Cloud storage can improve small business owners' capability to access, share, and protect their company's data, particularly when they have a limited capacity—or desire—to manage on-site technology resources.
To be sure, moving data to the cloud brings its own set of concerns, ranging from security (vulnerability to breaches) to availability; i.e. will a service outage prevent you from getting to your data when you need it. Case in point: a recent disruption on Google Drive and other services. But the cost and convenience benefits of cloud storage are such that an increasing number of small businesses are taking the plunge.
There are almost as many cloud storage services as clouds in the sky, but we've compiled a list of 10 of our favorites, focusing on business-centric offerings (in many cases, providers offer consumer-oriented versions at a lower cost—and with less storage and/or fewer features).
We've broken the list down into two broad categories: file storage, sharing and synching, and online backup.
Small Business File Storage, Sharing and Synching
Lots of people use Dropbox's free and extremely easy-to-use basic service to sync and share personal files between the cloud and PCs and/or mobile devices. Dropbox for Business bulks up to support multiple users, provides 1 TB of storage, centralized administration/activity monitoring, additional security settings, and the capability to track and recover previous versions of files.
Price: 14-day trial; $795 per year (1 TB of storage for up to five users)
With SugarSync for Business you can sync and share files and folders from any PC, Mac, iOS, or Android device (or even something called a BlackBerry). SugarSync for Business also includes an Outlook plugin that lets you email links to large files rather than attaching the files themselves, which is a handy way to get around the size limitations for email attachments.
Price: 30-day trial; $55 per month or $550 per year for up to three users and 1 TB of storage; $125 for each additional user
Unlike the services highlighted so far, the idea behind Box is not so much to keep files stored online synced with copies on various devices (although you certainly can do that), but to centralize business data in the cloud for easier collaboration. Box offers several noteworthy features, including the capability to share screenshots and screencasts from your desktop, search for text with the content of files (not just the file names), and integration with a plethora of third-party services.
Price: 14-day trial; $15 per user per month (minimum three users) with 1 TB of storage
4. Google Drive
Google Drive isn't that self-driving car you've heard about; it's the company's cloud-based file storage and sharing service paired with the SaaS-based productivity suite (formerly known as Google Docs), which lets you create and edit documents via the browser. Google Drive has some neat tricks too, such as the capability to display files even when you don't have the program they were created with installed on your computer (handy for Adobe formats like Illustrator and Photoshop). And it ties in with other Google products and services you may already use, such as the Chrome browser, Gmail and Google+.
Price: 5 GB for free; 25 GB for $2.49 per month, or 100 GB for $4.99 per month (higher-capacity storage plans are also available)
Microsoft's SkyDrive offers a generous helping of free storage, and good integration with Windows operating systems. If you're using Windows 8 or Windows Phone for example, Skydrive it will sync system/device settings and apps as well as files and folders. But it's not just for Windows—you can get SkyDrive for Mac, iOS and Android, too. One particularly clever feature is "Fetch", which lets you pull files off an online PC (Windows only) even if you haven't previously uploaded them to SkyDrive.
Price: 7 GB for free; add 20, 50, or 100 GB for $10, $25, or $50 per year, respectively
If you're the kind of person who sweeps a room for bugs before you utter a word (or are dealing with extremely sensitive business information), SpiderOak's "Zero-Knowledge Environment" may be what you're looking for. Pretty much every cloud storage provider encrypts your data while you're uploading it and stores it encrypted on their servers as well. But since most also store your password or encryption keys, your data is vulnerable to breaches or to anyone with physical access to the servers (i.e. an employee of the provider).
By contrast, SpiderOak lets you create your password on your own computer and keep it there, so company staff can't use it to decrypt your data. (Caveat-- this also means that if you forget your password or hint, your data can't be recovered!)
Price: 2 GB for free (unlimited computers); $10 per month or $100 per year per each 100 GB