Identifying the best cloud storage service for you or your business can be difficult, but you can make the right choice by making sure you identify what you require from a cloud storage and backup provider before you get started.
The majority of cloud storage platforms provide personal, business, and free storage plans, which means that making the right choice now can suit you in the future, should there be any further growth. Keep your requirements in mind, and when looking consider cloud storage security, affordability, versatility, storage capacity and file size limits, ease of use, customer support, and any extra features.
We focus on premium plans in this guide to the best cloud storage, which sit between business and free cloud storage. Business storage plans usually offer file syncing and top-level secure cloud systems; free storage has limitations, but is ideal for individuals backing up documents and photos.
Premium plans offer the great features and high storage levels of business plans, and do this via competitively-priced plans that are either monthly or annual subscriptions. Below, we evaluate leading premium platforms against the aforementioned cloud storage factors, to help find the best provider for your needs.
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".
Self-hosted cloud storage works by using on-premises (on-prem) infrastructure to provide storage, rather than managed, remotely-based servers. You need to manage these types of services yourself.
Storage as a service (StaaS) uses externally managed, third-party infrastructure and data centers, and offers large, affordable amounts of online storage. Designed for collaboration, they can also be described as storage and syncing platforms.
Hybrid cloud storage combines cloud and local storage together to give you the benefits of both types. This is aimed more at businesses than individuals.
Cloud sync technology encompasses link sharing and file versioning, and is offered by many StaaS providers, allowing larger businesses to undertake inter-colleague collaboration, file sharing, and much more.
The top 3 best cloud storage solutions available
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.
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.
Which is the best cloud storage service?
IDrive is top of our ranking of the best cloud storage premium solutions, as it offers great value for money throughout a range of highly secure plans. It's also the best free cloud storage provider, the best cloud storage for photos, and the best personal cloud storage service.
Google Drive provides leading integrations with Google Workspace and slick mobile and desktop apps, while Dropbox continues to be one of the best cloud storage solutions thanks to its ease-of-use, as well as its third-party app integrations.
Microsoft OneDrive provides integration with Microsoft 365, premium plans for individuals, families, and businesses; Zoolz' high-quality cloud storage boasts excellent security, a great free trial, and 24/7 support; and pCloud competes with the industry giants via a lifetime subscription across family and business plans, secure file-sharing, and widespread app support across mobile and desktop platforms.
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|Cloud storage platform||Lowest-priced plan||Storage capacity||Number of devices||Encryption|
|IDrive||$79.50 a year (IDrive Personal)||5TB||Unlimited||End-to-end|
|Google Drive||$199 a month (Google One)||2TB||Unlimited||Encrypted transfer|
|Dropbox||$11.99 a month (Plus)||3TB||Unlimited||In-transit and at-rest|
|Zoolz||$9.99 (1TB plan)||1TB||Unlimited||End-to-end|
|Microsoft OneDrive||$1.99 a month (OneDrive Standard)||6TB||30||AES 256-bit|
|pCloud||$4.99 a month (Premium)||From 400GB||Unspecified||In-transit and at-rest|
The best cloud storage premium solutions
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 it. 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 $3.98 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.
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.
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.
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).
It has a free plan with 2GB of storage, as well as two other personal plans. Of these, the Plus Plan is $9.99 a month for 2TB of storage, and enables you to send files up to 2GB per transfer. The Family Plan has the same storage and transfer capabilities, but for six individual users, for $16.99 a month.
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.
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. It's 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, our OneDrive for Business review, and our OneDrive for Business vs Dropbox Business vs Google Drive Enterprise comparison.
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. 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, read our full pCloud review.
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, but the best cloud storage uses cutting-edge security and encryption. So how secure is cloud storage, and how does it 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.
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.
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 we review the best cloud storage
When we review cloud storage providers, we test upload and download times for files, as these speeds are integral to performance and usage. We also look at how each provider's security stacks up, how responsive their customer service teams are when there's a problem, at pricing, and at any additional features offered.
Our comprehensive reviews also make a point of comparing each cloud storage service to competitors, across key features and pricing, so you can benefit from as much information as possible before you make your choice.
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. 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.