The best cloud storage providers give you ample room to store your data and easy ways to share it, all at a reasonable price point. And if you’re not already storing data online, the time is now — over the past 20 years, data has increasingly moved out of your hard drive and into the cloud. In fact, revenue from global cloud storage services could eclipse $4 billion in 2016, up from less than $1 billion in 2011, according to Statista.

This article is part of a series in which The Simple Dollar is doing some deep dive research into money saving tools that can help your business thrive.

Cloud storage providers enable individuals and businesses to easily transfer files to secure networks in order to free up device space while allowing for seamless collaboration between multiple parties. In this article, I’ll discuss the what, why, and how of cloud storage for businesses. We’ll also explore the best online storage for business in specific arenas, as well as The Simple Dollar’s top picks based on overall performance.

The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for the Best Cloud Storage Providers

Cloud storage, like many business solutions, is not a one-size-fits-all product. Because of that, we’ve broken down our recommendations into several categories so you can better align your choice with the priorities of your business. Here are our picks for the best cloud storage providers:

What is the Cloud?

Many, if not all of you, are cloud computing on a regular basis. If you’ve ever uploaded a photo to a social network, used a smartphone with data backed up, or accessed Google Drive or Dropbox, you’ve been an active participant.

Think of the cloud as a virtual flash drive. You contract a designated amount of space (for some paid services, that means unlimited space), upload files that are storing your data, and they’re seamlessly transferred to the cloud.

The cloud itself is not in the sky, but rather in physical locations throughout the world stored on multiple secure servers. Clouds are typically managed and owned by hosting companies referred to here as providers. Some providers use a trusted third-party hosting company like Google. We’ll discuss the benefits of server-owned solutions later in this post.

Cloud Storage for Business

If you have a business and aren’t using cloud storage, it’s time to start. Cloud storage can make your workforce more efficient and productive, while backing up and securing your valuable data. Making sure you choose the right storage provider for you and your company is key to your success.

With the shift to virtual and accessible storage, businesses now have the ability to pay for the amount of storage they need at a competitive rate without overinvesting in device memory, or worse, having to arm their employees with easily misplaced flash drives.

The sharing and editing capabilities in the cloud allow for collaboration without the administrative burden and likelihood of outdated file updating that comes with email. More importantly, this collaboration can be done in real time, expediting the process.

Storing large amounts of data outside of the cloud is no longer cost effective, efficient, or safe for your business. Let’s explore the main features the best online storage providers are offering today so you can get a better idea which solution is the right fit for you and your business.

Compatibility

As businesses move toward a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) market to cut overhead costs and allow employees freedom to choose the device that works best for them, you’ll be surprised by the variety that ends up on the table. If you’re going to have flexibility in the devices your employees will utilize, it’s important to mirror that flexibility in your cloud storage.

As you consider a new cloud storage provider, ask yourself: Are you primarily a Windows or Mac user? Does your sales force use iPhones, Androids, BlackBerry phones, or a mix? The big tech players have all created platforms of their own for cloud storage: For instance, Windows has OneDrive and Mac has iCloud. However, that doesn’t mean you should discredit or even hesitate to lean toward others like SugarSync and Bitcasa.

Oftentimes, it’s best to go with the provider whose main focus is the solution you’re seeking. You’ll have a lot more concentrated resources and development around the topic at hand.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for Compatibility:

  • SugarSync: compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone
  • Bitcasa: compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone

These providers are among the few that have committed to an expansive portfolio of compatible platforms. Unless if you already do, or plan, to have company-provided devices for both laptops or cellphones, make sure to go with a diverse compatibility provider.

Storage Amounts

You no longer have to be married to a finite amount of storage. The best online storage plans can be increased, decreased, even cancelled if needed. However, don’t lose sight of the fact that if (when!) your business grows exponentially, you may want the capability of unlimited storage, something that’s not available with all providers’ plans.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for Storage Amounts:

Both Adrive and Carbonite offer competitive pricing, especially at the annual rate, and have the option for unlimited storage. If you sign up for Adrive’s 2TB 3-year contract, you’ll be paying less than $50/month. To put that in perspective, that’s over 34,000 hours of music, 1,000 hours of video, and 620,000 photos.

File Upload Limitations

As simple as transferring data to the cloud can be, it does come with some restrictions depending on the provider and the level of service you’ve chosen.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for File Uploads:

Both of these providers come without file upload size restrictions, and were specifically chosen as the best because they also offer unlimited storage. Make sure you check the maximum storage with your provider before you get excited about the size of file you can upload.

If you move forward with Carbonite, keep in mind that while they will allow you to upload a file of any size, those that are more than 4GB need to be uploaded manually.

Sharing Capabilities

Sharing is a key component in the success of your business. Unless you’re a business of one, plan to never expand, and don’t want to have easy, seamless communication with colleagues, the ability to share files should always be included in your cloud storage decision-making process.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for Sharing:

With SugarSync, you can share individual files or entire folders with any other team member or across entire teams with just a few clicks. You also have the ability to limit permissions on specific files or folders, controlling access so it’s either “read-only” or “can edit.” On top of that, you can create a public link and share it with anyone without the need for them to register for the service. This feature alone can save you an infinite amount of email space since you no longer have to attach all those pesky files.

Box also allows you to share links accompanied by passwords, expiration dates, and restricted download access. You can create folders for group projects and quickly assign access limitations to each collaborator with co-ownership, editing, or view-only rights.

Collaboration

Just like sharing, collaboration is necessary for your business to thrive. You no longer have to wonder if you have your hands on the latest version of a document since, with cloud storage, multiple people can access a file simultaneously and everyone will always get the latest version. If you’ve ever accidentally worked on an older document, you probably felt that it compromised your time and valuable resources.

As workforces become more and more mobile, the ability to collaborate within a virtual space is critical.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for Collaboration:

Both ZipCloud and JustCloud Business Plans allow for unlimited users, unlimited devices, easy file-sharing, and synced, real-time file updates. With ZipCloud, you can also allocate the amount of storage space available to each user, keeping your entire program flexible. With JustCloud, you can create admin control panels and file-sharing access permissions.

Accessibility

One of the biggest benefits of cloud storage is infinite accessibility when you and your employees are online. The best online storage allows you to retrieve, share, and edit files from anywhere in the world.

But will you always have Internet access? Many cloud storage providers offer syncing capabilities that grant you access to specific files or folders from your cloud even when you’re offline. This is especially helpful if your workforce is not always in a dedicated office, as Wi-Fi-only tablets, spotty mobile reception, and means of transportation are not guaranteed to connect you to the World Wide Web.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for Accessibility:

Both of these providers allow you to sync entire folders to be available offline rather than individual files. When you reconnect with the cloud, any files that were edited will be automatically updated. If you’re adding files to one of the synced folders in Box, you will need to click “Update All” to ensure you have offline access to the new ones as well.

Security

Security is a hot topic for cloud-based storage. You need to trust your provider, so make sure to conduct some research and understand the functions of specific features, like syncing and archiving, before handing over your files.

For example, Dropbox’s sync feature allows multiple parties to sync to the same folder. If one of the parties removes that file from the folder, it will be removed on everyone’s computer. This is an intentional feature to keep everyone’s files/folders as up-to-date as possible; however, it can cause quite a scare if the delete was an accident. Have no fear though: Dropbox, as well as many other providers, keeps backups of all files for 30 days.

As a measure of security, the most common providers like Google Drive and previously mentioned Dropbox use two-step authentication, which is great. What’s even better are the additional security features offered by our top-pick providers.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for Security:

These features include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Servers are owned and maintained by the provider rather than a third party, limiting the potential for hacking or surveillance.
  • The ability to delete files from your computer remotely in the event it is lost or stolen.
  • All files are encrypted directly by the provider rather than a third party.
  • The user has the ability to limit specific folder permissions when sharing.
  • All files are geo-redundantly stored, meaning they are housed in multiple physical locations in the event that there is damage at one of the storage centers.

Depending on the level of complexity and regulations in your industry, you may need to go with a more tightly compliant provider. If your company requires compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), make sure you research your options before moving forward with any provider. Carbonite and Egnyte are built to be compliant with HIPAA regulations, and both have up-to-date HIPAA Business Associate Agreements.

Free Cloud Storage

Few things in life are more appealing than the term “free.” Don’t forget that free services come with limitations and, when it comes to your business, you want anything but to be limited. However, if you’re a startup and are looking for ways to cut those initial overhead fees, a free service and the ability to increase storage is likely your best bet.

Best Cloud Storage Providers for Free Space:

Adrive offers an impressive 50GB of free storage within their cloud. The only cost you’ll pay is having to deal with ads. Google Drive provides 15GB of free cloud storage, but it’s shared with Gmail and Google+ Photos, too.

One thing I do not recommend is using multiple free services in order to expand your cloud storage. While there are emerging providers like Odrive, a consumer-based application that can link your free storage solutions like Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive, you run the risk of mitigating any cost benefits with the administrative burden of organizing and accessing multiple accounts on a regular basis.

Rather than linking these multiple solutions, you should upgrade your service with the same provider or find one that aligns with your business more closely in order to maintain consistency.

How I Chose the Best Cloud Storage Providers

Because the primary purpose of this article is to provide money-saving tips for your business, we focused solely on SaaS (Software as a Service) providers rather than IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or PaaS (Platform as a Service) providers, which can come with a heftier price tag due to the amount of initial resources.

SaaS providers typically eliminate the need for technical staff and reduce the cost of licensing. The providers manage the infrastructure and platforms that run on the application and charge a subscription fee for its use. This allows pricing to be scalable depending on the number of users and amount of storage needed.

I narrowed down the most reputable providers based on a combination of longevity of service, BBB ratings, features, and customer reviews, and then further filtered providers that did not have a business plan out of the mix. From the remaining 20 providers, I created a chart ranking them on specifics within the categories listed above (i.e. compatibility, storage amounts) to determine the best of the best.

The Best Online Storage Meets the Needs of Your Small Business

The cloud storage realm is rapidly growing and ever changing. Many providers offer competitor comparisons on their websites, but make sure you take these with a grain of salt. There are many different components to take into consideration before moving forward.

During my research, I was pleasantly surprised how smaller companies like SugarSync have pivoted to remain competitive with powerhouses like Dropbox by targeting and improving their business sector services over individual, free services.

The comparison in this article should give you a solid place to start your journey in selecting the best cloud storage. If you have experience with other providers that have been successful for your business, please share below.

Check out the other guides in our small business series if you need help finding the best project management software, the best email marketing services, and the best web hosting providers. If your business needs cash, we also offer a guide to finding the best small business loans.