Cloud storage allows you to store your data on someone else's hard-drive, in data-centers around the world. You don't have to worry about losing your data, and you can access it from anywhere.
And believe it or not, many of these services have quite generous free tiers.
In this article, I'll break down the major cloud storage providers so you can decide which ones you want to use.
Why Would You Want to Use Cloud Storage?
There are many benefits and few downsides to adopting cloud storage. Here are the most common use-cases:
Extending Your Local Storage
You may have a laptop or phone that has limited storage. It may be possible to install an additional SSD hard-drive or SD card, but that can be expensive. Also, some devices do not have an extra hard-drive slot.
Backing Up Your Data
Most cloud storage providers are resilient to data loss. When you upload data to the cloud, the provider will store copies of your data up to six times on six different hard-drives in distinct isolated data-centers.
From your perspective, it will appear there is only a single file, but those copies exist. This cloud strategy of redundant copies is called high availability and guarantees recoverable data in the event of virtual or physical disasters. So if you have any precious photos you do not want to lose, the cloud is the best place for them.
Sharing and Collaboration
Cloud storage allows you the ability to share files of your choice with your friends and colleagues. When sharing files via email, you are limited to around 20 MB per email. With Cloud Storage, you could share Terabytes in size.
Securing Your Data
When you upload your data to cloud storage, they encrypt your data-at-reset. Some providers allow you to password protect, require an encryption key or apply Multi-factor authentication requiring an additional verification step to gain access.
There are a variety of cloud storage providers, and the majority of them have a free-tier ranging into multiple gigabytes. By using various cloud providers, you could have terabytes of free storage.
I have categorized free cloud storage into two categories: one for your general consumer, and additional options for developers.
Free User-Friendly Cloud Storage
Dropbox - 2 GB
One of the oldest and most popular cloud storage providers for the general consumer. Dropbox has a simple interface, and syncing files to your local computer is a seamless experience.
Dropbox has the smallest free offering on this. It might interest you to know that Dropbox underneath uses AWS S3.
Amazon Drive - 5 GB with Prime Subscription
Amazon is better known for its developer-friendly storage AWS S3 than Amazon Drive. If you want to get the free 5GB, you have to purchase an Amazon Prime Subscription.
This still makes our list since Prime Subscriptions are becoming very common, and it's worth highlighting the free storage.
OneDrive - 5GB
If you're on Windows 10 then you already have OneDrive pre-installed, which makes sense since OneDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage service.
Google Drive - 15 GB
If you have Gmail or an Android phone or tablet, then you are one click away from gaining access to Google Drive.
Google Drive has the best offering on our list, and its web-interface is very easy to use.
iCloud - 5 GB
If you're on a Mac or using an iPhone or iPad, then you've been asked when setting up your Apple account if you want to use iCloud.
You don't need to own Apple products to take advantage of iCloud's storage.
Box - 10 GB
Box was once as popular as Dropbox with the same offering. But at some point, Box changed its focused by adding multiple features suited for professional industries.
They still have an individual account that comes with the second-best offering on our list.
Free Developer-Friendly Cloud Storage
These cloud storage solutions are for developers building web and mobile applications. To get access to these cloud storage providers, you need to provide a credit card which may apply a $1 charge for verification.
These services do not offer hard-limits, meaning if you store beyond the free-tier, you will be charged. So it requires careful monitoring to avoid large bills.
Also, pricing is a bit more complicated where you need to consider data-transfer out, data-transfer in and storage costs. These cloud storage providers are much more cost-effective than the user-friendly storage providers since paying for additional gigabytes can cost pennies, but again there are no safeguards.
Amazon S3 - 5 GB
Amazon created a spin-off company called AWS (Amazon Web Services), and they offer over 175+ services, with S3 being one of them. AWS is currently the most popular provider among tech startups. S3, if you were wondering, stands for Simple Storage Service.
Google Cloud Storage - 5 GB
Google has Google Drive for the regular consumer and Google Cloud Storage for Developers.
Unlike Google Drive, where you get 15 GB for free with Google Cloud Storage, you only get 5 GB.
Google Drive likely uses Google Cloud Storage underneath, so it makes you wonder why they don't let developers have 15 GB's free.
Azure Blob Storage - 5 GB
Azure is Microsoft's cloud services company. You might be wondering why it is named Blob Storage. Blob stands for Binary Large Object and is a collection of binary data stored as a single object in a database.
In fact, all of our developer-friendly storage providers here are known as "object storage".
Object Storage Service (Alibaba Cloud) - 5 GB
Alibaba is the Amazon of Asia and has its own cloud services company called Alibaba Cloud. Their offering is on par with all the other developer-friendly cloud storage providers. But maybe in the coming years, they'll be better known as they continue to add more data-centers globally.
The Hidden Cost of Data-Transfer Out
Most cloud providers make prominent the amount of data you can store per month in sizes of gigabytes. What they tend to hide often is limits on the data-transfer out.
Data transfer out is the act of downloading, and this can be a high cost to cloud storage providers. Video files, for example, can range from hundreds of megabytes to several gigabytes.
If you are planning to share video files to multiple friends, you may find you will be restricted, or you could be paying a large bill for over-usage.
Cross-Cloud Storage Manager
It can be not very easy to manage multiple cloud storage providers since they all have different interfaces. You could use a service such as Odrive, which unifies all your cloud storage into one agnostic interface.
Odrive has a free-tier. But if you need to sync your files between multiple devices, then you'll need to go paid.
There are a ton of cloud storage options.
I encourage you to make use of as many of these as you need to. By doing so, you may be able to get away without paying anything.
This said, if you find a cloud storage option you really like, you can always pay a bit of money each year to get more space for it.