Everybody seems to be talking about ‘the cloud’ these days.
In fact, you’ve probably used it already. For instance, if you use an iPhone, you may have used Apple’s iCloud to store your files for future use. If you use a phone that runs on Google’s Android OS, you may have used Google Drive.
With these examples, it’s clear that cloud storage is quite a popular way to easily store and access data. But what exactly IS it? How does it work? Are there different types?
In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions (as well as some extra ones!), and as a bonus, we’ll even give our top recommendations on the best cloud storage providers.
Let’s get started.
What Is Cloud Storage?
Simply put, cloud storage is a type of Internet-based storage where data is stored “in the cloud” as opposed to storing it on your computer’s hard drive (or your smartphone’s onboard memory or memory card).
Cloud storage allows you to store and access your files from multiple devices, including desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, and tablets.
It offers many benefits over traditional forms of file management, like:
- You can access your files from anywhere in the world at any time—no matter where you are or what device you’re using (as long as it has an Internet connection).
- Sharing large amounts of data with other people becomes easy: you can enable them to view, edit, or collaborate on documents without having to download them first.
- Easily restore backups, minimizing any downtime caused by missing or corrupted files.
We’ll be discussing these advantages (and some additional ones) in detail in a later section.
For now, let’s get into how exactly cloud storage works.
Do you know what is hot and cold data storage? Read our article to know more.
How does cloud storage actually work?
Understanding how cloud storage works requires you to first understand how the Internet itself works. In the most basic of terms, the Internet is an interconnected network (hence the name) of computers—imagine billions of individual systems being connected to one another using really, really long data cables—that’s what the Internet is.
Across the vast sea of interconnected computers known as the Internet, there are also servers, which are usually large, powerful computers that perform specific functions for users on the Internet.
For example, servers can host websites, perform e-mail services, and—in the case of cloud storage—store files. When you pay a cloud storage provider’s subscription fee, you’re effectively renting space on their servers (much like you’d rent a single-room apartment, for example) and you’re free to store whatever you want in this space.
By connecting your laptop or phone to the Internet, it in turn becomes part of it (albeit a very small one). When you upload a file to a cloud storage service, a copy of your file is stored on the hard drives of one or more of their servers.
Imagine saving a file on your laptop’s onboard hard drive: that data is written onto the hard drive. Similarly, that’s what happens when you upload your file to the cloud. The data is still written to a hard drive, albeit one that might be hundreds or thousands of miles away from you: a hard drive on the cloud service provider’s servers.
Like that single-room apartment, however, the space on your chosen cloud storage platform is limited. And, like an apartment, you’re going to have to spend some extra cash if you want a larger space to store your files.
Let’s look at cloud storage today
Back in the day, people relied more on physical forms of portable storage, starting out with floppy disks, progressing to CDs and DVDs, and eventually ending up with USB sticks, memory cards, and portable hard drives, with the capacities for storage increasing with each generation of storage media.
Likewise, non-portable storage has also grown exponentially. It’s common to see desktop computers with more than 1 terabyte of storage nowadays, which is quite a far cry from the hard drives of the early 1990s, where 40 megabytes of storage was more than enough.
Similarly, the Internet has grown alongside similar technology. Since its early days, Internet use has grown massively. In fact, from 2000 to 2023, the usage of the Internet has grown by 1,355%.
Given the exponential growth in technology and widespread adoption of the Internet (not to mention, the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the numerous advantages of online computing to the forefront, especially for remote work), cloud computing has taken center stage.
What was previously used by students and younger audiences to share schoolwork and other files online has now grown to prominence, with even older employees being forced to use the ubiquitous cloud to share and collaborate on files during the height of the pandemic.
As such, cloud storage has grown massively and is even predicted to reach a market size of $490.8 billion by 2030, ballooning from 2021’s $67.9 billion.
Thankfully, however, cloud storage’s massive growth has not affected the average user. Cloud storage remains cheap, or even free! For example, cloud storage providers like pCloud and Icedrive offer 10 gigabytes of storage free of charge.
What Are the Benefits of Cloud Storage?
As we’ve stated above, cloud storage has plenty of benefits for both average Joes and corporations both large and small:
- Cloud storage makes your files easy to access
You’ll be able to upload and open your files anywhere and at any time, provided you have an Internet connection. This means that it won’t matter where you are, what you’re doing, or even what device you’re using. If you’re connected to the Internet, you’ll be able to access, edit, and upload your files with no fuss.
It won’t matter if you’re editing an essential work spreadsheet while you’re on vacation or restoring an essential backup to get your website back up and running. With the cloud, you’ll be able to very easily do all of these things—and so much more!
- It’s pretty cheap
Cloud storage is also very affordable. As mentioned earlier, numerous cloud storage providers let you use a pretty hefty 10 gigabytes of storage for free. That’s plenty of space to store random work documents, back up family photo albums, and so on!
If that’s not enough space, don’t worry! Services like pCloud allow you to store up to 500 gigabytes of files for only $4.99 a month (that’s around the price of a Big Mac)! Some providers like pCloud and Internxt even offer lifetime plans!
- It’s highly flexible
On the more business-oriented side of things, cloud storage is highly elastic and scalable, which means that a business can add more storage or scale down its storage capacity based on its needs. This allows a business to rapidly meet a sudden surge in customers or downsize its operations when there’s a sudden decline in profits.
This is in contrast to a business running its own data center, where it will need to rent space, buy servers, and hire staff just to operate that data center. What happens when you suddenly need to increase your storage capacity (or vice versa)? Why spend all of that money and effort when you can just pay a cloud storage provider to host your files for you?
- It’s very secure
The best cloud storage providers offer the best security for their customers, which includes physical security at their data centers as well as advanced software and application security.
This ensures that your data, regardless of how insignificant it may be, is safe from hackers and any other online ne’er-do-wells.
- Cloud providers help save the environment
Utilizing cloud storage helps you circumvent one of the greatest costs when operating your own data center—energy consumption overhead. What’s more, some cloud storage services, such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, go the extra mile by utilizing renewable energy, minimizing their carbon footprint and ensuring environmental sustainability.
- Cloud storage helps minimize risk
Cloud storage also allows for redundancy, which means storing multiple copies of the same files across multiple servers and locations, allowing businesses to minimize risk and quickly recover from any disasters, ensuring continuity.
What Are the Different Kinds of Cloud Storage?
Now that you know what cloud storage is and what its advantages are, you may be wondering—are there different types of cloud storage?
Well, yes. Cloud storage is typically divided into three categories:
1. Private cloud storage
Private cloud storage refers to cloud storage that is owned and used by a company for its own needs. This means that everything—from the data centers to the individual servers—is owned by the company itself. This type of storage is generally used by large businesses that want to keep their data secure and only accessible to specific employees.
This type of storage is highly secure since it’s owned, operated, and maintained by the company and its personnel exclusively. However, this type of cloud storage is generally used by companies to comply with strict compliance and security requirements, such as ensuring the privacy of healthcare information or financial data.
Private storage is also generally more expensive than the public cloud storage option, as all of the costs—from the servers, the spaces containing the servers, and the IT staff maintaining them—are shouldered by the company.
2. Public cloud storage
Public cloud storage, on the other hand, is the opposite of private storage: It involves “renting” storage space that is owned by a private company. This type of storage is readily available to anyone with an Internet connection, and anybody from a student to a large company can utilize public cloud storage services.
Services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive are examples of public cloud storage services and are what people generally refer to whenever they talk about “cloud storage.”
Compared to private storage, public cloud storage is cheaper, with plenty of free and inexpensive options readily available. What’s more, this type of storage is highly scalable, enabling businesses to be highly adaptable to their clients’ ever-changing needs.
But, public cloud storage can be less secure than private storage. Your choice of storage provider determines just how secure your files are—so keep in mind that skimping out on a provider may cause numerous security issues down the line.
Also, public cloud storage’s myriad options may work to its disadvantage, as it requires consumers to research a lot before picking a public cloud storage option just to ensure their files’ safety and security.
3. Hybrid cloud storage
On the other hand, hybrid cloud storage mixes the first two types of storage, allowing a person or business to host highly sensitive data in a private cloud while storing more general, less sensitive files on a public cloud storage platform, with all of the pros and cons that each type of storage brings.
The Best Cloud Storage Providers to Consider
As we’ve mentioned, there are numerous cloud storage providers to choose from, but not all of them are made equal. Lucky for you, we reviewed various storage providers and picked out the best ones:
1. pCloud – Best overall
Founded in 2013, pCloud (10 GB of free storage, premium version starts at $4.17 per month for 500 GB of storage) is very adaptable and offers a bevy of cloud storage features, such as online backups, file syncing, or virtual drives that you can easily access without using a browser!
pCloud also ensures the redundancy of your files, storing them across 3 different servers, allowing for pretty decent resilience in case something happens to one (or two) of those servers. What’s more, pCloud boasts that it has never been hacked, even challenging hackers to crack its encryption for a cool $100,000 reward.
Lastly, pCloud offers a lifetime pricing option: if you pay a one-time $199 fee, you’ll have permanent access to 500 GB of cloud storage, which you can readily expand by paying extra.
If you’re searching for a cloud storage option that ticks the boxes of affordability, security, and versatility, then look no further than pCloud!
2. Icedrive – Most affordable
Icedrive (10 GB of free storage, paid version starts at $1.67 per month for 150 GB of storage) is a relative newcomer to the cloud storage scene, but it’s already making waves: it offers 10 GB of storage for free, and it is the cheapest option that we’ve found.
For $1.67 a month, you’ll be able to get 150 GB of storage and client-side encryption. Moving to the same price point as pCloud, Icedrive still triumphs: at $4.17 per month, you’ll get a whopping 1 TB of storage—double what pCloud offers.
Security-wise, Icedrive is no slouch—it uses the Twofish algorithm, which is widely accepted by cryptographers as a more secure form of encryption compared to AES.
Plus, it even contests pCloud’s lifetime pricing option with its own: for a one-time fee of $99, you’ll be granted 150 GB of lifetime storage!
If you don’t mind missing out on some features that more established cloud storage providers have—such as the option to choose between selective sync or block-level sync—Icedrive is the best, cheapest option for you!
3. Sync.com – Best in security
The main selling point for Sync.com (5 GB of free storage, paid option starts at $8 per month for 2 TB of storage) is a formidable selection of security and privacy features as well as an easy-to-use user interface that lets you effortlessly sort out your files.
Sync also has a zero-knowledge encryption policy and strictly adheres to numerous privacy laws, such as the US HIPAA, Canadian PIPEDA and PHIPA, and European GDPR, ensuring that your files are safe and private (within applicable legal bounds).
Finally, any of the files that you upload to Sync’s servers will be protected by end-to-end, 256-bit AES encryption. Based on Sync’s aforementioned zero-knowledge policy, the decryption key will be available only to you, ensuring that not even Sync knows what your encrypted files contain.
With all of these security features, Sync.com is quite unrivaled when it comes to privacy and security, making it our top choice for most secure cloud storage platform!
No Rain Clouds on the Horizon!
With the world’s continued digitization, cloud storage will continue to evolve and rise in prominence. And with our guide (and our helpful tips and recommendations), you’ll be able to make the most of this exciting and (relatively) new technology!