Cloud storage is more than just a place to drop your company's data. Sure, it's another drive letter where teams share files, but these platforms offer several other capabilities that local storage can't. These features include elastic capacity, inline editing with multi-user versioning, and beefier security. Most of them also offer app integration with the rest of your cloud service portfolio, especially with other storage and business backup providers.
If your employees are still working from home due to the pandemic, and especially if that might become permanent, a cloud storage resource is a bedrock component when building a hybrid work online collaboration space. It also helps if you're moving to a full-on desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) environment. You'll need one of them not just to store and organize your data, but also to handle basic collaboration, especially data protection and granular permissions. Integration means even if the primary work is being done in another app, such as Salesforce or Slack, all those benefits still apply.
Unfortunately, that same breadth of capabilities can also present difficulties. The sheer number of features that vendors are offering to compete and differentiate themselves can make it hard to zero in on what you need. However, there are some key considerations that everyone needs. For example, any business cloud storage solution needs to be accessible, traceable, and secure. That means access anywhere via the cloud, a log of who's accessed what and when, and a service that protects data with access control, backups, and encryption.
Best for Advanced Storage Needs
- Versatile cloud and hybrid on-premises cloud storage solution options.
- Designed for the needs and requirements of business users.
- Great desktop and mobile app integration.
- Pricing tiers may alienate smaller businesses.
- Some competing products offer more pricing and feature flexibility.
Microsoft OneDrive for Business
Best for Microsoft 365 Customers
- Ubiquitous professional cloud storage available in most platforms.
- Seamless integration with Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, and Microsoft Teams.
- Outstanding mobile app support.
- Short on existing integration options.
- Must use desktop application for offline access.
Best for Small Teams or Remote Workers
- Affordable pricing
- Supports PCs, mobile devices, and NAS
- Easy remote management features
- Offers USB hard drive restores sent through the mail
- No trial version
- Weak on anti-malware and ransomware protection
- Microsoft 365 email supported only on Business plan
Citrix Content Collaboration
Best for Sharing With Collaboration
- Collaboration- and security-focused business cloud storage and file-sharing platform.
- Granular sharing and permissions options for employees and clients.
- Unlimited storage.
- Collaboration and document creation is limited to Microsoft Office documents.
- Can get expensive in some scenarios.
- Free trial users will see a persistent "upgrade today" banner.
Best for Integration and Security
- Expanded functionality evolves product from storage solution to full-on file-sharing platform.
- Solidly business-focused.
- Offers a remote-wipe security feature.
- Online file editing isn't included.
- Lacks private key management.
- Missing text optical character recognition (OCR) for mobile scanning.
Backblaze Business Backup
Basic Small Business Endpoint Backup
- Unlimited storage included
- Convenient hard-drive-by-mail recovery option
- Low-impact backup app runs in the background
- Easy integration with Backblaze B2 cloud storage
- Lacks advanced backup analytics
- No Linux client
|Backblaze||Visit Site||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Google Drive Enterprise
Best for Google Workspace Customers
- Brings G Suite's ease of collaboration and smarts to Microsoft Office products.
- Powerful search and proactive workflow features.
- Offers unprecedented control over data with easy migration and host of privacy and compliance tools.
- File sharing security could be better.
- Not too many reasons to get Google Drive Enterprise over the more comprehensive G-Suite solutions.
Box (for Business)
Best for Secure Workflows
- Powerful and versatile cloud storage, file-sharing, and synchronization features.
- Unlimited storage and users.
- Improved user interface and user administration features.
- Navigation can be slow.
- Lacks online editing functionality.
- External users are only given read-only privileges.
Wasabi Hot Cloud Storage
Best as a Cheap Amazon S3 Alternative
- A challenger to Amazon S3 but promising lower cost, faster performance, and no hidden charges.
- Has a ton of integrations.
- Third-party software required for larger backups.
- Phone support costs extra.
- Currently has only three storage regions.
- No free tier.
|Wasabi||$5.99 Per TB Per Month||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Livedrive for Business
Best for EU and UK Businesses
- Uses Two-factor authentication
- Easy to add extra users and more storage
- End-to-end data encryption
- GDPR compliant for UK- and EU-based businesses
- Price is high for a limited feature set
- Lacks HIPAA compliance
- No malware scanning or ransomware protection
At the IT level, administrators need to know which cloud is housing their data and where those data centers are located. This can be daunting not only because some vendors are reluctant to share this information, but also because many solutions rely on value-added resellers (VARs) to productize their cloud storage resources. That creates a back-end morass where it can be difficult to determine where the bits are being stored. We'll discuss all these issues in more detail below.
What Does Business-Grade File Sharing Do?
The positive side to this ever-growing list of features is that smart organizations can find new and creative ways to use their storage infrastructure. Cloud storage means you can tweak a service so it acts as a lightweight document management system or even a workflow manager that controls how your data flows through a chain of users. Or you can focus on collaboration and file sharing features so employees can edit the same files in a team space while protecting their work with versioning.
This kind of customizability is more important now than ever. Remote work is on the rise, but employees moving away from a central office work model can drastically alter how work gets done. Storing and retrieving your company's data needs to adapt and no other storage method can handle those changes as easily as a cloud service.
The rub is that effective customization requires planning, especially when that customization is around important workflows. Just because a storage vendor has a long list of features doesn't mean you'll automatically take advantage of them all. Knowing what features will work best and in what combination is planning that only you, your IT staff, and your front-line business managers can do.
Focus your planning efforts on only key workflows at first and start small. Pay attention to core abilities, especially reliable accessibility, effective backups, secure storage, and user and group management. Once you know how you want all that to work while your workers are so widely distributed, then you can expand out into automated workflow, collaboration, and third-party app integrations. Sometimes core app integrations should be considered earlier, for example, if your business has standardized on a particular productivity platform. (i.e., Google shops will choose Google Drive while Microsoft 365 outfits will likely select OneDrive).
Easy "Pluggability" Into Your Other Apps
If you don't have an obvious integration target like Google Workspace, the good news is that the cloud has made it easier for different vendors to talk to each other through open standards. These days you can mix and match cloud storage solutions with a long list of current productivity and document management systems. If you have to go so far as to do some custom coding, most vendors offer REST APIs so you can both trade data and call up functions between different app services. If all you need is better automation, then services like IFTTT or Zapier can let anyone build coss-app automation with a fairly low learning curve.
Cloud companies also see the value of interoperability, though they primarily try to address it in high-value customer categories and verticals. Vendors like Microsoft and Salesforce, for example, have huge partner ecosystems with large catalogs of targeted service offerings. A partner takes the company's core products, like Microsoft 365, and builds integrations and workflow features using that product and one or more third-party cloud services. Those solutions are built to attract specific kinds of businesses or verticals.
So, for example, Vendor X might build an end-to-end lease management solution for big-city property management companies. That solution might use a database of property listings linked to a Salesforce CRM. That link would match properties to potential renters. From there, it could automatically match a renter type and a property type to the right lease template stored in another database or a contract or document management system. Those leases get filled out using editable PDF documents that get dropped into an approval workflow either back in the Salesforce framework or some other productivity environment, like Google Workspace or Microsoft 365.
Of course, the more third-party services a solution like that uses, the higher the per-user-per-month price tag. But the fact that you can put such a customized solution together using just a plug-in cloud service architecture is attractive since it lets you swap service vendors in and out pretty easily.
So if you're looking to use a cloud storage service in a very particular way, certainly do the planning necessary to understand exactly what kinds of custom tweaks and workflows you'll need. But once that's done, don't assume you'll need to build all that yourself. Instead, first, check out the integration and value-add app marketplaces available from your key app providers as well as those offered by the storage service. Someone may have already built the perfect end-to-end solution for you, and that's cheaper and easier than rolling your own.
Storage and Sharing
One reason behind the trend in new, value-add features is that storage capacity is largely a moot issue in the cloud. Many buyers start off focusing mainly on a vendor's storage capacity and how much they'll get for how many dollars. That's certainly still something to consider, but overall, storage space is now more affordable than ever with prices trending slowly downward. In terms of capacity, most cloud storage providers offer a generous amount of storage and in various tiers. Multiple terabytes (TB) are commonplace and no longer a big differentiator between services, especially now that adding storage capacity is easy and cheap.
If you suddenly need an extra 100GB of space for a fast project, most cloud storage vendors make adding that capacity a simple matter of clicking some option buttons. That'll not only give you the new space but also automatically up your subscription charge accordingly. Even better, once the project is done and you don't need that 100GB anymore, you can ratchet both capacity and price back down again just as easily. This kind of elastic capacity is easy for a cloud storage vendor and almost impossible for an on-premises resource.
Of course, all this freedom can again make things complicated, especially in a larger company. If storage capacity and subscription rates jump around because department managers constantly change their requirements, that can play havoc with a long-term budget. Be sure to set up controls around who gets to adjust capacity (your IT department should be key here), how new capacities should be reported, what the minimal security and permission requirements are, which backup policies need to apply, and how often this can happen in a given time slice (quarterly, annually, etc.).
Watch Those Details
All this paints a very rosy picture when it comes to designing your very own customized and highly distributed storage service. And while that's true, there are still several devils lurking in the details. A big one is finding out exactly where your data is. Some providers have their own data centers while others outsource their storage to another third-party cloud, often Amazon Web Services (AWS) or a similar Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) player.
That's an important point to consider: Are you signing a service-level agreement (SLA) with a cloud provider that's directly responsible for the infrastructure or is the provider beholden to another party? If it's a third party, make sure to investigate that firm and examine its track record. Then, look at the levels of service it offers. While all the major players have some level of uptime guarantee, it's worth noting that location is an important factor.
How many data centers does the third party have? How many are local and how many are potentially in a completely different locale? If you're a US company, purchasing a storage resource with servers housed only in Europe makes little sense. Finally, is your data distributed among them for better reliability? You should be able to determine those answers easily from a target vendor and designate where you want your data stored so you can optimize your storage for access speed and redundancy.
How your employees will access their files is not only critical, it can also vary widely among vendors. Sharing data functionality should involve a sync client or some other kind of desktop-based software that resides on each PC or client and ensures that data in the cloud is synced with local replicas. But some vendors can have other points of access. For example, all cloud storage companies will offer a web client, but some might also make this the primary client. Maybe that works for you and maybe it doesn't, but it's something you need to test before committing.
Mobile devices are also an issue. Many of those newly distributed employees are trying to use personal devices for work and many of those devices are mobile. Does your storage vendor have mobile clients? If so, you need to find out which platforms are supported and then test how those clients work. Syncing, for example, needs to function differently for mobile versus desktop since device CPU and storage resources are so different. Security and user access will also work differently especially if user credentials incorporate device types.
Another thing to remember is that you won't always be accessing your data directly through the storage vendor. For instance, Microsoft OneDrive for Business can sync with Microsoft Teams, its team messaging platform, as well as the team sites that are part of its popular SharePoint Online collaboration platform. So your users might do their work on files in those apps and then see them automatically saved to an associated cloud storage service, in this case, OneDrive.
By comparison, Box (for Business) offers a fully functional web client with drag-and-drop support. Shared data can be stored in folders originated by individuals or in team folders created and controlled by team leads or administrators, but it all happens in a browser window. Making it happen inside another app will take more work unless Box pre-builds the integration for you.
For most any real workflow, you'll need some version of team folders, so how that works not just in the storage vendor's interface but also any associated third-party apps needs to be considered carefully before purchase. Working with users here to determine what they like best and how they're getting work done today can go a long way towards making your purchase decision easier.
How user and group folders work is what you'll need to determine, not just if the solution supports that feature. What features are supported, how they're controlled, and which third-party apps they can affect are all important points. Several solutions go above and beyond the call of duty and incorporate tight integration with popular third-party platforms, such as the aforementioned Microsoft 365. For example, even Microsoft rival, Google, has built a Google Drive Enterprise connector to incorporate smooth collaboration functionality for Microsoft 365 users.
Look for Deep, Layered Security
Perhaps the most important storage devil you'll need to wrestle with is security. Keeping data safe is a more significant challenge today than it's ever been. Features that were once considered advanced are now simply baseline capabilities. Enterprise-grade identity management, for example, is something every storage vendor should offer. That means not only matching an individual user's credentials against what files and folders they're allowed to access, but also adding multi-factor authentication and single sign-on (SSO) features, too.
As mentioned above, secure storage means protecting data from more than prying eyes. Redundant storage layers mean you should be able to map which data centers house not just the primary copy of your data, but the first backup tier, too. So if you've got 500GB of data with Vendor X, then you should be able to house the files your employees access the most in data centers close to where they're working. Then Vendor X should also allow you to sync those files with a copy located in another data center, one still operated by that vendor, so should your primary instance go down, another data copy can be immediately available.
Vendor X should also perform regular backups of both sites and store that data in a different location. Finally, you should be able to get integration with a third-party cloud backup provider so you can automatically perform yet another backup on your own and store that on servers from an entirely different vendor or even your on-premises server or network-attached storage (NAS) device.
That may sound like overkill, but the beauty of a managed cloud service is that this kind of tiered architecture is relatively easy to build from the customer's standpoint and fairly automatic once it's established. As long as you test it every once in a while, you can rest assured that no matter what happens, your data will stay safe and accessible.
Encryption is another bedrock security feature. All our tested vendors supported this to varying degrees, but should you encounter one that doesn't just keep looking. Encryption is a must-have and you need it both while the data is moving between your users and the cloud as well as when it gets to those cloud servers and stops moving. So both "in transit" and "at rest." Testing these capabilities means understanding the encryption schemes being used as well as their impact on data retrieval performance.
Fortunately, cloud storage providers are working hard to shore up security to keep your bits safe and compete with one another. So much so that most IT professionals trust cloud security as much or more than what's available on-premises (64 percent according to a 2015 survey by the Cloud Security Alliance(Opens in a new window)). The logic is fairly simple. Most IT professionals simply don't have the budget to research, deploy, and manage the advanced security capabilities that cloud service vendors can provide because it's key to their primary business.
Important Regulatory Compliance Features
Aside from simply keeping customer data safe, another factor that's bolstered cloud security significantly is the need to comply with important regulatory standards, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and ISO 27001. Livedrive for Business is somewhat singular here because it's focused on European customers so it's built around the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is why its servers are located in the EU and UK.
Regulatory requirements are generally determined by your legal staff, and you'll need to factor them into your planning. Cloud storage providers usually have several features built-in specifically to address compliance issues.
For example, every file and folder must have an audit trail. This highlights when it was first stored on the system, how and when it's been modified, who accessed it, and what kinds of operations were performed, like copying, deleting, or moving. This is paramount for the more heavily regulated or security-conscious verticals. Due to mistakes or misconduct, losing mission-critical files can often cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in reparations or lost capital.
File retention is another common legal requirement. You need to control how long data lives on the system, how it's accessible, and when it can be deleted or archived. And your storage provider should make these features easy to use. Having the right information on hand can often mean the difference between being in or out of compliance with federal or industry-specific regulations in heavily regulated industries.
All of this means that before you purchase any cloud service, you need to sit down with your IT staff and your compliance expert to understand exactly where data and apps need to be located and what features they need to support to pass the compliance regulations important to your business.
One Step at a Time
Choosing a cloud storage product for your organization can seem like a daunting task when you first consider all of the variables involved. Not only do different businesses have varying cloud storage and file sharing requirements, they demand solid security for file backups and sharing. Striking a balance between usability, security, and customization ultimately needs to be driven by business requirements. But understanding exactly what those requirements are is a serious task that will require real work; it's not something you want to address with a snap decision.
While some of the vendors we reviewed make it easier to migrate your data off of their service, not all of them are so thoughtful. Once you've signed up and moved your data onto a particular service, it's generally not trivial to move it to another, so it's a good idea to do your homework thoroughly before committing to any one provider.
Planning is the key. So sit down with business leads, IT managers, and even a representative from the cloud provider if you can. It'll take some time and effort, but going to the trouble of mapping out the features necessary for your organization's current and future needs will make finding the right solution much easier.