Best Online Cloud Storage Reviews & Services
How to choose the best cloud backup service?
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If you have questions – we have answers. This list covers the most common questions users have about backing up files online.
What is Online Storage?
This is the most important, and the most common question people ask. If you don’t know what online storage is, then you cannot imagine how useful it can be or the benefits it can offer. Online storage means that all of your files are saved on remote servers. This is similar to saving files on your hard drive or on a removable disk. The big difference is that your files are guaranteed to be safe and tamper proof. From the time your files are uploaded to the remote server to the time you retrieve them, they are encrypted and 100% safe. These files can be retrieved from any where there is an internet connection. New or modified files are automatically backed up and saved, as well. Many companies will also save older versions of files in case you ever need them.
I don’t have a business, do I still need online storage?
Generally, a business has a lot of important data they need to backup, but the files of individuals are usually more valuable because they cannot be replaced. The average person takes thousands of pictures every year. These special moments cannot be repeated. A business usually has ways of retrieving lost data. It is costly and time consuming, that is why they back everything up, but it can be done. If you lose the picture of your two-year-old blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, you can never get it back. You may think a CD or USB is safe enough, but those can be easily damaged, destroyed or lost.
Why is using an online storage service better than backing up to an eternal hard drive or saving files on a CD or USB?
With these other devices, you have to remember to manually backup anything you want saved. You then have to store the drive or disk in a fireproof, flood proof and burglar proof safe. If you accidentally erase some files, they are gone forever. An online storage service can be configured to backup all of your files and file changes automatically. The company stores duplicates of every file, so if something does happen at one facility, your files are safe and sound at another. On top of that, older versions are saved and deleted files can be retrieved from the recycle bin, so you never lose anything unless you manually delete the data on purpose.
How does it work?
The program works in the background. You simply download and install the program, configure the settings and your backup begins. Backups can be scheduled or set to run continuously. All data is encrypted before transfer and during storage.
How secure is the data?
Online storage service providers use the latest encryption technology – the same technology as used by banks and the US Military. Security measures are considered ‘industry standard’, however there are different levels employed by the various providers. Some providers offer different levels depending on the plan you choose. The most common encryption used is 128-bit SSL (which stands for Secure Socket Layer). This is a cryptographic protocol used when transferring secure communications over the Internet. While in storage, companies will use either 256-bit AES (which stands for Advanced Encryption Standard) or 448-bit Blowfish.
With many companies, users are allowed to create their own personal password. This option provides some users with greater peace of mind, but users are solely responsible for remembering the password, since the provider doesn’t store or have access to the password. If the password is lost or stolen, the user will lose access to all stored data.
Backup facilities are also very secure. The servers are electronically and physically monitored around the clock, and the data centers are built to withstand all types of natural disasters, including 7.5 magnitude earthquakes.
How much does it cost?
Prices vary from one company to another, however the competitiveness of the industry make the costs very reasonable. Many online storage providers offer limited plans completely free to use for as long as you like. Providers realize that the needs of people and businesses vary, and therefore have several plans to choose from. You can change your plan at any time, to suit changes in your needs. Most companies also offer a full-featured free trial, so you can experience everything the company has to offer, without committing to a paid plan.
Can hackers intercept my files during transfer?
Yes. Advanced hackers will be able to intercept a secure transfer, however all they will see is a jumbled mess. No one is able to decipher the encryption, so your files are safe and tamper proof.
What is a data center?
A data center is a secure facility specifically designed to house computer systems and components associated with telecommunications and secure data storage. Most centers are climate controlled and are equipped with backup power supplies, fire suppression equipment and redundant data communications connections. These centers are monitored around the clock, both physically and electronically. The building itself is designed to withstand all types of natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes. Online storage providers will either have several of these facilities located in different parts of the world, or enlist the services of a third party data center to store customer data.
All data stored at these facilities is securely encrypted. Storing your data at a center like this is similar to storing a backup CD or USB in a flood and fire proof safe, without the hassle or responsibility. Also, you would need several safes in different locations, monitored by security guards around the clock, to get the level of security provided by an online storage company data center.
Occasionally, a data center will encounter problems, however this is rare. But, your data is still safe because of the redundancy, which means your data is securely stored in more than one location. If something happens at one center, your data stays safe at another.
What if I forget to perform a backup?
That is the biggest problem with manual backups – people forget. At the end of the day, if you happen to make a quick change to a file you were working on, it is very possible that file doesn’t make it into your regular backup routine. As long as nothing happens to your computer overnight, you are okay, but if disaster does strike, your changes are lost. With online storage, you can set your program to backup continuously. Every time a change is made, the new version is sent to the data center.
What if I need to look up an old file I haven’t opened in years?
Your initial backup includes everything on your hard drive, except the operating system and system resource files. All of your old files are saved in the cloud. The newest and most used files will be in recent folders and older files will be archived. To access older files, simply look in the archives. Different companies have different policies on how long files are stored and how archives are accessed, so check the terms carefully when choosing an online storage provider.
Various file versions are also stored by many companies. How many versions and for how long varies, so check the terms for company policies about that, as well.
What happens when I run out of space?
There are several ways to deal with limited space allotment.
- Upgrade to a higher level plan with more space. Online storage companies have many different plan levels to accommodate different needs. Upgrading is very simple, just make sure you use the same email address to ensure a new account is not created. Likewise, most companies will allow you to downgrade your plan. This is useful for businesses with multiple users that no longer need as many users on the account.
- Delete files you don’t think you will need in the future. Deleting files is very bothersome, but if you can’t afford to upgrade, this may be the solution for you. Just be careful not to delete a file you will need. Luckily, most deleted files can be retrieved from the recycle bin.
- Buy a plan with unlimited space. Many online storage providers offer unlimited storage for very reasonable prices.
If you don’t do anything when your space allotment fills up, the company may not save any new files or automatically delete older files to make more room. File versions are usually not counted towards your space allotment, so deleting old versions won’t help. It will be one-of-a-kind files that are deleted.
Many providers allow you to exceed your storage limit, and bill you for the extra amount of space. In most cases a message will appear warning you that you have reached your limit and the charges will be added to your account. Not all companies give you a warning, so you could end up with a very big surprise when the bill comes.
Deleted files go into my computer’s recycle bin?
No. The online storage provider has a special recycle bin within your account that can only be accessed by you. Deleted files are stored in there for a specific amount of time. How long files are kept depends on the provider. There are some providers that will keep these files indefinitely, or until you personally empty the bin yourself.
What can I back up?
You can backup anything you like. Most companies will allow you to back up all types of media files, music, spreadsheets, financial information, business documents, presentations, pictures and anything else you can imagine. You are not limited as to what you can backup, only how much you can store online. This limit is determined by the plan you choose. For example, if your plan allows 5 GB, then you can only store 5 GB of data.
How much is a GB?
One gigabyte (GB) is equal to 1024 megabytes (MB). This means approximately:
- 240 songs
- 280 photos
- 4 hours of video
- 5000 word documents
- 1000 PowerPoint Presentations
- or 8000 spreadsheets
Many personal users will find that 1 or 2 GB is enough space for their needs, but businesses generally require much more.
How reliable is online storage?
As with any service, online storage is as reliable as the company providing the service, that is why it is important to do your research. Read as much as possible about the company and what others think of the service. The technology behind the service is very reliable and is designed to work on its own, in the background.
Which provider should I use?
The online storage industry is very competitive, and most companies offer much the same features and similar prices. The best way to choose which company is right for you is by researching the various providers. Read comparisons and customer reviews, and compare each one by the features they offer, the amount of storage space provided and the price. Every person or business has different needs, so the final decision will depend on which company can provide you with what you need at a price you want to pay.
Is the program difficult to install and use?
No. The developers have designed the backup programs to be very easy to install, and after it is installed, it works on its own. Some users might find the advanced configurations designed to allow users to personalize settings a bit confusing, but generally the user interface is very straightforward and easy to understand. Even the most novice computer users have very little trouble installing and using the program. If you do have any trouble, there is a great amount of help and customer support available.
What special equipment do I need?
You don’t need any special equipment and you don’t have to adapt your PC in any way. Everything you need to use cloud storage services is provided by the company’s website. The software is guaranteed to be 100% safe, and won’t damage your computer in any way.
Can the program be used on any computer?
Not all programs are compatible with all operating systems. Online storage providers are constantly upgrading their software to be compatible with more systems. Most companies are compatible with several different types of Windows and Mac operating systems, as well as many mobile devices, such as Android and iPhones. A few can also be used with Linux and Opera. Check the company website to see which platforms are supported.
What if I have a problem?
Online storage providers are just like any other company, and keeping customers happy is their number one priority. The support team will provide you with all of the help you ever need. Most of the company websites include an extensive FAQ section, knowledge base and online tutorials. For more help, you can send the company an email or submit a support ticket. Many providers will also offer online chat help and phone support. Some providers also offer support in several languages in order to accommodate more people.
What else does an online storage provider offer?
The developers work hard to create as many useful features as possible including, sharing files with others, saving different versions of the same file, syncing files across multiple computers and mobile devices, and allowing access from remote locations. Some services even include a “find computer” feature which can track and locate your computer if it is ever lost or stolen.
How do I access my data?
Accessing your data is very important. What’s the point of saving your files if you can never get them back? In most cases, restoring your data is as simple as logging into your account and selecting the files you wish to restore. The program will decide where to restore the files, or you can select a folder where you would like the files to be put. The process is generally quick and easy, depending on the file sizes and how many files you are downloading.
Some cloud storage services will copy your data onto a CD or USB and send the physical restore directly to you. This option takes a few days, depending on where you live, plus there is an additional charge for this service, but if you have a lot of data to restore this could be very convenient.
Does it matter how big my files are?
Yes, most providers put a limit on file sizes. If the files you want to back up are generally quite large, you will want a company that doesn’t limit file sizes, or has a very high maximum.
Can I share photos and files with people in other countries?
Yes. One of the biggest advantage of online storage is that you never have to send photos as email attachments. You can simply send a link to your file or send your friends and family a secret access code, which allows them to view your files at any time. This feature is also very convenient for group projects. Every one on your team, no matter where in the world they live, can access your files and even make changes, if needed.
If you work in different cities, or even different countries, you can easily access your files at any time. As long as you have an internet connection and a computer or mobile device capable of going online, then you have access to your files.
How can online storage benefit my small business?
Businesses, even small ones, generate a lot of data. You have to keep track of inventory, sales, customer files, billing details and tax information. If all of this data was lost, you could be in a lot of trouble – you might even have to shut down for while, which could cost you a lot of lost sales and maybe even lost customers. Finding and reentering all of this data into a new computer could take you months. With online storage, you can have all of your information back within a few days. You simply log into your account and begin the restoration process.
What happens if I have a power failure in the middle of a backup?
In most cases, nothing will happen at all. The cloud storage programs are designed to pick up right where they left off when power is restored. You don’t have to start over and nothing is lost.
I have several computers I need to backup. Can online storage make this easier?
Yes. Manually backing up several computers is extremely bothersome and time consuming, especially if you don’t have any help. With online storage, you can have several computers attached to one account, and each one can be set to be backed up continuously. Providers offer different types of plans in these situations, so you should choose a provider that will allow you to backup as many computers as you need.
Will my files be backed up when my computer is turned off?
No. Since the files are stored online, you have to be connected to the internet in order for the backup process to work. Most programs are designed to work silently in the background, without interrupting your work, and backups only take a few minutes, so you never have to worry about the backup disrupting your day.
How do I pay for my cloud storage service?
As with most things you buy online, credit cards are the easiest way to pay. Prices are usually quoted as monthly, but users have the choice of paying monthly or annually. When paying for one or two years in advance, you generally realize great savings. For example, a monthly fee of $4.95 would only be $49.50 for twelve months if paid in advance, giving you two months free. Payments are usually set up to be withdrawn from your bank account or charged to your credit card on the same day every month, if paying monthly, or the same day once a year if paying annually.
What happens if I miss a payment?
Missing a payment once in a while can happen. If you make that payment within a few days, you shouldn’t have any problems, but if you don’t, your services will probably be suspended. Too long of a delay in making up for the missed payment could result in your account being closed, which means all of your data is lost. You may be able to work something out with the company to get your data back, but there is no guarantee they will help you out.
Is there anything else I should know?
You now know quite a bit about online storage services in general, however, you should still research individual companies to decide which one is best for you. You should always learn as much as you can about a service before making a commitment. Read all the fine print, especially the “Terms” and what to do if you want to cancel.