With so many of us working from home, having reliable cloud storage is more important than ever. You want your office work stored safely away from home, where your data is always one dropped cup of coffee away from disaster.
Personal cloud storage got started in 2007, when Drew Houston, Dropbox's CEO, got sick and tired of losing his USB drive. So he created the first individual, small business cloud storage service. It was a radical idea in its time, and everyone loved it. Today, there are dozens of cheap or free cloud storage services. But -- beyond giving you storage -- they're very different.
How do you choose which one is right for you? You could just pick based on how much free storage space you get. That's simple, but, a cloud storage service's real value comes from how well it works for you or your business. As you'll see, some work much better with some operating systems and business plans than others.
Let's get to it.
Best cloud storage service overall
Free storage: iDrive starts its offers with 5GB for free
iDrive is for everyone who wants a cloud backup and cloud storage in an all-in-one. Its main job is backing up small businesses, but it also works well for personal cloud storage.
Unlike many other cloud backup services, iDrive doesn't lock you down to a single computer. You can use one account to backup your Windows and macOS desktops, your Android smartphone and iPhones and tablets, and your network drives. There's also a Linux backup option, but it's meant for Linux servers. There is no desktop Linux storage client. Darn it! You can, however, use its web interface for manually uploading files.
For now, iDrive has a killer deal. It's the most storage for the least amount of money you'll find today. They're offering 10 Terabytes (TB) -- no, that's not a typo, terabytes -- for $3.98 a year. Even its usual price, $74.62 for 10TB for the first year, is good. I use it to back up my massive media library of 1930s and '40s movies.
Normally, iDrive starts its offers with 5GB for free. That's okay, but if you want to make the most of it for backup, the real deal is in its Personal iDrive offerings. These start at $59.62 for 5TB for a year or an even better deal of $74.62 for 10TB annually per user. There are also business packages with unlimited users, but the price goes up for less storage. For example, the company will charge you $74.62 for 5TB of storage that you can share between 5 users.
If you're looking for a personal or small business backup, iDrive is a great choice. It's both easy to use and inexpensive. It's also good for cloud storage, and I'm very happy with it.
- Great price
- Works well for backups and storage
- Excellent pairing of storage and office services
- No native Linux support
- No two-factor authentication
- Relatively slow download speeds
Amazon Cloud Drive
Best for Amazon users: Available for personal use and SMBs
Free storage: Prime members get 5GB of storage for "free" with Amazon Cloud Drive
Amazon S3 from Amazon Web Services (AWS) is an object storage service, and it's a great service. But, that's not what individuals use. They use Amazon Cloud Drive for personal and small business uses -- and it's not a first-rate storage service.
Mind you, Amazon Cloud Drive is better than it used to be. Amazon Cloud Drive now has sync services for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. Alas, it still doesn't have a Linux client. The web interface, however, continues to be a bit klutzy.
On the plus side, Amazon moves files by using block-level file copying (aka "differential sync" or "delta sync"). With this method, which Dropbox also uses, you only send and receive the differences (the delta) between files when you sync a file. This makes syncing files much faster on these services than their rivals.
Prime members get 5GB of storage for "free" with Amazon Cloud Drive for file storage. If you want more, Amazon's current annual storage plans start at 100GB for $19.99 a year and 1TB for $59.99. If you go monthly, for $2 a month you'll get 100GB of storage, for $7 a month 1TB, and for $12 a month 2TB. Other Amazon cloud plans will take you up to 30TB for, brace yourself, $1,799.70.
Amazon Drive is worth your time if you're an Amazon Prime member. If you're not, keep looking. You can do better.
- Free 5GB with Amazon Prime
- Unlimited photo storage with Amazon Prime
- Speedy backups thanks to delta syncing
- The interface isn't the best
- Prices tend to be on the high side
Best for Microsoft users: Merges your Windows desktop and the cloud
Free storage: OneDrive comes with 5GB of free storage
OneDrive is baked into Windows, and they're delicious together. As far as a Windows user is concerned, OneDrive is just another directory in the File Explorer -- talk about easy. Anyone can use it on the web, with a desktop app for Mac and earlier versions of Windows, and with OneDrive apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Xbox. Yes, Xbox.
Linux? No, not yet. The InSync client, which I've long recommended for Google Drive, also works with OneDrive. This program costs $29.99 for an individual lifetime subscription and $49.99 for a team license.
Microsoft OneDrive's real selling point -- besides working hand-in-glove with Windows -- is it integrates perfectly with Microsoft Office programs. With Microsoft 365, you can also collaborate with others in documents and spreadsheets in real-time with your partners.
OneDrive comes with 5GB of free storage. 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. Microsoft 365 Business Standard users, who get access to the full online versions of Outlook, Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, at $12.50 per user per month with an annual subscription. If all you need is additional storage, you can add 200GB for $1.99 a month.
If you're already a Microsoft 365 user, this is a no-brainer. OneDrive is perfect for anyone who uses Windows and Microsoft Office every day.
- Perfect for Windows user
- Works great with Microsoft 365
- No native Linux support
- Can be very expensive
Best for productivity: Cloud storage and a document work-flow program in one
Free storage: Box starts out with a free cloud storage account and 10GB of storage
Like most cloud storage services, Box has clients for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. It also supports Blackberry. It, however, doesn't support Linux. There is a third-party program, ExpanDrive, which enables Linux users to work with Box.
For $10 a month, the Box Starter Plan lets you upload files up to 2GB and provides you with 100GB of space. But while Box is a fine cloud storage service, where it really shines is as a groupware or workflow application. Used that way, it enables you to share files with colleagues, assign tasks, leave comments on someone's work, and get notifications when a file changes. It's integrated with Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365.
The Box Business Plan for small and medium-sized businesses starter package begins at $5 a month for up to three users with 100GB of storage. The next step up in business plans is $15 a month for three users and unlimited -- yes -- unlimited storage.
Again, Box's real selling point is its combination of storage and office software.
- Supports many platforms
- Excellent pairing of storage and office services
- Desktop clients can be confusing
Best for those who desire simplicity: Oldest personal cloud storage that's still good
Free storage: Dropbox Basic's free storage is only 2GB
Dropbox came first, so it's no wonder that so many of us have Dropbox accounts. Sure, Dropbox Basic's free storage is only 2GB, but you can use it on any platform. You can get to your files from Dropbox's website, desktop applications for Mac, Windows, and Linux, the native file systems, and the iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire mobile apps. Heck, even Blackberry phones are still supported. It's a snap to set up, and you need not worry about syncing files for a second.
Dropbox's personal plans move up to 3TB for $20 a month if you need more storage. Dropbox Business plans start at $15 a month for Teams with 5TB of storage. Starting with a minimum of three users, this means you'll be paying at least $45 a month for this level of service. The Advanced option gives you unlimited storage at $25 per user per month, starting with at least three users. That amounts to a starting price of $75 a month. These latter plans come with a 30-day free trial.
As always, Dropbox shines for its sheer simplicity -- and the simple fact that you can use it on almost any platform you care to name. If you value simple, fast, and easy, Dropbox should be your first choice.
I don't need to tell you that. You're probably already using it.
- Simple to use
- Useable on essentially all platforms
- It can be pricey
Best for businesses and Chromebook users: Boasts great storage and a lot of extras
Free storage: You get 15GB of free storage and an excellent office suite
Google Drive used to be just storage. But then Google took its online office suite, Google Docs, and pasted them together into Google One. Now, you get 15GB of free storage and an excellent office suite by just having a Google account. It's good enough that many businesses and Chromebook users are now using it as their complete cloud-based office. I use it all the time myself.
Google Drive comes with clients for most operating systems, except, oddly enough, Linux. Google has promised there would be a client for ages, but it's never arrived. There is, however, an excellent third-party Linux commercial client, Insync. This program costs $29.99 for an individual lifetime subscription and $49.99 for teams.
Need more storage? No problem. Under the name Google One, Google Drive storage prices start at $2 per month or $20 a year for 100GB. Or, for $3 a month or $30 a year, you get 200GB. At the higher end, for 2TB, you pay $10 per month or $100 annually, and 10TB costs $100 per month. You can go up to 30TB for $300 a month. You can share your storage with up to five other people with all these plans.
You can also use the Google One app on both Android and iOS devices to automatically backup your smartphones. This includes your device data, multimedia messages, and photos/videos in their original quality.
One of Google Drive's best features is its integration with Google search. So, for example, if you've lost track of a file but remember a couple of words in it, it's easy to find. I use this feature almost every day.
- Great storage
- Excellent additional services
- Good pricing
- The web interface can be a little complicated
- No end-to-end encryption
Best for those who want open-source DIY cloud storage: Privacy and security baked in
Free storage: As much storage as you have available on your machines
Nextcloud is an open-source program that enables you to set up your own cloud storage service using your existing servers and hard drives. This do-it-yourself cloud is for everyone who values security and privacy.
You can use Nextcloud to set up cloud storage either on an office server or off your own external servers. How much storage can it give you? How much do you want? I have a 4TB Nextcloud drive in my office and another terabyte off my co-hosted server rack. Still, NextCloud, while easy to set up for a Linux power-user, might prove a challenge for some.
Nextcloud is also evolving. It started as a standalone Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) file storage cloud. It's been adding in more services, making it more of an all-in-one office suite like those offered by Google and Microsoft. The latest edition, Nextcloud 21, is also much faster than previous versions.
Nextcloud comes in both a free and a business edition. With the free version, you set it up yourself using your own computers. Here, you get as much storage as you have available on your machines.
If you don't want to run it yourself, the business version. Nextcloud Enterprise, comes with basic support for up to 100 users at €36 per user per year.
This cloud storage solution is for anyone who wants the maximum amount of control over their cloud and doesn't mind doing some extra work to get it just right. I highly recommend it.
- Open source
- Offers a variety of services
- It can be difficult to set up
Best for those who want a lifetime subscription: Extra security also makes it worth a look
Free storage: pCloud offers 4GB of free storage for starters, but you can max it out to 10GB
I'm always cautious about "lifetime" subscriptions to anything, but especially to computer services. Still, after nine years in business, I'm inclined to give the Switzerland-based pCloud the benefit of the doubt.
I also like that pCloud comes with clients for Linux, macOS, and Windows, as well as Android and iOS smartphones.
pCloud offers 4GB of free storage for starters. You can also add more storage, at 1GB a go, for installing a desktop app, a smartphone app, storing your smartphone's videos and photos to pCloud, and getting others to subscribe to pCloud. You can max this out to 10GB of free storage.
But, if you're really serious about your storage, you can currently get 500GB of storage forever for a one-time payment of $175. Or, $350 for 2TB. That's a sweet deal.
Another nice feature is that pCloud comes with client-side only file encryption. With pCloud Crypto, you encrypt your files using 256-bit AES, and no one except you can read them. Oh, when they say "no one," they mean "no one." If you lose your password, you lose your data. These files are stored in the Crypto folder. This feature costs $4 per month, $39 per year, or $125 for a lifetime subscription. It's included for free on business plans. You can also opt to store your data in the more privacy-conscious European Union servers.
The business service starts with 1TB for $96 per user per year. Or, you can buy a plan for the lifetime (of the company) for $175 for Premium and $350 for Premium Plus. pCloud for Business offers 1TB of storage per user, starting at $287.64 per year. Each additional user gets their own TB of storage.
If privacy and paying once for cloud storage for a very long time strikes you as attractive, check pCloud out.
- Lifetime contract
- Best of breed security
- It's expensive unless you're sure that pCloud will be able to meet its support promise
Best for Apple users: Apple finally has got its act together
Free storage: You get 5GB of free iCloud storage by owning an Apple product
It used to be that I didn't like iCloud, even on my Macs. I used Google Drive or NextCloud instead. But it's finally cleaned up enough of its bugs that I can say Mac, iPhone, or iPad users can trust it with their data.
In theory, iCloud offered seamless integration and great ease of use on any iGadget. Except, it didn't. I won't bore you with all the ways it used to annoy me, but it's finally largely bug-free.
You get 5GB of free iCloud storage by owning an Apple product. One good feature with that is that anything you buy from the iTunes Store doesn't count against your storage limit.
You can use iCloud to automatically back up all data from your Apple devices onto its servers. But, 5GBs won't cut it for serious backups. Instead, you'll need to upgrade to one of three iCloud+ plans: $1 a month for 50GB; $3 a month for 200GB, or $10 a month for 2TB.
While it's not a big selling point, iCloud is also integrated with iWork, Apple's low-end productivity suite. It's no Google Workspace or Microsoft 365, but it's okay for, say, school work. I'm still not crazy about iCloud -- I doubt I ever will be -- but if you're already an Apple user all the time, it's finally worth using iCloud.
- Free 5GB with any Apple device
- Works hand-in-glove with iWorks
- Good interface
- High prices
- Has had technical problems
What is the best cloud storage service?
Personally, I prefer iDrive, Google Drive, and Nextcloud -- but those meet my needs best. I've used all these services, though, and there's not a lemon in them.
Cloud storage service
Photo storage and storage.
Photo storage and storage.
Office work and storage.
Photo storage, storage, office work.
Storage and backup.
Storage, office work, and backup.
Office work and storage.
Storage and backup.
Free photo storage.
Mac and iPhone integration.
Online office integration.
Most support for uncommon platforms.
Google One integration.
Open source and security.
Microsoft 365 and Windows integration.
Which is the right cloud storage service for you?
There's no one size fits all; your cloud choice depends on what you use and what you want to do with it. All these services give you more than enough free or cheap service for small business purposes. In short, don't be distracted by how many free gigabytes of storage you get -- it's not that important.
To sum up:
If you are or want…
Box, Google Drive, Nextcloud or OneDrive
iCloud or Google Drive
Best bang for the buck:
Ease of use and multiple devices:
Users who place a high value on having data control:
Box or Nextcloud
How does cloud storage work?
Cloud storage is really just a hard drive
When it comes to cloud storage, a cloud really is just someone else's hard drive. Despite the endless stories of how clouds are insecure, and someone can grab your data, your data is encrypted while traveling over the internet to your providers' servers. Once there, it's encrypted on those servers. Really, your data is probably safer there than it is at your home or office.
The best cloud storage services don't upload a new complete copy of your files every time you modify them. Instead, they only ship the changes to your files. This saves you time and bandwidth.
Can you get 100GB of free storage?
Several services offer huge amounts of free storage. But I don't trust any of them. The most storage you can get for free is Google, with its 15GB of storage.
What's the most trustworthy cloud storage?
It's a tie between the DIY NextBox and pCloud
Do you want to be as sure as anyone can be that your data's safe from prying eyes? If that's you, I recommend either building your own cloud storage service with NextCloud or using the high-security pCloud. With NextCloud, you, of course, decide where to keep your data. I use both my own in-house servers and an offsite server. With pCloud, you can decide between US or EU servers to store your data safely. Ether way, with pCloud, you get the best available data encryption.
Are there alternative cloud storage services worth considering?
It's all well and good to use Network Attached-Storage (NAS) for backups -- I do -- but you're always one house fire or burglary away from kissing your data goodbye. So, if you want a serious backup, why not turn to long-time cloud backup champion Backblaze?
The best thing about Backblaze is that, for $60 annually, you get unlimited cloud storage for your backup. Let me repeat that, unlimited. I like this deal.
Backblaze is also downright trivial to use. Once you've set it up, it takes care of backup itself, so you needn't worry about it anymore. It also encrypts your data so no snooper can get into your secrets.
Keep in mind that each account works for only a single PC for businesses. So, if you have half-a-dozen machines in your office, you'll need half-a-dozen accounts. Frankly, for unlimited data, I can live with that.
So, get out there, find a service, and start saving and backing up your files to the cloud. You'll be glad you did and you'll never hunt down a wayward USB stick again.