Personal online storage used to be much simpler. Back in 2005 you would have had an email address that came with free online storage for messages and attachments -- in the case of Google that was 2GB worth of Gmail storage.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the space looks a lot different. Faster internet speeds and higher capacity servers made it possible for data and media storage to be outsourced to services such as Dropbox (founded 2007), OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive, 2008) and Google Drive (formally introduced in 2012). The evolution of online storage introduced a bevy of features for different users and use-cases.
We’re listing some of the features and things to consider when choosing your online storage provider in today’s world and take a look at how the space has evolved.
We’ve come a long way since the early days of OneDrive (SkyDrive) offering just 500MB of free storage or Dropbox charging $99/year for 50GB. As of the time of writing, we’re looking at 2-16GB free across different services just for signing up, and $70-100/year for 1TB if you need more space -- that’s 20x more storage for the same price.
Online Backup vs. Syncing
Backing up means you’re storing a copy of your files online -- usually to keep it safe or easily accessible even if your computer isn’t in front of you, or worse, if it gets damaged or corrupted.
Syncing on the other hand is geared towards users who access, edits and interacts with their files on a more regular basis. Syncing software designates a folder on your computer as a sync folder and any file added, deleted or edited within this folder are further kept in sync and available within all your mobile devices and computers where the service is installed.
Local sync folders integrates the cloud and your local storage. Most providers have native sync clients: Dropbox introduced their client in 2007, there’s a Google Drive Sync client, iCloud Drive for Mac was introduced last year and OneDrive is built into Windows. This brings us to the next consideration.
Where are you interacting with your data -- web, desktop, mobile? Windows, Mac or Linux?
Choosing the right storage provider depends a lot on the environment you’re comfortable working in. Since it’s online, the web browser will be a common ground among most of the services (i.e. you can access your files via drive.google.com, dropbox.com and onedrive.live.com) but integration with platforms such as the OS you use and your mobile device is an important consideration if you’re looking for more flexibility and accessibility.
Collaboration and Sharing
One of the most useful aspects of storing your data online is the ease and convenience of sharing and collaborating with other people. Evolving from email attachments, sharing files and even whole folders with other people became as easy as sending someone a link. Sharing became a standard feature across different providers.
Some services have taken this to the next level with online collaboration features. Made popular by Google Docs (before Google Drive), it became possible for collaborators to work on and edit files simultaneously via the web browser. Not all providers addresses this use-case, so it’s also an interesting factor to consider especially if working with a team.
Security and Encryption
As more data and files are stored online, the security measures available to us becomes an important consideration. One security feature a lot of online services have adopted is two-factor authentication or two-step verification. Evolving from the simple password, this feature takes security to another level by requiring more input from the user -- be it a security code that is sent to a user in real time via SMS or an app. This strengthens the vulnerability of static passwords.
For users with more sensitive data, encryption may be required. This involves changing the data into an unreadable state or code to prevent unauthorized access. This is still a far less common feature in online storage providers, but there are 3rd party services that address this concern like Boxcryptor.
Customer Service and Support
Lastly, we go back to a classic: customer support. Like any business, it’s important that users are guided and heard should they ever need help. Online storage, is, after all, a bit more feature-packed nowadays. Depending on your needs, check for help desks, tutorials, online documentation, FAQs and chat, email and phone support.