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Best cloud storage in 2021

series of server drives within a unit
(Image credit: Photo by panumas nikhomkhai from Pexels)

Selecting one of the best cloud storage services from so many providers, all offering similar features, can be tough. You have to be aware of what you need from a cloud storage and backup provider before choosing one, and consider above all three important areas: cloud storage security, affordability, and versatility.

Most providers offer a wide array of services, ranging from the best personal cloud storage to the best cloud storage for business and the best free cloud storage. Business services offer file syncing and enhanced secure cloud systems, while free plans are perfect for individuals with key documents and photos to back up. Premium plans sit between, offering top features and storage via competitively-priced subscriptions.

Beyond the integral factors already mentioned, bear in mind other key elements including storage capacity, file size limits, extra additional features, ease of use, service access and device support. Our guide to the best cloud storage rates how each premium service provider meets these key points, to help you choose the right one for you or your business.

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What is cloud storage?

Cloud storage stores data on a physical drive, and makes it accessible online for users via software from any internet-connected device, whenever and wherever a user wants to access them: hence the term "cloud".

There are two main forms: self-hosted, using on-premises (on-prem) infrastructure, and storage as a service (StaaS), using externally managed, third-party infrastructure. StaaS providers provide large and affordable amounts of online storage via data centers, while hybrid cloud storage combines cloud and local.

StaaS products are more affordable, designed for collaboration, and described as storage and syncing platforms. They use cloud sync technology, encompassing link sharing and file versioning, allowing for inter-colleague collaboration.

The top 3 best cloud storage solutions available

1. IDrive: the best cloud storage available
IDrive ranks consistently highly due to its top features, high security level, and a fair pricing structure. It’s available across Windows, macOS, and Linux-based operating systems, as well as smartphones and tablets running Android or iOS.
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2. Google Drive: high-performing, seamlessly integrated
Google Drive's wealth of useful tools elevate it beyond cloud storage. Slick apps and tight integration with Google Workspace make it easy to fit into workflows, while seamless integration with third-party apps and swift performance make it an easy sell.
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3. Dropbox: affordable and the file sharing leader
Dropbox remains one of the leading premium cloud storage solutions, with a simple dashboard ensuring it remains easy to use. In turn, the freedom to choose third-party apps for integration should not be underestimated in comparison to its competitors.
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Which is the best cloud storage service?

Of the best cloud storage premium solutions, IDrive is our best cloud storage choice, thanks to great value for money across highly secure, impressively-priced plans. It's also top of the best free cloud storage providers, the best cloud storage for photos, and the best personal cloud storage. Google Drive and Dropbox closely follow, with Microsoft OneDrive, Zoolz and pCloud next.

The best cloud storage providers, compared
Cloud storage platformLowest-priced planStorage capacityNumber of devicesEncryption
IDrive$79.50 a year (IDrive Personal)5TBUnlimitedEnd-to-end
Google Drive$199 a month (Google One)2TBUnlimitedEncrypted transfer
Dropbox$11.99 a month (Plus)3TBUnlimitedIn-transit and at-rest
Zoolz$9.99 (1TB plan)1TBUnlimitedEnd-to-end
Microsoft OneDrive$1.99 a month (OneDrive Standard)6TB30AES 256-bit
pCloud$4.99 a month (Premium)From 400GBUnspecifiedIn-transit and at-rest

The best cloud storage premium solutions

IDrive logo

IDrive offers versatile cloud storage solutions for a variety of users (Image credit: IDrive)

1. IDrive

An excellent all-around choice for all users

Storage capacity: 5TB
Number of devices: Unlimited
Encryption: End-to-end
Reasons to buy
+Compatible with almost any device or OS+Unlimited user and device plans available+Very easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Unlimited storage isn’t available-No two-factor authentication

IDrive takes first in our list of the best premium cloud storage providers, and for good reason. It offers great value for money, provides highly secure cloud storage solutions, and has an option for every user. 

The basic free forever plan only supports 5GB of storage, but this should be enough for you to test the platform. Personal plans that support one user and unlimited devices cost $59.62 a year ($79.50 on renewal) for 5TB or $74.62 a year ($99.50 on renewal) for 10TB of storage. IDrive is also currently offering 5TB for a hugely discounted price of $7.95 for the first year — one of the most affordable high-capacity plans available, though you need to prove you're using a competitor as part of the signup.

Team plans include a limited number of devices and users, and start at $74.62 a year for five computers, five users, and 5TB of storage. IDrive's Business plans are significantly more expensive after the initial plan's $74.62 yearly rate, supporting unlimited users and unlimited servers, computers, and databases with 250GB. Prices beyond that range from $149.62 a year for 500GB of storage, up to $8,699.62 a year for 50TB. 

All plans can be used on various desktop and mobile operating systems, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. You can set up continuous data backup if required, and it’s even possible to create a copy of external hard drives and NAS (network-attached storage) devices. 

Files can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, and file sharing is extremely easy. All plans come with the innovative IDrive Express feature, which enables you to back up files and data to a physical storage device, which is then mailed to your chosen address. This is available once per year with the Personal plans, and three times a year with the Team and Business plans.

Read our full IDrive personal cloud backup review to find out more about the platform, and why we've ranked it first. You can also find out more about how it compares to the competition in our features pitting IDrive vs Carbonite and IDrive vs Backblaze

Google Drive logo

Google Drive works hand-in-hand with Android and Google Workspace (Image credit: Google Drive)

2. Google Drive

All-in-one solution powered by Google Workspace

Storage capacity: 2TB
Number of devices: Unlimited
Encryption: Encrypted transfer
Reasons to buy
+15GB of free storage+Android and Chromebook integration+Fully featured cloud sync that’s simple to use
Reasons to avoid
-The web interface can be a little complicated-No end-to-end encryption

Google’s cloud storage walks hand in hand with Android and Google Workspace. If these platforms are already a part of your workflow, Google Drive offers a feature-rich, affordable native backup-and-sync solution.

While not as barebones as some of the other options listed, Google Drive’s UI is clean and intuitive. It is worth remembering, however, that this is more than cloud storage. It comes with companion apps including Google Photos, Docs, Sheets, and Slides — together known as Google Workspace. Consequently, Google Drive lets you create, edit, store, view, and synchronize files via a unified, web-based interface. 

When you open a new account, Google offers you free storage of up to 15GB on Google Drive. This plan is yours to keep forever, and if you wish to upgrade to a spacier storage plan down the road, you can do so. The paid plans, offered under the banner of Google One, start at $1.99 a month for 100GB. From there, you can upgrade your storage space to a maximum of 30TB for $299.99 a month. 

The web interface, while very attractive, isn’t the easiest to use. This problem is easily solved by downloading the Google Drive desktop application for Windows and macOS. This features a file explorer-based drag-and-drop system not dissimilar to Microsoft OneDrive, which lets you back up, store, modify, and delete files directly from your desktop.

For more information on the platform, read our full Google Drive review, and our feature comparing Google Drive vs Microsoft OneDrive.

Dropbox logo

Dropbox provides affordable plans and third-party integration (Image credit: Dropbox)

3. Dropbox

A leader in file sharing over the cloud

Storage capacity: 3TB
Number of devices: Unlimited
Encryption: In-transit and at rest
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+Freedom to choose third-party applications+Free plan will suffice for many personal users
Reasons to avoid
-No backup features-Expensive

Dropbox is a fantastic choice for personal cloud storage. Plans are affordable, the user interface is impressive, and it integrates well with many third-party platforms.

It is a leader in file sharing, with several features helping to make it easy to share large files with others, whether they use Dropbox or not. However, one limitation is that you can’t back up external or network drives — Dropbox only stores what you transfer to the Dropbox folder on your device. This isn’t a major issue, but differentiates it from competitors like IDrive. 

Security is impressive without being exceptional, with all files are encrypted at rest and in transit, though there is no end-to-end encryption. Accounts can also be secured with two-factor authentication (2FA). 

Despite those limitations, we think you could do much worse than Dropbox for cloud storage. You can read our Dropbox review for more details, or see how it fared in our article comparing IDrive vs Dropbox vs pCloud.

Zoolz logo

Zoolz offers cloud storage solutions backed by highly advanced features (Image credit: Zoolz)

4. Zoolz Cloud Backup

A popular cloud backup platform with an excellent reputation

Storage capacity: 1TB
Number of devices: Unlimited
Encryption: End-to-end
Reasons to buy
+Streamlined platform with minimal system impact+Attractive, intuitive user interface
Reasons to avoid
-No live backup options

Zoolz offers high-quality cloud storage backed by the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem. It boasts excellent security, including full 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption, and compliance with various legislative frameworks including HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation). 

A fully functional free trial is available with 50GB of storage, enabling you to try the service before committing. Prices range from $14.99 a month for 1TB of storage to $674.99 a month for 50TB. Significant discounts are available with annual payments.

All business plans support unlimited users, unlimited server backups, and unlimited external drive connections. Users also have access to excellent 24/7 live support and a comprehensive help center.

The Zoolz desktop interface is neat and easy to navigate, and there are also mobile apps available for managing files on the go. Unfortunately, these are clunky and frustrating to use, while upload and download speeds can be slow, which could be an issue if frequently working with larger files. 

Read our full Zoolz cloud storage review, and then take a look at our Zoolz BigMIND review for our thoughts on the new personal and business service.

OneDrive logo

Microsoft OneDrive comes paired with Windows 10 and Microsoft 365 (Image credit: Microsoft)

5. Microsoft OneDrive

Built-in cloud storage for Windows 10

Storage capacity: 6TB
Number of devices: 30
Encryption: AES 256-bit
Reasons to buy
+Free with Microsoft 365+Lets you edit files without downloading them first 
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks advanced features

Microsoft OneDrive is the ultimate cloud storage solution for Windows 10 and Microsoft 365 users, and is also available for users of macOS, Android, and iOS. Strangely enough, it is also available to Xbox One console gamers, making it possible to store precious game save files safely in the cloud.

The platform balances high-capacity storage with functional user interfaces, powerful integrations with the entire Microsoft 365 suite, and a robust security framework. Once you’re set up, it will perform as described with no further effort or stress on your part.

The service is very well integrated into Windows. In essence, it enables you take away any file or folder on your desktop and access it on a variety of other devices. It also offers the ability to share files and folders with users who don’t have OneDrive.

You can also edit files directly on the cloud, without the need to download them every time. From Outlook to AutoCAD, OneDrive is compatible with a variety of different other services, both internal and third-party. Security-wise, it offers the Personal Vault feature, which lets you lock away essential files safely via 2FA and Bitlocker encryption.

If you're a Microsoft 365 subscriber, you have up to 1TB of free storage via OneDrive. Even if you aren’t, you can test it with a forever-free storage capacity of 5GB. You can always expand storage later via its personal plans, with 100GB for just $1.99 a month.

Read our full Microsoft OneDrive review to learn more about the service and its features, and our business cloud storage comparison pitting OneDrive for Business vs Dropbox Business vs Google Drive Enterprise.

pCloud logo

pCloud offers 10GB of free storage to all new users (Image credit: pCloud)

6. pCloud

Secure storage with a lifetime subscription

Storage capacity: From 500GB
Number of devices: Unspecified
Encryption: In transit and at rest
Reasons to buy
+Powerful media sharing tools+Impressive lifetime license available
Reasons to avoid
-Pricing options are very confusing

pCloud is one of the only cloud storage providers offering a lifetime subscription, providing you with 500GB of storage for a one-time payment of $175, or 2TB for $350. Alternatively, annual plans are available for $47.88 and $95.88 respectively. 

Monthly payment options are also available, and there’s a fully functional free plan with 10GB of storage. You can also choose a family plan, which supports up to four users, while business-specific solutions start at $9.99 per user. All plans come with advanced collaboration and file-sharing features, and you can even back up files from a series of third-party platforms. 

Additionally, all files are protected by TLS/SSL (Transport Layer Security/Secure Sockets Layer) security, with 256-bit AES encryption. Powerful Android and iOS apps are available for mobile management, and there are tools to help you set up automatic social media uploads should you require this. 

Android, iOS, Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems are supported, and there are also browser extensions for Opera, Chrome, and Firefox. To learn more about the service, read our full pCloud review.

The best cloud storage for business: what you need to know

Identifying the best cloud storage for business means looking for highly stable, secure systems that protect data at all times. End-to-end encryption and zero-knowledge architecture are particularly important, but also look for StaaS products, as they offer advanced cloud sync and collaborative features for seamless digital workflows, increased employee cooperation and productivity.

Powerful administrative features provided, such as access management, system auditing, 2FA, and roles-based permissions, are also worth keeping an eye out for, particularly for medium- and large-sized organizations. If you're buying on behalf of a smaller company, find out how to choose the best cloud storage for small business, and why small businesses should use cloud services.

What you need to know about free cloud storage 

If you've got less complex storage requirements, or have a tight budget, most providers offer free plans. While less feature-rich, with smaller storage allowances and other limitations, they can be more than sufficient for personal needs. You can store important documents and images, but should you want more capacity, you'll have pay to upgrade. However, the advantage is that you can try out different platforms for free before you do.

How secure is cloud storage?

When we compare on-prem vs cloud storage, or even cloud storage vs external hard disk drives, security is key. Cloud storage may not theoretically be as secure as local storage, but the best cloud storage uses cutting-edge security and encryption. So how secure is cloud storage, and how do secure cloud systems protect your data?

When it comes to enterprises, cloud storage security is crucial, particularly in data and privacy-sensitive sectors, and so investing in secure cloud storage that offers state-of-the-art policies is non-negotiable. End-to-end encryption and zero-knowledge architecture mean services are almost hack-proof, and that not even a provider's staff can access your data. 

In-transit and at-rest encryption mean that even in the unlikely event of a cybercriminal intercepting data, it would be indecipherable. The very best providers not only protect data, but infrastructure housing it. StaaS data centers have 24/7 security guards, biometric authorization for entry, and frequent security auditing. 

Data center locations are also key for most businesses, as different countries have different data privacy laws. You'll need to make sure data is stored in a nation that complies with your data privacy obligations.

Further reading on cloud storage

Take a look at our cloud storage checklist when looking for a provider, as well as our top tips for businesses in data backup and recovery.

  • khelban
    The free 50GB that Zoolz offers is a 14 day trial.
    Zoolz offers a 14-day free trial with 50GB of regular storage and 100GB of cold storage so that you can thoroughly test it out.