I want to talk to you today about clouds.
But I’m not here to talk about hyper-scale, public clouds such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure, or Google Cloud. They’re great, but for many, they’re overkill.
Instead, most organizations need a way to store our documents and data so we, and our teammates, can easily get our information whether we’re at home or sitting at a convention center in Valencia, Spain.
As it happens, that’s what I’m doing right now.
Twenty years ago, I’d be saving this article to my local hard drive with a USB stick backup. Today, I’m saving it automatically to Google Drive and my Linux-based NextCloud instance on my TMD Hosting server back in Chicago.
What changed the game was that in 2007, Drew Houston got sick of losing his USB drive. (I still carry them, and I still lose them.)
So, Houston created the first individual, small-business cloud storage service, Dropbox. It took off like a rocket. But, of course, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, dozens of inexpensive cloud storage services are now available. However, beyond giving you storage, they’re very different from one another.
How do you choose which one is best for you?
Some people just go for the one offering the largest storage space.
Don’t do that.
A cloud storage service’s real value comes from how well it works for you or your business; each works best with particular pairings of operating systems and business models.
The various personal/SMB clouds have evolved into different service models.
Some, like Dropbox, are still primarily about storage. Others, such as Box, come with a complete document flow system. The best known, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive, combine storage with e-mail and office Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) functionality.
Which is the best choice? Let’s take a quick look.
If you’re using Windows, Microsoft OneDrive is what you want.
It comes free with any modern version of Windows. And practically speaking, unless you’re a one-person shop, you’ll want a Microsoft 365 subscription.
Microsoft 365 users get an extra terabyte per user starting with the $6-per-month subscription. This plan maxes out at six people or 6TB of storage. For $12.50 per user per month with an annual subscription, Microsoft 365 Business Standard uses 1TB of cloud storage and Microsoft Office and Teams.
If all you need is storage, OneDrive for Business (1) gives you 1TB per user for $5 per month with an annual subscription. Then, up the cost to $10 a month on the OneDrive for Business (2) plan, and each user gets unlimited storage.
If your business lives and dies by Google programs, you’ll want Google Drive.
Of course, it isn’t just about storage. It’s now part and parcel of Google’s online office suite, Google Docs. So if you have a Google Account, say a Gmail account, you already have 15GB of storage.
That’s great for a tiny business.
However, if you need more, get a Google Workplace subscription. Even the least expensive Google Workplace subscription, Business Starter, at $6 per user per month on an annual contract, comes with access to the complete Google Docs and Google Meet software suite and 30GB of storage per user. The next plans up, Business Standard or Plus — $12 or $18 per user per month — take your storage up to 2 and 5 TB of storage, respectively. These also give you added management and security features and are available for up to 300 users.
Do you want storage you can use on pretty much any device at any time?
For businesses, there’s Dropbox Standard. At $12.50 a month per user on an annual plan, it gives you 5TB of storage. For my money, the $25 a month Dropbox Advanced, which delivers unlimited storage, is a better deal.
For storage and backup, I highly recommend iDrive.
To be clear, when I say iDrive, I’m not talking about Apple’s iCloud. While it’s improved, I still find it to be the most annoying of any big-company cloud offerings.
iDrive is an outstanding and inexpensive cloud storage service. I especially like that for backups, iDrive doesn’t lock you down to a single computer. You can use one account to back up your Windows and macOS desktops, your Android smartphones, iPhones and tablets, your network drives, and even your Linux server.
The small business iDrive Teams starts at $99.50 a year for five users and 5TB of data. Other Teams plans allow an additional five users and 5TB of data.
If you worry about public cloud privacy and security, want absolute control over your cloud storage, and love open-source software, the do-it-yourself, open-source NextCloud is a good option.
With NextCloud, you set up your own cloud storage service using your existing servers and hard drives.
You, and you alone, control your cloud storage for maximum security and privacy.
You can set up cloud storage either on an office server or off your own external servers. How much? All you can eat! I have a 4TB Nextcloud drive in my office and another terabyte off my co-hosted server rack.
It’s nowhere near as easy to set up as the others, but any serious Linux user can do it.
If you do need help, Nextcloud Enterprise comes with basic support for up to 100 users at around $38 per user per year.
Want someone else to run it for you?
There are many Nextcloud service providers who can help for a fee.
Personally, I use all of them — even OneDrive. They’re all good. But it would be best if you made your call based on your company’s needs.