While it sounds entirely made up, World Backup Day is real and it’s happening on March 31. That said, we couldn’t think of a more perfect time to take steps to protect your precious files. Backing your data up on an external storage drive is a great place to start, but you’ll want to keep your most important stuff somewhere that can never be lost, damaged or stolen. That means you’ll want to use the best cloud storage service available; one that allows you to access your files whenever, wherever, while also saving space on your phone, tablet or computer.
There are plenty of free cloud storage services available, whether your needs are personal or professional. Many offer upgraded paid plans, which means it’s easy to find a plan that can meet your needs to keep your data stored safely. For this article’s purposes, we’ll be focusing on plans for the average person.
We’ve compiled a guide to the most popular cloud storage services: how they work, their strengths and weaknesses. We’ve even included some lesser-known services if you want to get away from the mainstream. To be clear, we have not tested these services — this is an overview and some analysis of some of the top options in the market.
What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage is a type of computer data storage that allows your files to be immediately available on almost any internet-connected device anywhere. Files are stored on servers in a data center, instead of directly on your device.
Cloud storage comparison
|Microsoft One Drive
|100GB of storage for $2 a month ($20 annually); 200GB of storage for $3 a month ($30 annually); 2TB of storage for $10 a month ($100 annually).
|Microsoft 365 Family offers 6TB of storage and costs $10 a month ($100 annually); Microsoft 365 Personal offers 1TB of storage and costs $7 a month ($70 annually); OneDrive Standalone offers 50GB of storage for $1 a month ($10 annually).
|iCloud Plus offers 50GB for $1/month, 200GB ($3/month) or 2TB ($10/month).
|Dropbox Plus offers 2TB of storage for $10 a month; Dropbox Family offers 2TB for $17 a month; Dropbox Professional offers 3TB of storage for $17 a month.
|100GB of storage for $2 a month; 1TB of storage for $7 a month; 2TB of storage for $12/month; plans go up to 30TB of storage.
|Android, iOS, MacOS, Linux and Windows
|PC, Mac, Android and iOS
|iOS and MacOS
|PC, Android and iOS.
|Desktop, iOS and Android
Best cloud storage service options
Other Cloud Storage Options
Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, Box and Amazon aren’t your only cloud storage options.
SugarSync is a Dropbox-like alternative with apps for every mobile platform. The service offers personal and business plans with a 30-day free trial to start. With a personal SugarSync account, you get 100GB for $7.49 a month, $250GB for $10 a month or 500GB for $18.95 a month. The service offers secure file-sharing (even if they don’t have an account), collaboration, file syncing, as well as remote data wipes in the event of loss, theft or damage.
Another option for cloud storage is pCloud. The service offers annual and lifetime plans for individuals, families and businesses. PCloud doesn’t limit file sizes and doesn’t throttle your upload or download speeds. While your pCloud files are securely stored on the company’s servers, you can add an extra layer of protection by purchasing pCloud Crypto. PCloud Crypto provides client-side encryption where the encrypted version of your files are stored on pCloud servers, but the plain-text files stay on your computer. With your Crypto Pass code, you can encrypt or decrypt your files.
You can subscribe to Premium 500GB ($50 a year) or Premium Plus 2TB ($100 a year). Both of these plans, as well as the Custom 10TB Plan also offer a lifetime subscription for a flat fee. Customers can start with annual plans and upgrade to lifetime plans later if they choose.
Cloud storage: Terms to know
Cloud: This refers to software and services that are stored on the internet, instead of locally on your computer or phone. The cloud allows you to access your files anywhere with an internet connection.
Data center: Even though your files are stored in the cloud, there is still physical hardware involved. The company that you’ve purchased cloud storage from — like Google or Apple — will have actual servers where customer information lives.
Terabyte: A terabyte is a unit of measurement for digital data. One terabyte equals about 1,000 GB.
Frequently asked questions
How do I clear my cloud storage?
The process for clearing your cloud storage may vary depending on which service you use. In the Google One app, for example, there’s a Free Up Account Storage button.
Why use cloud storage?
Instead of having to remember a thumb drive, or emailing items to yourself, cloud storage lets you access your files, documents and photos on demand. If your computer or phone crashes, you don’t have to worry about losing your content, because those files are stored on a separate server. Cloud storage can be a convenient option because options like Google One, iCloud and OneDrive are built into services many use on a daily basis. Cloud storage also lets you keep your device’s local storage freed up.
Is cloud storage safe?
According to Norton, cloud storage is a safe option for users because the on-site servers are usually located in warehouses that few employees have access to. In addition, the files stored on the servers are encrypted, adding another layer of security.
No type of digital storage is risk-free, but cloud storage services also offer more immediate security features like two-factor authentication and security checkups. Privacy and security features may vary between services.
How much cloud storage do I need?
How much storage you’ll need will depend on what you’re storing. A student will likely need a smaller storage plan than a professional photographer. If your needs change, most plans let you easily upgrade or downgrade.
Sarah Mitroff contributed to this article.