2 of 9Image
What's the best deal in the cloud?
[Correction: An earlier version of this story stated (on page 6) that SkyDrive did not provide access to deleted files. It does, in fact, have a Recycle Bin available through the web interface. I apologize for the error.]
Later this month my 200GB annual subscription to Dropbox will expire and I've decided it's time to play the field. Come with me as I evaluate the major personal cloud services for price and features and see what works best for me.
No two ways about it, Dropbox has been good to me and has drastically changed by computing habits for the better. It no longer matters what computer or device I'm on; I always have access to almost everything I might need. I even install certain programs (such as the Sysinternals tools) in my Dropbox folder so that I can more easily have access to the current version from any Windows PC.
But in a very important sense, all the major cloud services are the same:
- They all give you storage in the cloud
- They all have a free option with a few GB up to as much as 18GB
- They all create a local folder which is mirrored with the cloud storage (although some allow flexibility for which folders to replicate locally)
- They all support multiple platforms, but some support more than others
- They all support undeleting of files
Clearly there are feature differences, but there are vast pricing differences which I will explore in more detail.
I want to consider all the factors, but the choice I make in the end may not be the right one for you. My platform support needs and my price-sensitivity may be very different from yours.
On that subject, I think there's a case to be made that, in very large part, cloud storage is a commodity, and therefore price is the dominant factor. It's not the only factor for me, but it's definitely the dominant one. If all you need is a few GB then any of them can be free and then features and platform support become more important.
- They all give you storage in the cloud
I will be considering the following products:
- Dropbox - The incumbent. I'm looking at their personal plans only
- Google Drive
- Microsoft SkyDrive - Not SkyDrive Pro, their business service which is completely different
I'm leaving a couple major products out of my evaluation. Many people think of Apple's iCloud when considering cloud services, but it's not really this type of product. iCloud is more of a set of synchronization protocols. It's invaluable for users of Apple devices, but it doesn't solve the storage need and support for it off of Apple platforms is (to put it kindly) weak.
I'm also not considering Box, one of the more famous companies. The best reason not to consider them is that they are not really focused on the personal market. Yes, they have a free 10GB personal plan, but their focus is on businesses with teams of multiple users. I had tried Box in the past and hated their software. It may be better now, but that doesn't matter.
I'm also not considering BitTorrent Sync and a number of other services (some free) which require static synchronization. I only want the ones where the cloud works just like a local drive.
I have done no formal testing on these products, and performance testing of them would be quite a logistical challenge. I've used most of them in real world situations and the only times I've found myself sitting and waiting for files to synch was when I was moving many GB of data at a time. In other words, they're all fast enough for me, at least on my Internet connections.
I'm presenting the products in the next five pages alphabetically by name.
Copy.com, which the company says is still a beta, comes from Barracuda Networks, the security software and appliance company.
If you don't need a lot of storage, copy.com could easily be the best deal. At 15GB free they are tied with Google Drive, but they also offer 5GB per referral, making them the best free deal out there. After that, the pricing gets weird. They have only two plans: 250GB and 500GB.
Storage (GB) $ monthly $/GB monthly $ annual $/GB annual 15GB, 5GB/referral $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 250GB $9.99 $0.04 $99 $0.40 500GB $14.99 $0.03 $149 $0.30
The pricing of these plans is the lowest per GB of any cloud service here. But since their cheapest paid plan is 250GB, the least you can pay is $99 per year. If you need more than you can get from the free plan, but don't need anywhere near 250GB, it's just not a good deal.
They allow the user to select which files to synch and which not to, to move the Copy folder wherever he wants, they even have a Windows Phone app. What's not to like? The pricing. At least for me. If you actually need 250GB or more (or only 15GB or maybe a bit more), or money just isn't a problem, then Copy may be the best deal out there.There is a lot to like about copy.com: They have a "fair storage" policy, which means that the allocation for storage shared among multiple users is split among them. For instance, a 12GB folder shared by 4 people costs each 3GB of their budget.