Cloud storage and file sharing services have been emerging at an impressive clip over the past few years. Major vendors like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are muscling in on a market already well served by companies like DropBox. The competition to be your personal file host of choice is fierce, and user enterprises can get an impressive amount of storage for free. Naturally, there are limits to what these services can offer, and the majority are consumer focused.
What if you want a secure business solution for your virtual office? There are some lesser known B2B services out there offering attractive and unique features. Grab a coffee, sit back and relax as we take you on a tour of the best cloud storage services for small to midsize businesses.
One of the highest profile enterprise solutions around is Box. It offers a file management system in the cloud that allows you to set up file structures and individual permissions. You can have conversations, assign tasks and get real-time updates from its virtual workspace. You can create branded virtual data rooms that can be shared securely with colleagues or clients. The service can be accessed on mobile devices, and the company recently announced an app launcher called One Cloud that allows you to access the same file from different apps.
For secure storage and flexible file sharing that is scalable for any size of business, Box makes a lot of sense. It can be integrated into your existing IT structure and used in conjunction with the leading apps or even your own proprietary apps. Its customer support is extremely good. Business pricing starts at $15 per month per user and goes up the more features you want. Its full enterprise integration with solid admin and security controls, mobile device management and enhanced reporting is a good choice for very large businesses, and it already has an impressive client list.
Many companies don't have a solid disaster recovery plan, and when something bad happens, they soon regret it. Carbonite is an automatic backup solution that copies and stores your files securely with minimal input from you. They offer a range of options to restore your files that cater for different scenarios. You can also access your files anywhere via a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. The major mobile platforms iOS, Android and BlackBerry are covered.
The standout thing about Carbonite is the pricing structure. You can use the service on any number of devices for a flat annual fee that is based on the amount of storage required. Prices start at $229 per year for 250 GB. (Extra kudos for supporting National Public Radio!)
Egnyte HybridCloud is a scalable enterprise solution that offers continuous file syncing and plenty of administrative controls and security options for IT departments. You can easily back up and share files. There's also app integration, the option to brand your content, and mobile access for the iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and HP webOS platforms.
The small business package with limited features starts at $24.99 per month for five employees and 150 GB. The service can scale up to cater for an unlimited number of employees. The enterprise option, starting at $12.99 per employee per month, offers enhanced reports, app and server integration and a lot more.
Another enterprise solution for cloud storage and document management is Ftopia, which also allows you to configure a file structure and create branded, secure virtual rooms that can be shared with colleagues or clients. It has a versioning system to avoid any data loss when multiple people are working on the same file. It features an iPhone app for accessing files on the go, and there is full integration with SharePoint.
You'll find that most of the big solutions offer a pretty similar feature set, so you really want to identify the unique selling points. For Ftopia, that big differentiator is data integrity. Through its deal with Guardtime (a client of mine), it adopted a data validation service that nobody else can touch. Ftopia brings so-called Keyless Signatures to the table, a tamper-proof time stamp that uses mathematics to prove (if needed for litigation cases or regulatory compliance) that no content changes have been made to the data since the files were uploaded. Its basic package starts at $25 per month for 10 users, and there are larger packages and various add-ons available.
SugarSync is a file sharing service that is very accessible and easy to use. There are many options for sharing and protecting files of any type, but they not typically geared toward online collaboration for virtual teams. SugarSync is really about securely storing files and accessing them from anywhere. All the major mobile platforms are supported, and the business package comes with an administrative dashboard and live support.
As an easy backup and sync solution, you can't go wrong. Pricing starts at $29.99 per month for 100 GB and 3 users. One of the best things about SugarSync is that you can send files of any size from any device. If you demand mobile access not just on iOS, but on Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or Symbian as well, then check out its offerings.
What About the Big Boys?
You may be wondering if using one of the major services in the consumer space would actually be a better option for your business, so for the sake of comparison let's take a look.
DropBox does offer a business solution called DropBox for Teams. It provides 1000 GB of storage, version history, admin tools and customer support, and it starts at $795 per year for five users. Additional users cost $125 per year each. There's also no limit on file size for upload.
Google Drive offers 5 GB free, 25 GB for $2.49 per month and goes all the way up to 16 TB for $799.99 per month. The pricing is competitive, and you have limited version history, the ability to share and edit files, and the option to have discussions. The problem is Google would like you to use all their services. It's perfect if you use Google Docs, Android and Gmail, but not so great if you don't.
Windows Live SkyDrive is actually a pretty nifty option for small businesses. You get 7 GB for free and then 20 GB for $10 per year up to 100 GB for $50 per year. You've got document syncing, support for Windows Phone and iOS and the ability to edit documents even if you don't have Office. OneNote is pretty handy too but it's a similar story to Google Drive in that Microsoft really wants you to use all of its services.
There are so many services out there beyond this list that it can be seriously tough to decide. Of course, Apple and Amazon are in this space. In the end, it depends on what your needs are -- there's no one-size fits all solution that beats the rest. If collaboration is the focus, then Box should be high on your list, as should Ftopia. The data integrity guarantee from the Guardtime service and the pricing for Ftopia will tip the scales for many. SugarSync and Carbonite are both great for backups and the scalability of Egnyte's HybridCloud will appeal to some companies.
Small businesses with basic needs may get away with adopting Google or Microsoft services -- the more of their services you use, the more attractive their cloud solutions are, but then that's exactly the idea. DropBox remains a strong candidate in terms of flexibility and functionality but not so much for pricing.
Take advantage of some free trials or free personal versions and see what works best for you. All the companies in this space are trying to find niches and offer the right killer set of features right now. Ultimately all that cguarompetition is good for the end user.
Victor Cruz is a blogger whose articles have appeared in American Venture, Cloud Computing Journal, Cloud Tech, eSecurity Planet, Wired.com/Clouline and others.