- Cloud Essentials
- Software as a Service
- Accounting / Financial
- Asset Management
- Business Intelligence
- Business Process Management
- Compliance & Risk Management
- Content Management
- Document Management
- Help Desk Management
- IT / Application Management
- Project Management
- Transportation & Logistics
- Infrastructure as a Service
- Platform as a Service
Cloud storage - picking out the best option for consumers
There's a wide choice when it comes to backing up your PC in the cloud - which is the best for you?
In a world where we use multiple PCs, multiple operating systems and a range of mobile devices, cloud storage services are rapidly becoming not only useful, but essential. All the same, picking the right one for your needs can be a challenge.
Some services are online backup with web access knobs on, while others deal almost exclusively with syncing files between computers. A third set presents a hybrid approach, combining the two. It isn’t so much a question of choosing the best service per se, as of choosing the service that fits best with the way you work and live.
Online backup is the most obvious application for cloud storage, although we’d argue that average broadband speeds in the UK remain too slow for it to be your only solution, and costs for storing large quantities of data remain high. Dedicated services, such as Carbonite and Mozy, have an advantage as they can focus on backing up and restoring files, which makes them easier to use. However, all-in-one services such as SugarSync and Livedrive are making strides, making it viable to do everything with one product.
Synchronisation is the next major use. By installing client software on multiple PCs, you can keep a consistent set of files on each, either in a specific folder, such as with Dropbox, or in linked folders set up manually. As a bonus, synced folders can be accessed online, or even shared and synced across multiple users. From experience, Dropbox remains the easiest sync service to use, and its free 2GB service makes it a good option if you want to collaborate with several users: they can sign up gratis and access your shared files. However, SugarSync and Livedrive provide stiff competition.
Of course, these days cloud storage services can do much more, making files accessible through the browser, and to tablets and smartphones too. SugarSync and Livedrive offer strong facilities for browser-based media streaming, providing built-in media players and photo gallery features, along with streaming services for mobile phones that are more effective than the download-then-play options provided by rivals. Built-in apps are a bonus, allowing Office documents to be edited, for instance, from any PC with a web connection. Here Microsoft’s SkyDrive service has an obvious advantage, but Syncplicity and Livedrive can also work, albeit using less familiar online tools.
HOW WE TEST
We tested each of the 12 services in the Labs using two Windows 7 laptops, hooked up through a consumer-grade ADSL service running at an average 9Mbits/s. Raw upload and download speeds were not major criteria for review purposes, and the time involved in uploading 500MB of sample data meant all tests were liable to the kinds of unpredictable bandwidth limitations that affect any internet link.
We used a 511MB set of Office documents, music files, photos and videos. We installed any required client apps, selected the folders, and timed how long it took to upload the files. We then removed the files and restored them, and timed that too.
With the client software installed on both laptops, we set up sync folders on both systems or used the preset sync location. We uploaded a new photo, and made changes to a photo and a document on one PC, timing how long it took for each addition or amendment to be reflected on the second PC. For backup-only services, we timed how long it took for file changes to appear in the version stored on the server.
While speed tests are useful, it’s the hands-on experience that counts. We investigated all major features, looked at photo gallery and media-streaming features, and shared files and folders. Where relevant we also downloaded mobile apps, using them to check, view and download/stream photos, music and video files. Finally, we tested any integrated Office tools using Office 2010 or Google Docs.