Small businesses increasingly require on-the-go access to their data, with no overhead for storage maintenance and no hardware maintenance costs. Cloud storage is an effective solution that is rapidly gaining popularity. (For more information, see Cloud Computing: An Industry on the Rise.) This article delves into the concept of cloud hosting and looks at some of the best cloud hosting providers for small businesses.
Data Storage Options
Individuals used to store their personal data on hard drives and memory cards before cloud computing. However, computers and mobile phones are easily damaged or lost, and accessing stored data may necessitate physical proximity to the device. Businesses have kept their data on large servers housed in specialized data centers. Data can only be accessed by a user who has logged into the corporate network, and it may not be accessible via the Internet or while the user is on the move. (For more information, see Investing in Data Centers.)
Individual devices and corporate servers both require dedicated support and maintenance, and ensuring data security remains a challenge.
What is cloud storage?
A cloud service provider or a cloud hosting company provides clients with a fixed-size server space that they use to store data. While the client owns the data that is stored, the hosting company owns and maintains the necessary hardware. The cloud host provides continuous access to client data while also providing secure access as specified by the clients. In turn, the data may be stored across one or more servers configured in the cloud hosting company’s data centers.
Although this concept dates back to the 1960s, it has gained popularity in recent years as Internet infrastructure has improved, allowing faster access to remotely-hosted data. Cloud hosting is quickly becoming popular among businesses because it eliminates the hassles of local server maintenance, associated costs, and certain security concerns. Big names in the growing cloud hosting market include Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT), and giants like Intel are reportedly investing heavily in supporting technologies. (For more information, see Is Cloud Computing an Investable Trend?)
The top eight cloud service providers are listed in this article. Our list is organized alphabetically, with pricing information as of the time of publication.
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a wide range of cloud hosting services. Pay as you go, Pay less when you reserve, Pay even less per unit by using more, Pay even less as AWS grows, and Custom pricing are all options. Pay as you go allows you to pay only for the resources you use, with no long-term commitments or upfront costs. The “Pay less when you reserve” plan enables you to invest in reserved capacity and then receive discounts and savings. “Pay even less per unit by using more” allows for cost savings through increased storage space and data transfer. The “Pay even less as AWS grows” plan entitles you to benefits when AWS optimizations result in lower operational costs. Custom pricing, as the name suggests, is for clients who require customized solutions. AWS touts its USP in computation and dedicated application services such as website hosting, mobile data backup, business app hosting, and gaming. Pricing details vary greatly across multiple product offerings, and one can begin with the AWS free tier to gain firsthand knowledge of services and expected costs.
Box for business provides secure file sharing, enterprise-level security, file sync, cross-platform support, IT and admin controls, reporting, and dedicated technical support. Their personal plan is free and provides 10GB of storage, while the personal pro plan costs $10 per month and provides 100GB of storage. Business plans include a starter plan with 100GB of storage for $5 per user per month; for $15 per user per month and at least three users, businesses can get unlimited storage. Under the enterprise plan, clients can request customization. Features such as Microsoft Office 365, active directory, and maximum allowed file size differ between business plans, and users can select the one that best meets their needs.
Dropbox claims that their Dropbox for Business cloud-hosting solutions have served over 300,000 teams. Expedia, Under Armour, Spotify, and National Geographic Channel are just a few of Dropbox’s well-known clients. Dropbox allows file sharing with users who do not have a Dropbox account, in addition to cross-platform sharing, storage, sync, backup, and seamless integration. Individuals can use the free basic plan, which includes 2GB of storage and Microsoft 365 integration, allowing them to edit files directly through Dropbox. Individuals can get 2TB of free storage with the Plus plan. The Standard Business plan includes 5TB of storage for $15 per user per month for at least three users. It also provides comprehensive audit records of user activities, sharing, and controls. Priority dedicated support is provided to business users.
JustCloud has over 50 features, including an admin control panel, network drives, access and permission management, geo-redundant storage, file versioning, and hourly backup. The business plan costs $29.95 per month and includes 100GB of storage for five computers, while the enterprise plan costs $59.95 per month and includes 500GB of storage space for twenty computers. If you have more backup needs, you can also get a custom plan.
- Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft’s cloud hosting services are available through OneDrive. Individual users can get 5 GB of free storage, while larger capacities like 100GB, 1TB, and 6TB cost $1.99, $6.99, and $9.99 per month, respectively. Business plans begin at 1TB per user for $5 per month and include a free trial. OneDrive’s key features are cross-platform syncing and powerful searching, in addition to storage. It has its own downloadable software for keeping remote and local data in sync, and it also supports many third-party apps for working with cloud data seamlessly. It also provides hybrid options that integrate your on-premises solutions with Microsoft’s cloud services.
Under its business plan, OpenDrive provides a comprehensive set of features such as data management, project and workflow management, and user management. Data management provides standard data storage, synchronization, and backup features, whereas project management provides an online Office suite that supports over 17 different file types for direct editing. There is powerful desktop software and apps available for Windows, Mac, and Android platforms. OpenDrive offers a basic plan with 5GB of free storage and restrictions on file size and access speed. Professional plans begin at $29.95 per month and include unlimited storage, unlimited file size, and unlimited access speed for a single user. The personal unlimited plan allows for up to three user accounts (each additional user incurs a fee), whereas the business unlimited plan allows for an unlimited number of user accounts (at extra cost). Custom pricing is available for specific needs.
When it comes to your data, SpiderOak touts their “zero knowledge” policy. Edward Snowden, a computer analyst and whistleblower, has praised SpiderOak in the press. SpiderOak’s selling points are complete privacy, complete control for clients, no knowledge of the hosts, and flexible hosting plans. Plans begin at $6 per month for 150GB of data and increase to $5 per month for 5TB. SpiderOak offers Enterprise hosted and Enterprise on Premise plans with a minimum of 500 users for advanced business needs such as active directory integration. SpiderOak is a good fit for businesses that have sensitive data and require advanced system configuration and services.
Syncplicity is a good cloud host for businesses that need to control and limit access to sensitive data. Data is accessible across devices and platforms, the interface is clutter-free, and robust reporting features are available to track content usage. It enables administrators to implement policies and controls for data access. It allows you to divide users into groups and apply different controls to those groups. It also allows for restrictions based on device location. The personal plan is free and includes 10GB of storage; the small business plan begins at $60 per user per year; and the enterprise plan requires at least 25 users. All paid plans include a 30-day free trial.
The Bottom Line
In the world of technology, “free offers” are frequently accompanied by a slew of conditions. This means limits on the size and type of data that can be hosted, bandwidth utilization, platforms (Windows or Linux), backup availability, and technical support for free cloud storage. This may be sufficient for individual users, but small businesses will almost certainly need to pay for a service that meets their requirements. While there are many good options, you should do your research before entrusting your business data to any provider.