Online Storage: Pick a Cloud, Any Cloud
The sky is quickly filling with cloud storage services. Google Drive has just arrived on the scene, Skydrive has recently received an update, and other players like Dropbox are holding strong. When choosing a cloud storage locker, what are the most important things to look for in terms of ease of use, cross-platform access, costs, freebies, reliability, security, privacy and legal rights?
With the launch of Google Drive on Tuesday, the number of cloud storage service options for consumers has become bewildering.
On a basic level, they all offer similar services. But they make different claims about privacy and security. They also generally offer between 2 GB and 7 GB of free storage in addition to paid services.
How can a consumer figure out which service to pick?
"It really depends on what you want to do," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "If you start with a set of requirements you'll likely find one service meets them better than another."
A Look at Some Options
Apple's iCloud is pretty much reserved for users of Apple products, and the main players in the market apart from that are Google Drive and Microsoft's Windows Live SkyDrive. Dropbox is yet another option that is fairly widely used.
These services offer varying degrees of cross-platform access.
Google Drive works with any browser and can run on Macs, PCs and Android devices. Google's working on an app that will let Apple iOS devices access the service. Down the road, however, Google Drive will reportedly be integrated more tightly with Google's Chrome browser.
SkyDrive runs on Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Microsoft's releasing a preview client for Mac OS X Lion. This service has mobile apps for Windows Phone and iOS devices, but not for Android.
Dropbox runs on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. It has mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry devices.
SpiderOak works with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux's Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and OpenSUSE implementations. It also has mobile clients for iOS and Android.
"People want to have more usability of their data once it's in the cloud," Ethan Oberman, CEO of SpiderOak, told TechNewsWorld. "They want data accessible from any mobile device, synced between various points and want to be able to easily share data."
Select Features of Some Cloud Storage Providers
Microsoft's SkyDrive offers an initial 7 GB of storage for free; Google Drive offers 5 GB free.
Dropbox offers consumers 2 GB free but that can be increased to 18 GB through referrals and other means at the rate of 500 MB per referral. There's an article on how to do this at Lifehacker.
An additional 20 GB costs $10 a year at SkyDrive and $30 a year at Google Drive. An extra 50 GB costs $25 a year at SkyDrive, but Google Drive doesn't offer 50 GB. SkyDrive charges $50 a year for an extra 100 GB and SkyDrive $60 a year. Google Drive offers 1 TB for $600 a year. SkyDrive doesn't go that far.
Dropbox's Pro 100 plan offers 50 GB of storage for $100 a year or $10 a month. Its Pro 100 plan offers 100 GB of storage at $200 a year or $20 a month. Storage in both these plans can be increased by an additional 32 GB at the rate of 1 GB per referral.
Apple's iCloud offers 5 GB of free storage. It charges $40 a year for 20 GB and works with both PCs and Macs as well as iOS devices.
What About Security and Privacy?
"Google's terms say ... that anything you upload to Google Drive can be used by Google and you can't stop that by removing it," Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, told TechNewsWorld.
Both Apple and Google will release user data to meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request. Dropbox explicitly denies ownership of a user's data, and it claims that, with rare exceptions, it will refuse to share content with law enforcement without the owner's permission.
SpiderOak states that users' data is encrypted, so if forced to give data to a government agency, it will only be capable of handing over scrambled information.
Microsoft "is, at least for now, inherently more secure by practice, and Apple has security as a religion but is typically not that good with hosted services like this," Enderle said.
Most cloud storage service providers can reset users' passwords if the users forget them, which means they can "automatically see what's behind that password," SpiderOak's Oberman said. SpiderOak has what it calls a "zero knowledge policy," which involves storing only encrypted data and not retaining the user's password.
"Fundamentally, when you put your data in the cloud, you should assume that it will be compromised," Randy Abrams, an independent security consultant, told TechNewsWorld. Consumers shouldn't put data on the cloud, such as healthcare information, that might be harmful to them if compromised.