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Cloud storage services: the big four compared

Posted on 20 Sep 2012 at 14:50

Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive and Box.Net are the four biggest names in cloud storage, but how do they work out for business use?

Dropbox is arguably the archetypal cloud storage service, and one of the first services to demonstrate the potential of cloud computing to the mainstream user. Despite concerns about security, it has become a popular tool in enterprise.

End users who used it and loved it within their personal computing bought it to work, and now many companies – officially or unofficially – use it as a quick and dirty system for sharing files between multiple users, perhaps across multiple companies and locations. What’s more, with its easy sync capabilities it’s a fine means of keeping key files up to date and accessible across desktop and laptop PCs and mobile devices.

However, Dropbox has never been the only option. From the start, Microsoft took its own approach to cloud storage with its Live Mesh and SkyDrive services, and now that Microsoft has rolled Live Mesh’s synchronisation features into a Windows 8-ready SkyDrive, it’s an extremely compelling alternative.

Box.Net has been providing online storage since 2005, and now offers synchronisation in its Box for Business product, while Google Drive now incorporates online storage and synchronisation features along with integrated online office apps. All four services have advantages that might suit the way you do business.

Box.net


Price: 5GB Free, 1TB for £11 per user per month

Internet:
www.box.net

SkyDrive2

Like Dropbox, SkyDrive and Google Drive, Box.Net has a free option with 5GB of storage space, but this comes with limitations, including a 100MB limit for individual files and a lack of synchronisation features. Step up to the premium Box for Business plan, however, and it becomes a much more attractive proposition. Your company gets a generous 1TB of storage space that can be shared between three and 500 users, the 100MB limit goes up to 2GB, and the Box Sync applet enables synchronisation between a My Box Files folder across multiple PCs.

However, Box.net is more than a me-too product. The Business Plan comes with a comprehensive admin panel that allows you to add and remove users, assign rights to specific folders and monitor file uploads, downloads and changes. Files and folders can be shared with other Box users by inviting them to collaborate, or with non-Box users through an email link. Once you have collaborators, it’s easy for everyone to comment on files, and even assign tasks and deadlines to their colleagues. In a way, Box.net is becoming less a cloud storage service and more a cloud-based workflow tool.

SkyDrive

Other useful features include versioning with a full version history, the ability to lock files against further versions or editing, and mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry, allowing you to view and comment on files while on the move. What’s more, plug-in apps mean Box can integrate with Microsoft Office or Google Apps, so that you can save files to and from Box.net from within the relevant Office suites. You won’t find the integration quite as slick as with SkyDrive and Google Drive, respectively, but at least you’re not tied into one system. Beyond this, a wide array of third-party applications can be configured to work direct with Box.net.

With the Business plan, Box.net is a strong cloud storage service. The Web-based interface is easy to use, there are plenty of security options, including SSL encrypted transfers, and – unlike rival services – files are encrypted while at rest. In our tests the sync and sharing features worked seamlessly. Speeds are also good with 511MB of files uploading within two hours and downloading to a second PC in just 18 minutes and 36 seconds. Files edited on one machine synced between the two in under 1 minute and 18 seconds.

The biggest issue is the price. Box.net for Business costs £11.99 per user per month, which is expensive in comparison to the Microsoft, Dropbox and Google options. The file preview features also don’t work quite as well as Microsoft or Google’s, with some Office documents refusing to display in Firefox but showing up fine in Internet Explorer. Box.net is well worth considering for its advanced administration and collaboration features, but it’s not as quick and intuitive as Dropbox or as effectively tied into Windows and Office as SkyDrive – nor as easily affordable.

Features: 6

Ease of Use: 4

Value for Money: 4

Overall: 5

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User comments

Self-hosted alternative

One might want to check out Tonido Cloud if you are looking for a private cloud storage/sync solution.

It will allow to host your own dropbox or box.net like solution in your organization.

By venkat on 20 Sep 2012

Are *any* of these services properly secure?

You gloss over the security problems of dropbox with the statement "Despite concerns about security" but are the alternatives any better?

The first question of anybody (business or personal) considering using a third party service to store or transmit data should be: can the service operator decrypt my data.

With dropbox, the security defect is apparently not just that it can, but that it actually does, with encryption operating only in transit and the data being stored fully decrypted on the operator's servers.

So ... which of the alternatives will guarantee that the data remains encrypted not just for transit but for storage too, with only the user knowing the decryption keys?

By hargx on 24 Sep 2012

As venkat states, I can't believe there is a whole article on this without even touching upon the self-hosted options. Another couple would be OwnCloud and Oxygencloud.

By broccauley on 24 Sep 2012

Sugarsync

I've been using the free version of Sugarsync for about a year now. I also have Dropbox and Google Drive installed, but I hardly use them because Sugarsync is just so much better! If you want anything more flexible than the basic drag and drop into a folder, Sugarsync wipes the floor with the other offerings out there. The feature I like best is being able to sync the folders I already have, rather than having to create new ones.

By Mark_Hazeldine on 25 Sep 2012

Conclusion (missing)

Since all products had the same final score, a conclusion would be nice!

By FredRF on 25 Sep 2012

OwnCloud for Self-Hosted

It's free, and can run on a Linux box, including the Raspberry Pi.

By GregWoods on 25 Sep 2012

What about Amazon?

When you talk about the "Big Four", in reality, they are Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Dropbox, who will start to loose market share as users buy into entire ecosystems.
Amazon Cloud is now promoted on Amazon.co.uk, despite being (I think) still US based.

By GregWoods on 25 Sep 2012

Amazon

@GregWoods - Amazon Web Services are available in a number of places, including Ireland.

Amazon won't lose market share anytime soon. The people that are likely to buy their own ecosystem aren't currently using Amazon anyway - they are the likes of the banks, who already have machine rooms and for whom cloud computing is more about repurposing the existing hardware.

Amazon's biggest customer is Netflix, and most of their larger customers are similar organisations (that is, overgrown startups). These people have no history of operations, no machine rooms, and no incentive to go through the pain of setting up infrastructure.

- Dave

By dcleal1 on 25 Sep 2012

I'm not convinced

I would only take one successful, malicious hacker. Bang, all your documents are gone along with your business. I just don't believe it's safe considering the on-going reports of various companies getting hacked every couple of months.
And this doesn't cover governments deciding they have the right to snoop on anything you've got stored on a server in their country.
At the very least, don't store anything mission critical, commercially sensitive or personal data in the cloud. In other words anything you can't afford to lose or have exposed to any Tom, Dick or Rupert Murdoch.

By pjajennings on 25 Sep 2012

Still trying to find something that will sync files held on server shares without having to have everything within a master folder. Dropbox is great for personal use, but won't do server shares and they tell me they're "working on it" for a future release. It would be great to be able to install an agent on a server and simply tick boxes next to the folders you wanted to sync, no matter what partition they resided on.

By thedrumdoctor on 26 Sep 2012

my opinion on cloud storage services

The best for me has been Sugarsync. A big comparison chart is available here: http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/1080740/bigchart
-7.jpeg
Unlike dropbox or google drive, you can sync any folder and backup any folder. you can upload by email too. Sugarsync allows you to sync multiple computers and can sync folders between multiple computers.
Sugarsync gives 5gb, extra 0.5gb for using the link below, 2gb for inviting 20 friends,625mb for completing some simple steps and additional 250mb if you download and complete simple tasks on your smartphone

app.Then there is the option of500mb per successful referral, 10gb if they take up a paid account.
I got 8.375gb (5+0.5+2+0.625+0.250) within minutes. Get it by clicking this link: http://bit.ly/KbjOKH.

By asdferewr on 13 Oct 2012

I think that cloud storages are very handy. The software DriveMaxx www.drive-maxx.com makes it even easier to administer your data.

By GeorgeSm on 28 Nov 2012

SugarSync for me

I have been using SugarSync for about 2 years now. I like it very much: never got it wrong, quite light on the system, hardly slows down anything, very fast and reliable. It adapts to my folder structure, instead of moving files to a special folder. It is syncing a few GB across several work PCs and laptops, and I can access quickly all files from my mobile anywhere. I recently tried the sync ability of Acronis True Image 2013, but found it slow and clunky by comparison. I just signed up for more online storage with SugarSync, a bit more expensive than other services, but I decided it is worth it.

By frapro on 10 Jan 2013

CloudMe

With CloudMe being the European alternative to Dropbox, I think it should be on the list too!

CloudMe is a Swedish cloud sync service that makes it easy to sync your files with all your work and home computers and mobile devices. Easily share photos and video to FB, Twitter, Google+ or send a link via email or a text message. Stream music and view photos/video from a smartphone, computer or TV (Google TV, Samsung TV).

CloudMe offers a 3GB free account to start with that can be increased to 19 GB of free space by referring friends.

https://cloudme.com

By Monica_CloudMe on 11 Jan 2013

Copy.com is great

I almost tried everything including kim dotcoms mega.
Copy.com has and edge over others in speed and storage space they provide.
They provide 20 GB for starters for free and 5 GB each you refer..

here is a link if you want to sign up

https://copy.com?r=IroDcA

It will make me smile and give you 5 Gb as well.

By adroit17 on 18 Dec 2013

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