Cloud Wars

We get it. Data is precious B. KB. MB. GB. TB.  Bits, bytes, and data.  We collect it daily and it needs to go someplace.  By now, most of us have (barely) lived through a hard drive catastrophe, whether it be hardware failure or operator error.  All of our photos, documents, movies, music, spreadsheets, powerpoints, and pdfs need to live somewhere not “here,” but somewhere “there” where it’ll be safe and secure, yet easily accessible when we need it.  That brings us to today – 2012 – Welcome to Cloud Wars, the battle in the sky for your data.

Here are the key players in the Cloud War:

Apple iCloud

If you have a Mac running their latest OS (Lion) and/or an iOS device, you are familiar with iCloud.  With no effort on the user’s part, contacts, photos, apps, documents, calendars, music, and other types of data are automatically backed up to iCloud and sync to your other devices iCloud-enabled. 5GB of free storage is given automatically, with an upgrade to 25GB for $40/yr and to 50GB (maximum storage offered) for $100/yr. iCloud only works on the web, Lion, and iOS.

Box

Box is aimed at a more enterprise customer with a strong focus on sharing content collaboratively. Users can send invites to  other participants to share and edit data, post comments and discussions, and receive automatic updates via email.  For personal accounts, Box.net offers 25GB for $9.99/mth and 50GB for $19.99, while business accounts can have up to 1000GB of storage for $15/user up to 500 users.  Note, there is no desktop sync for personal accounts, only business. Box supports web, Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mac, and Windows.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the current king of cloud services right now.  Integration between Mac and Windows and every other major platform has helped Dropbox hit critical mass, combined with the ability to backup and share any file from your desktop in just two clicks makes the process incredibly simple.  By inviting friends to try the service, free users of Dropbox can take their free 2GB (comparatively, not a lot) of storage and increase it by 500MB (per invitee) up to 18GB.  An upgrade to Pro 50 gives you 50GB for $9.99/mth and Pro 100 gives you 100GB for $19.99/mth.

Google Drive

Google is one of the newest players in the cloud game and has some distinctive offerings.  To begin with, 5GB are offered for free, and upgrading to 25GB costs $2.49/mth and 100GB costs $4.99/mth. A key differentiator for Google Drive is that it is really an extension of Google Apps, the online office suite, as well as a storage service.  The ability to edit Google Office Apps is built into the service while online, but offline editing isn’t supported.  The end game for Google as always is to utilize as many of their services as possible.  Google Drive supports Android, Windows, iOS, Mac, and the web.

                                           

Microsoft SkyDrive

Microsoft is also one of the most recent companies to throw themselves into the mix.  Similarly to Google, SkyDrive is an extension of Microsoft’s Office Web Apps where you can edit Office Suite apps online.  The key differentiator from Google Drive is that the file formats are the same on the web as it is on the desktop.  Also, Microsoft offers a feature called “Fetch” where if you forget to sync something up to your SkyDrive from one system, you can remotely access your other computer and grab the file.  The free storage begins at 7GB and you can add 20GB for $10/yr, 50GB for $25/yr, or 100GB for $50/yr. And SkyDrive works with Windows, iOS, Mac, and the web.

Roundup:

Determining the right service for you depends on several factors: cost per month, cost per GB per month, maximum file size, storage capacity, and platform integration. Another aspect to consider is Terms of Services and Privacy Policies. Dropbox and Google have been known to have some issues with users regarding the legal rights to data and information. Take a look at your needs and the data you’ll be using the service for in order to help make the right decision on which service to use and see your data up there, out there.

Sources: Microsoft, Box.net, Dropbox.com, Google.com, Arstechnica.com, Guardian.co.uk, FastCompany.com

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