What To Look For In A Personal Cloud Storage Provider
Cloud storage has been around for several years now and nearly everyone uses some form of cloud storage whether it be a free service from the likes of Dropbox, or google drive or a paid service from providers like JustCloud, SugarSync or ZipCloud but which service is actually right for you?
When looking for a personal cloud storage provider, or reviewing your existing data storage strategy, there are several key areas to consider and compare.
Data Security and Reliability
Data security is perhaps the most important aspect of cloud storage. Your personal data is by definition “yours” and often very “personal”. The files on your devices will often contain sensitive and confidential data including financial and credit card information, personal photos and videos, passwords to other accounts and services as well as a host of other information. If that data was stolen it would be a goldmine to hackers and potentially embarrassing to you and your family. In addition to your data being secure from prying eyes, it must also be secure from data loss in the form of fire, flood or a hardware failure at the cloud storage providers data center.
“So how do I review the security of my data in the cloud, what information should I be looking for?”
Your data should be stored on their servers encrypted by a strong encryption algorithm such as AES256 or blowfish. Ideally you should be the only person with access to the encryption keys, otherwise your cloud storage provider or anyone who has access to their systems could in theory read your data. The easiest way to find out if your data is truly encrypted with a personal encryption key is to ask your cloud storage supplier “If i lose my encryption key, can you reset it for me?” If the answer is Yes then i am afraid your data cannot ever be truly secure with that cloud service.
Your data should also be encrypted before it is transferred to your cloud storage and it should be sent along an encrypted tunnel too. This prevents hackers and others looking at the data whilst it is being transferred.
Lastly, your data needs to be held in multiple locations and data centers by your cloud provider. This is to ensure you can always access your data even when the main data center has suffered an extreme failure of some sort. Physical damage to the data center and its connections to the internet and power grid are all things that could put your data or access to it at least at risk. Most cloud storage providers protect your data automatically by hosting several “Mirror sites” where an identical copy is held in case of a failure causing a fault in you being able to get to your files. Again, most cloud storage companies will also frequently back up your data to yet another location to protect against other kinds of data loss or deletion. Your provider might list details such as having a 30 day or longer “retention” period where even files you have deleted from your cloud storage will still be retained for a period of time for your peace of mind.
Whilst you might assume that any cloud storage provider would do all of the above to keep your data safe and secure, many do not. If they are not bragging about it on their website then they probably aren’t doing it! If in doubt, ask the service provider directly and double check their terms and conditions to see what service levels and up time they guarantee.
For some, “cloud storage” has almost become a generic term for data stored by someone else in a data center, but it covers a vast array of services storing different data from different devices in different ways.
Not all cloud storage providers offer the same services, and those that do sometimes have them work in different ways. So it is important to find a cloud service that gives you everything you need and on all the devices you own too.
So what are you actually looking to achieve?
Are you looking to:-
- Synchronise files from your iPhone and your Windows 10 laptop to the cloud?
- Use file versioning to keep old revisions of documents before you changed them?
- Share large files and even folders with family and friends?
- Fully backup your entire Windows 10 laptop enabling you to do a bare metal restore should it be stolen?
- Access your photos and watch your videos from anywhere?
- Be able to schedule or pause running backups?
Make a mental note of all the devices you or your family own (or plan to own) and also think about what you actually want the cloud to store for you and why.
Make sure each cloud storage service you review is compatible with all your devices and that it offers the services you need.
When choosing which cloud storage service to opt for, make sure that it offers the right amount of space you expect to need, both now and in the near future. Most cloud storage services start with a small free storage package, but what happens when that free space runs out?
The cloud providers that offer the highest free storage are not always the ones offering the best value for money when you move to a paid plan. Neither are they necessarily the best overall when you consider other factors.
Therefore look at all the data you are looking to store in the cloud and add at least 25-50% extra to it to cover files you will create over the next 6-12 months. This should give you an idea of the plan sizes you should consider. Some personal cloud storage services specialize in plans at about 75-100GB whilst others have plans that enable you to store a massive 1TB of data for only a little more per month.
Many Cloud storage services offer “retention” which keeps copies of your deleted data for a period of time. This is very useful in case you have deleted some important files and want to recover them a few days later, however this storage space usually forms part of your data plan so uploading and then deleting very large files and folders can sometimes tie up a large part of your storage allocation. Choose a retention option that best suits your needs and bear in mind that a longer retention plan, whilst desirable for some, can be a problem for others.
Cloud storage providers often charge a lower overall fee (Price per GB) if you pay upfront for your storage. This is a great way of saving money if you are able to front 12 or even 24 months in one go, however it leaves you without the flexibility to cancel or downgrade your plan should your circumstances change. Should you need to upgrade however, cloud providers are usually willing to allow you to pay the difference and sign up to a higher storage plan.
If you are either not able to afford a full year or 2 year plan in advance, you are not alone and many users choose to opt for a monthly subscription instead. Although more expensive as a Price per GB in the long run, this option has the advantage of being more flexible and still brings you all the great benefits of a fully paid personal cloud storage plan.
Customer Support Service
Even though most cloud services are intuitive and easy to setup and use, it only to be expected that occasionally questions arise and problems and issues need to be dealt with. It is often helpful to know where the customer support service center is located and its hours of operation (including which time zone!).
Live chat is always a great addition to any support service as it can save on costly phone calls as well as being “live” this can really help when you need an issue resolved or question answered immediately.
Email is also great for out of hours and less urgent communications. Email means of course that you can deal with their response when you are ready, but check terms and conditions and review sites for average response times to email support.