3 questions to ask when picking cloud storage

If your small company has decided to archive or share documents in the public cloud, despite the potential security risks, here are some basic selection considerations.

If your small company has decided to make cloud storage part of its archiving, data backup or collaboration strategy (after weighing all the obvious security concerns and objections that have been set forth by your IT organization), what criteria should it use for picking the "right" one?

Seriously, it sometimes seems like there is very little difference between Box, Dropbox, Carbonite, Copy and the dozens of other options that seem to crop up almost every day. (See this related story and review for more information on some top options: "The top 10 personal cloud-storage services." )

But if you dig deeper into the recent feature additions or partner alliances being forged by the companies behind these services, your decision will become easier.

Here are three questions that you should consider as a start: 

  1. Are you using cloud applications that integrate with one service versus the others? As one really great example, Box has developed a service called Box Embed, an HTML 5 technology that basically lets you access files stored on the Box service from within certain cloud applications. As of early February 2013, the service features native integration with NetSuite, Oracle Fusion CRM, Sugar CRM, Zendesk and IBM Connections, and support for additional applications should be added in the coming months. Likewise, Google Apps integration is one of the biggest benefits of Google Drive, while Windows desktop and application integration is one of SkyDrive's biggest pitches. So, look carefully at which cloud applications your company is using or wants to use. This will help guide you to the right place.
  2. What storage hardware does your company use? In last March, SMB storage company Drobo launched a software application platform for its hardware line that adds mobility and cloud-connection capabilities. The company has already built specific links to the Copy data sharing and data protection service from Barracuda Networks. Now, the Drobo devices are also optimized for Plex, the digital media content management service. Another small business storage company, Iomega, has invested in its own cloud service to support its hardware line. So, it makes sense to look at your on-premise storage hardware and see if there are any logical cloud services optimized for those technologies.
  3. Am I looking for backup or file sharing? There is a big difference between services that focus on document storage and those that really center on backup, but small companies don't often differentiate —  until someone is stuck trying to recover system files that have been corrupted, lost or overwritten. Sure, a service like Dropbox might be great for keeping or sharing documents (I only use that example because of the huge user base behind it), but don't rely on it for keeping past revisions of files or for backing up system files you'll need for recovering your computer if the hard drive crashes. If you're sold on the cloud, your small company should look at both a document collaboration service (ala Dropbox, Box, Barracuda's Copy, Google Drive or Microsoft SkyDrive) and something that is focused more explicitly on backup, such as EMC's Mozy service or Carbonite. If your company relies heavily on Google Apps or Salesforce, you should also look at something like Backupify , which is explicitly focused on those platforms.