How to pick the right cloud storage service

How to pick the right cloud storage serviceCloud storage is an indispensable tool in today's hyper-connected world. But unlike the early days of cloud storage, when vendors regularly rolled out new capabilities and routinely bumped up storage limits, the market has matured in terms of capabilities and storage norms. Here are some key factors to consider before choosing a new cloud storage service.

Getting started with the cloud

One of the first things you should do when choosing between cloud services is compare storage options, features and costs. Free offerings might work if you need only the basics, but some of the most important or advanced capabilities are available only via paid plans. Some cloud services offer very limited storage space for free, and some offer none at all.

Capabilities and storage aside, another important consideration is the level of functionality available within the official mobile apps. The iOS and Android versions of popular cloud service apps also often offer vastly differing experiences and feature sets, and they're frequently limited compared to their desktop counterparts.

For example, you sometimes have to manually select files to download them to mobile devices, and you usually can't download entire folders without individually selecting files contained within. Fortunately, some more popular cloud storage services also have third-party apps to help manage folders using compatible mobile devices.

Many of today's cloud services have problems keeping accurate track of files that are modified regularly. So the capability to save multiple copies of files from different points in time, or "versioning," can be a key feature if you plan to regularly modify the same files.

Not all cloud services support file versioning, however, and the functionality of the ones that do varies widely. Dropbox Pro offers unlimited version history, for example, but it stores revisions for just 30 days, unless you pay for the premium extended version history option or switch to Dropbox Business. Microsoft OneDrive versioning works for Office files but not others, and the versions you save eat into your storage space.

Just about all of the leading cloud storage offerings today keep data within static locations, they impose limits on the ability to rename root folders, or will only synchronize folders stored in root folders. Without resorting to complicated workarounds or running file sync software, a handful of services, such as SugarSync, let you keep your existing folder structures intact but also select arbitrary folders for syncing.

Security and the cloud

Security is already a crucial consideration when it comes to the cloud, and it will only become more important as hackers get more advanced. Unfortunately, many people simply don't understand cloud security. Cloud providers' claims that they use strong encryption for both data in transit and at rest mistakenly bolster your impression that your information is always protected.

However, the real threat comes from skilled hackers who want to crack cloud storage services, because their vast pools of data make them appealing targets. In such a situation, whether or not those companies encrypt data at rest is irrelevant, because the associated decryption keys would necessarily be stored by the same cloud provider and could also be stolen in a breach.