If your small business uses cloud storage more than every so often, you would be better going with a full-fat provider.
- GDPR compliance – BT’s servers are exclusively located within the EU, which means company data will not be transferred outside Europe.
- BT does not inspect your files so it can serve targeted ads back to you.
- Available on Android, iOS and Windows
- Only one BT Cloud account per account number, which means there’s no option to have separate accounts for various staff members.
- Bolt-on data expensive
10GB/200GB/1TB bundled along with your BT Broadband subscription
50GB – £3
500GB – £9
Dropbox – best for secure file sharing
Launched back in 2008, Dropbox is one of the biggest names in UK small business cloud storage. Many small businesses use Dropbox to enable colleagues to see files and data on multiple devices. Its simple, reliable file-syncing and storage service enables real-time online document collaboration.
However, since then Microsoft has bundled OneDrive with its monthly Office 365 subscription (2014) and Google has launched Google Drive (2015), both of which have removed the need for a separate cloud storage provider.
On the other hand, plenty of independent apps maker only sync mobile versions through Dropbox, not wanting to be in thrall to the dominant tech players.
Plus, Dropbox’s 3TB £16.58 per month Professional plan allows password protection and expiry dates on shared document links.
- Effortless file synchronisation.
- Apps for just about every operating system.
- Tight OS integration.
- Supports file-sharing.
- Shows action history
- Allows access to deleted files and earlier versions.
- Easy to install
- Expensive compared to Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.
- Features that come as standard in free versions of Google Drive and OneDrive are locked behind paywall
Free – 2GB
Google Drive – best for collaborating in small teams
What originally put Google Drive in the lead, ahead of other cloud storage providers, was its functionality, which allowed two or more users to live-edit a document. Invaluable if you’re co-writing a piece or group editing with multiple stakeholders. However, since then other cloud-storage providers such as OneDrive also offer this functionality.
As a rule of thumb, if you use Google as your ecosystem, it makes sense to Google Drive; vice-versa for PCs already subscribing to Office 365 and OneDrive.
- 15GB comes for free
- Comes bundled with Google Docs, Sheets and Slides – Google’s equivalent of Office 365
- Best third-party app integration
- Less robust encryption than Dropbox (128-bit AES vs. 256-bit AES)
- OneDrive has more features and more intuitive functionality
- Privacy – Google collects other information from your online activity to serve you targeted ads.
- All files stored on Google Drive can be scanned by Google, which means your data could be deleted if it contravenes the platform’s terms of service
- No password protection on shared files.
Free – 15GB
30GB – £4.14
1TB – £8.28
Microsoft OneDrive – best for Office 365 users
Microsoft’s OneDrive started out as SkyDrive back in 2007. Today, OneDrive has become one of the three dominant cloud services alongside Google Drive and Dropbox.
Compared to Google Drive’s 15GB of storage for free and Dropbox’s niggardly 2GB, OneDrive sits between the two, offering 5GB to users for free. You can increase that up to 100GB for just £1.99 per month. And if you migrate to Microsoft’s Office365 ubiquitous software suite (Word, Excel, etc.) you get 1TB of OneDrive storage thrown in at £5.99 for one user.
- First 5GB of storage is free
- Works seamlessly with Office 365 and up to 1TB of storage bundled with monthly subscription
- Easy to use
- Works on Android and iOS as well as PC
- Password protection offered on free plan
- 2-factor security authentication
- Individual file size limit of 10GB
- Microsoft remains the number-one-targeted company for hackers.
- Syncing between different versions of files can be glitchy
- No file encryption once files are uploaded to Microsoft’s servers unless you have a Business subscription
Free – 5GB p/mo
100MB – £1.99 p/mo
1TB – £5.99 p/mo
6TB – £7.99 p/mo