Overview of Cloud-Based File Storage Options for Businesses

Cloud-based file storage is a necessity for businesses in the modern age. If your teams are distributed across different offices, or if your company supports telecommuting, cloud-based file storage helps facilitate communication and collaboration across every member of your team. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the benefits of cloud-based storage solutions, and what features to look for when you’re selecting the best one to fit your needs.

What are the benefits of cloud-based file storage?

Cloud-based file storage companies provide a reliable way to automatically sync and backup important files on a regular basis -- in fact, it often ends up being more dependable than relying on employees to frequently save their files and back them up securely. It also eliminates the scenario where multiple versions of the same file are stored in different locations, making it difficult to determine which version of a file is the most up to date.

As your business grows, so will your data storage needs. Investing in a cloud-based system helps ensure that your storage solution can automatically expand to meet your business’s needs, no matter how quickly they grow. As you accumulate more data over time, your cloud-based data storage solution will scale to accommodate your needs, without requiring you to make hardware upgrades or transfer your data to another server.

Storing your files in the cloud can also help increase productivity by making it easier for employees to collaborate and share assets with each other, whether they’re located in the same office or in different cities around the world. Cloud-based options make it easy to share files by generating custom links and by establishing account-based permissions to determine which members of your organization should be able to access specific files. Using a cloud-based storage solution can also cut down on email fatigue, since colleagues can share the most recent version of any file, instead of having to send a new email with a different file attachment every time the file gets updated.

How much does cloud-based file storage cost?

Here are some of the most popular systems, and their price.

Google Drive: $5-$25/user per month, starts at $10/user/month for unlimited storage, includes other business software as part of G Suite

Microsoft OneDrive: $12.50/user/month, includes other business software as part of Office 365

Dropbox + Dropbox Paper: starts at $12.50/user/month for 2TB of storage, $20/user/month for unlimited storage, includes Dropbox Paper (a collaborative document software tool)

What features should you look for in a cloud-based file storage solution?

With so many cloud-based file storage solutions available on the market today, it’s important to select one that not only meets your basic needs, but also fits nicely into your company’s workflow. When evaluating various cloud-based file storage options, it’s important to compare several key features before making a decision, including:

  • Ease of file sharing and permissions
  • Data backups and recovery of deleted data
  • Integration with other apps, such as project management software, web conferencing systems, etc.
  • Cloud-based file storage limits

To help users select the right systems for their needs, we’ll compare these features across three of the most popular cloud storage services: Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox Business.

Ease of file sharing and permissions

When employees create and upload files to cloud-based storage systems, they should be able to easily share those files with anyone in their organization. Generally, file storage solutions provide a quick and straightforward way to set permissions and restrict access to files that you upload to the cloud. However, it’s important to choose a system that will be able to provide the minimum level of customizable file permission settings that you need.

For example, Google Drive allows file owners to set very specific permissions to determine who should be able to edit, comment on, or view a file (listed in order of decreasing access level).

Google Drive Sharing Settings

In contrast, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive only enable file owners to specify one of two permissions levels: read-only access or edit access. In Dropbox, anyone with read-only access will be able to comment on the file, whether you want them to or not.

Unlike Google Drive, OneDrive doesn’t allow users to change the permissions of a link once you’ve shared it -- if you need to change a view-only link to provide edit access, you’ll have to delete the original link, regenerate a new link with the correct permissions, and share the new link with everyone who needs to access the file.

Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox all offer the option to create a custom link that you can share with anyone who needs to access your file. Admin-level users can specify whether or not team members should be allowed to share files with people outside of the organization. When creating a shared link, you can also specify an expiration date (after which it will no longer be valid). This can be useful for companies that hire temporary contractors or freelancers, and would like to provide those workers with temporary access to specific files (only for the duration of the contract).

Cloud-based storage solutions pose clear benefits for businesses that frequently need to collaborate and communicate with outside clients. In the past, you would have had to attach your file and send it out manually. Now, because every file is stored and updated in the cloud, you can generate custom, shareable links that always provide access to the latest version of each file. At the same time, everyone who has edit access can freely make updates even after the custom link has been generated and shared.

Unlike Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox Business does not enable you to collaborate on files with other users, unless you use the co-authoring feature, which is only available through the Microsoft Office integration. With this feature enabled, you can share a Microsoft Office document with another person on your team, and invite them to collaborate on it in real time.

If you’re using Office 365 OneDrive or Google Drive, you’ll be able to seamlessly invite others to collaborate on the files you create, since each team member will be able to open and edit the file in the appropriate Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite business application (Excel/Sheets, Word/Docs, etc.).

Data backups + restoring deleted data

One of the hidden benefits of using cloud-based file storage is that it provides users with a reliable way to automatically backup important documents on a regular basis. Cloud-based storage systems automatically save your data at regular intervals in the background, which enables users to easily roll back to a previous version, or consult a history of past changes. For example, in Google Drive, you can navigate to the version history of any document and view a record of past revisions (highlighted in the same color as the user who made those changes), as well as a log of what time those changes were made.

Google Drive Version History

This version history feature is also available in Office 365 OneDrive and Dropbox Business. In July, Office 365 OneDrive announced that it was extending its version history capabilities to all types of files, whereas previously it only provided this functionality for Microsoft Office files. Dropbox also saves the version history of all types of files, and does not deduct version history data from your storage quota.

Although cloud storage services regularly save and backup your files, it’s important to remember that they are not foolproof solutions to data loss. According to Google Drive, "The revisions for your file may occasionally be merged to save storage space." Therefore, you shouldn’t rely on this feature to save a different version of your file every single time you make a change. However, it can be a great fallback option if you’re looking to revert back to a previous version of a file, or if you need to verify what types of updates were made, who made them, and when those changes occurred.

In some cases, if you find that you accidentally deleted a file, you may be able to recover it if you’re using a cloud-based file storage solution. Different systems offer varying retention policies, which will determine whether or not you will be able to recover your deleted file.

Generally, deleted files go into a recycling bin or trash folder, where they will remain until they are permanently deleted (usually either by emptying the trash, or after files have been in there for a specific duration of time). In Google Drive, any deleted files will be permanently deleted after they’re been in the trash for 30 days—until they are permanently deleted from the trash, they will continue to contribute to your storage quota. G Suite enables admins to restore permanently deleted data from up to 25 days ago. Beyond that time limit, you won’t be able to recover the file unless you’ve set up a long-term archiving solution through a Google Vault policy.

OneDrive documents can still be restored up to 90 days after they’ve been deleted (as long as they’re not permanently deleted, just in the recycle bin). To prevent data from accidentally being permanently deleted, Microsoft OneDrive also offers a preservation policy to specify that certain crucial documents should be preserved in a secure location, even if they are deleted accidentally. This provides another layer of security to ensure that important files aren’t accidentally deleted or removed from storage.

Dropbox Professional and Business accounts offer a much more generous data retention policy than Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive -- users have up to 120 days to restore any files that have been deleted on their Dropbox account. To provide an additional level of data protection, Dropbox also enables admin-level users to restrict other users from being able to permanently delete their files.

Integrations with other apps

When selecting a cloud file storage solution, it’s important to verify that it will be compatible with the applications your employees use every day. Dropbox has developed built-in support for Office 365, project management apps (Trello, Asana, Jira), social media management platforms (Hootsuite), applicant tracking software (Greenhouse, myStaffingPro), and other critical aspects of your business workflow.

Google Drive and Office 365 OneDrive offer an advantage over Dropbox because they are fully compatible with the business software apps (word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) they offer as part of the same account. However, Dropbox has also developed a Microsoft Office integration that makes it possible to collaborate on files stored in a shared folder on Dropbox, which is a similar to the convenience of sharing Microsoft Office documents as a OneDrive user.

Cloud-based file storage limits

Although Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox Business all offer users an unlimited amount of storage, it’s important to keep in mind that each service may set a limit on the maximum size of each file you upload to your account.

Google Drive sets different file size limits, depending on the type of file. For example, Google Drive can only store spreadsheets with up to 2 million cells. Google Drive also restricts you from uploading any file that is larger than 5 TB, even if your account offers unlimited storage.

OneDrive only supports automatic syncing for files that are under the 15 GB in size.

In contrast, Dropbox does not place any limit on the size of files uploaded through the desktop or mobile app, as long as it does not exceed your account’s storage quota.

In addition to file upload size limits, the number of files you plan to upload to your account is another important consideration when choosing a suitable cloud-based file storage solution. Microsoft OneDrive for Business warns that its file syncing performance may degrade if you store more than 100,000 files in your library. In contrast, Dropbox advises users to refrain from storing more than 300,000 files in their account, as they may see file sync performance start to decline. However, Dropbox does offer the ability to use selective syncing to improve file sync performance by only syncing a subset of more important files instead of every single file in your account.

Which cloud-based file storage solution is right for you?

Cloud-based file storage solutions provide many convenient features and benefits for businesses of all sizes. All-in-one business software suites like G Suite and Office 365 include convenient, affordable cloud-based file storage as part of their capabilities, along with additional business software applications for creating different types of files you store in the cloud. Using Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive enables you to enjoy a more tightly integrated workflow between your file storage solution and the applications you use to create and edit those files.

If you frequently need to edit and collaborate on files with people both inside and outside your organization, we recommend investing in G Suite or Office 365 instead of a specialized solution like Dropbox. However, if you need to store data that exceeds Google Drive and OneDrive’s file storage limits, you can consider investing in Dropbox as a supplementary solution to meet those needs.

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