Dropbox stirred up a hornet’s nest last week with the announcement that it had appointed Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors.
Part of the controversy is political. Rice was Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration a decade ago and was part of the team that authorized the invasion of Iraq.
But the appointment is even more surprising given the former National Security Advisor’s role in establishing and defending warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency, a program that started in 2002 and was revealed publicly in 2005.
That combination led one group to start a Drop Dropbox campaign and forced the company into damage-control mode with a "we should have been clearer" statement from Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. But as more than 1000 comments on that post made clear, the move was not well received.
After revelations in documents leaked by Edward Snowden suggested that American tech companies were cooperating with the NSA – accusations that all of those companies vigorously denied – Forrester estimated that those companies (including Dropbox) could lose $180 billion in business over the next few years as customers shun American cloud services.
Even if you can ignore the politics, the controversy provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at your cloud storage options. Dropbox has grown to be among the largest cloud storage services in the world, with more than 200 million users, by focusing on consumers. But businesses have different needs, including robust encryption, reliability, and compliance with regulatory requirements like HIPAA.
If you’re a subscriber to the Tech Pro Research service, you can read my detailed analysis of the business criteria to consider in choosing a cloud service (see Six business-class cloud storage services: Which one is right for you?).
In this post, I offer a capsule summary of eight worthy alternatives to Dropbox. Most of the services on this list, which is presented in alphabetical order, offer basic consumer storage as well as more feature-rich business-oriented offerings.
This service, which has been in business for nearly a decade under CEO wunderkind Aaron Levie, shifted its focus from consumer accounts to businesses long ago. As of early 2014, the company claimed 34,000 paying business customers. Its basic business accounts offer a total of 1000 GB of storage for $15 per user per month (with a minimum of 3 users). Box is especially attractive to Microsoft shops, with Windows Phone and native Windows 8 apps. It also offers excellent Office integration with a free add-in for Office 2007, Office 2010, and Office 2013 that lets you open, save, and share files from the cloud without having to leave the Office programs.
This relatively new service is backed by Barracuda, a company best known for its enterprise security and spam-filtering appliances and services. A personal Copy account provides 15 GB of storage, with no limits on the size of individual files; paid storage upgrades to 250 or 500 GB are available. The business service, Copy for Companies offers central management tools and “as much storage as you need*”: the asterisk leads to a disclaimer that defines that storage capacity “based on typical user usage across the industry,” whatever that means. If you need five or fewer accounts, you can get a Copy for Companies account for free, with storage limited by each user’s personal account allotment.
Google Drive, introduced in 2012, is the new name for what used to be the file storage component of Google Docs. That’s still its main job, despite the fact that Google Drive has sync clients for every platform except Linux and offers 15 GB of storage to go with its free Gmail accounts and 30 GB for each paid Google Apps for Business account. Google recently announced dramatic price cuts to its storage upgrades for individual accounts, with a terabyte of extra storage costing $10 a month. Business storage upgrades (which are purchased in bulk and then assigned to individual users) cost considerably more: $7.50 a month for 50 GB, $89 for 1 TB, all the way up to $1,430 for 16 TB.
Intermedia is the largest third-party provider of hosted Microsoft Exchange services in the world, with an impressive range of services and world-class support. SecuriSync is the latest addition to Intermedia's suite of online services and is included as a feature in its Enterprise plan, which includes Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. Data meets the core standards for enterprise-grade security, with encryption in transit and at rest. There are no limitations on file size, and the integration with Office apps and Windows networks (including Active Directory support) is excellent. You can also sign up for SecuriSync as a stand-alone service: The entry-level cost is $5 per user per month, which includes 10 GB of storage space per account. Bumping the per-user cost to $10 per month is a significantly better deal, at 50 GB per user.
The Service Formerly Known as SkyDrive offers 7 GB of free storage with every account. Attaching an Office 365 Home or Personal subscription adds 20 GB to that total, and additional storage is available as a paid upgrade. The killer feature of OneDrive is integration with Office Online, which allows you to create, edit, and share Office files in a web browser from any device (including an iPad). Although the service is aimed at consumers, there are no license restrictions to prevent commercial use. Client software is available for Windows 7 and up and for OS X, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
Microsoft OneDrive for Business
As of last month, Microsoft’s enterprise-grade storage is available as a standalone product. You’re more likely to use it as one of the pieces in Office 365’s business plans, however. In Small Business, Midsize Business, and Enterprise plans, each user account gets 25 GB of secure online storage as well as 50 GB for Exchange email. In addition, the organizational account gets 10 GB plus an extra 500 MB per user for sharing files via SharePoint. Extra storage for the organization account is available for $0.20 per gigabyte per month (which works out to $20 per month for an extra 100 GB). The control panel in Midsize and Enterprise allows that extra storage to be assigned to individual OneDrive for Business accounts.
You would think, based on SpiderOak’s feature set, that it was the first post-Snowden cloud service, and yet it's been in business since 2007. The company's "zero knowledge" privacy design means it never sees your password, it never has access to your encryption keys, and it receives, stores, and sends only encrypted files. SpiderOak staff can't even retrieve metadata such as the names or sizes of files; instead, they see sequentially numbered containers of encrypted data. Individual accounts start with 2 GB of free storage. Upgrades, in 100 GB increments, cost $10 a month or $100 a year. The SpiderOak Blue business service starts at $600 a month, with a terabyte of storage for up to 100 users. The company will even allow you to store data on your own servers and use its authentication and access tools. A small-business version of the Blue service is “coming soon.”
The major selling point of this service, besides the fact that it’s based in Switzerland, is that your data is encrypted from end to end. “Your password never leaves your computer. Nobody - not even we as storage provider - can access your data without your authorization.” Wuala Business accounts start at $429 a year for five users and a total of 100 GB of storage. Since 2009, the service has been owned by LaCie, which in turn was acquired by Seagate at the end of 2013. LaCie recently suffered an embarrassing security breach in its e-commerce website. There’s no indication that the storage service has suffered any similar problems, however.