Cloud storage services: the big four compared
Dropbox is arguably the archetypal cloud storage service, and one of the first services to demonstrate the potential of cloud computing to the mainstream user. Despite concerns about security, it has become a popular tool in enterprise.
End users who used it and loved it within their personal computing bought it to work, and now many companies – officially or unofficially – use it as a quick and dirty system for sharing files between multiple users, perhaps across multiple companies and locations. What’s more, with its easy sync capabilities it’s a fine means of keeping key files up to date and accessible across desktop and laptop PCs and mobile devices.
However, Dropbox has never been the only option. From the start, Microsoft took its own approach to cloud storage with its Live Mesh and SkyDrive services, and now that Microsoft has rolled Live Mesh’s synchronisation features into a Windows 8-ready SkyDrive, it’s an extremely compelling alternative.
Box.Net has been providing online storage since 2005, and now offers synchronisation in its Box for Business product, while Google Drive now incorporates online storage and synchronisation features along with integrated online office apps. All four services have advantages that might suit the way you do business.
Price: 5GB Free, 1TB for £11 per user per month
Like Dropbox, SkyDrive and Google Drive, Box.Net has a free option with 5GB of storage space, but this comes with limitations, including a 100MB limit for individual files and a lack of synchronisation features. Step up to the premium Box for Business plan, however, and it becomes a much more attractive proposition. Your company gets a generous 1TB of storage space that can be shared between three and 500 users, the 100MB limit goes up to 2GB, and the Box Sync applet enables synchronisation between a My Box Files folder across multiple PCs.
However, Box.net is more than a me-too product. The Business Plan comes with a comprehensive admin panel that allows you to add and remove users, assign rights to specific folders and monitor file uploads, downloads and changes. Files and folders can be shared with other Box users by inviting them to collaborate, or with non-Box users through an email link. Once you have collaborators, it’s easy for everyone to comment on files, and even assign tasks and deadlines to their colleagues. In a way, Box.net is becoming less a cloud storage service and more a cloud-based workflow tool.
Other useful features include versioning with a full version history, the ability to lock files against further versions or editing, and mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry, allowing you to view and comment on files while on the move. What’s more, plug-in apps mean Box can integrate with Microsoft Office or Google Apps, so that you can save files to and from Box.net from within the relevant Office suites. You won’t find the integration quite as slick as with SkyDrive and Google Drive, respectively, but at least you’re not tied into one system. Beyond this, a wide array of third-party applications can be configured to work direct with Box.net.
With the Business plan, Box.net is a strong cloud storage service. The Web-based interface is easy to use, there are plenty of security options, including SSL encrypted transfers, and – unlike rival services – files are encrypted while at rest. In our tests the sync and sharing features worked seamlessly. Speeds are also good with 511MB of files uploading within two hours and downloading to a second PC in just 18 minutes and 36 seconds. Files edited on one machine synced between the two in under 1 minute and 18 seconds.
The biggest issue is the price. Box.net for Business costs £11.99 per user per month, which is expensive in comparison to the Microsoft, Dropbox and Google options. The file preview features also don’t work quite as well as Microsoft or Google’s, with some Office documents refusing to display in Firefox but showing up fine in Internet Explorer. Box.net is well worth considering for its advanced administration and collaboration features, but it’s not as quick and intuitive as Dropbox or as effectively tied into Windows and Office as SkyDrive – nor as easily affordable.
Ease of Use: 4
Value for Money: 4