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How to use Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive or iCloud as your main cloud storage

cloud storage
(Image credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

In recent years we have seen an explosion in the popularity of cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, and iCloud. These providers offer hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes of online storage at affordable rates, and more and more consumers are choosing to switch to cloud storage. 

But before you consider switching to cloud storage as your primary storage location, there are several critical questions to ask. For example, can the cloud really replace the trusty hard drive as your primary storage location? And how easy is it to access important files and documents from other devices? And perhaps most importantly of all: will your data be safe? 

This article answers these questions and provides insights into how to make the most of your cloud storage solution, no matter which platform you choose.

Choose the right cloud 

The most important step in moving to a cloud storage solution is making sure you choose a platform that suits you. For example, iCloud is best suited for people who predominantly use Apple devices. If you regularly use a Windows computer or an Android device, iCloud probably isn't right for you. 

Likewise, if you use Microsoft 365 applications exclusively, then Microsoft OneDrive will likely be the most seamless platform for you. If you use G Suite or Google Docs, then Google Drive will probably be your best choice. The point is to find the provider that best fits your computer and software usage.

Don't put your faith in free 

It can often be tempting to use free cloud storage solutions, but we advise against it. The reality is that free cloud storage platforms offer limited storage space, and they are less reliable. Furthermore, free cloud storage providers won't provide high-quality customer support, and their data security protocols are more likely to be below standard.

We also discourage users from using a free cloud storage solution because today, the best providers offer highly affordable packages. Compared to the frustration and lost productivity of a poorly performing cloud storage solution, or the costs of data loss or a cyberattack, investing in a high-quality cloud storage solution is a no-brainer.

Some storage-as-a-service products even come included in other software bundles. For example, all Microsoft 365 subscribers get 1TB of included OneDrive storage. If you already use the Microsoft 365 suite of applications, it’s likely you already have one of the best cloud storage platforms at your disposal.

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Protect your phone 

If there’s one thing everyone should know when considering cloud storage it is that your account is only as secure as the devices that access it. Your cloud data is at risk if your mobile device or laptop is compromised (whether due to damage, theft, or cyberattack). 

At a minimum, you should protect your device with a strong PIN code or password. You should also make sure to change the password to your cloud storage account regularly. If you want to seriously up your data security game, investing in a password manager is the way to go. For more about data security, see the section on two-factor authentication (2FA).

Know what's safe to store 

Potential data loss is an unavoidable risk when using a cloud storage platform, whether due to cybercrime, accidental deletion, or hardware failure. Businesses managing sensitive customer data or financial information need to be particularly prudent about how they manage data online.

Fortunately, there are a few steps individuals and businesses can take to protect their data stored on a cloud storage platform. The most important of these is encryption.

Encrypting data stored in the cloud will ensure that it is inaccessible even if your account is compromised. Without the proper authentication keys, any would-be thief will only see an incomprehensible series of numbers. 

If you take data security seriously, encryption is non-negotiable. 

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Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) 

While we're on the topic of data security, let's talk about 2FA. In today's world, even the best passwords can be compromised. 2FA makes it nearly impossible for would-be hackers to access your account, even if they know your password.

2FA ensures that before accessing your account from a new device, you must enter the account password and a unique one-time code sent to either your email address or mobile phone.

When combined with encryption, 2FA makes your cloud storage account as secure, if not more secure, than your trusty old hard drive.

Always have a backup 

The final step in securing your cloud storage account is to always have a backup. Although exceptionally unlikely, in the case of a major attack on your cloud storage platform, you want the comfort of knowing you have another copy of your data stored in a secure location. 

This secure location could be either another cloud storage service or a physical server or hard drive. This backup, like your cloud storage files, should be encrypted and secured with a strong password and 2FA. 

Check what's connecting 

If someone does gain unauthorized access to your account despite the other data security strategies discussed in this article, you'll want to know as soon as possible. This means finding out when and from what device someone was able to access your account. It also helps keep track of where you have logged into your account, in case you forget to log out of a public computer at the library, the office, or elsewhere.

Fortunately, most cloud storage providers today make it easy to see which devices are logged into your account. They will show you when a device logged into your account, what type of device it was, and where its IP address was geographically located.

If you notice a suspicious login, or if you've forgotten to log out on a public computer, there are two things you can do. You can log out of your account on the device in question, or you can log out of all devices at the same time.

Revoke app access 

Many third-party applications can access files or documents stored on a cloud storage platform. For example, you might want to connect Dropbox to If This Then That, or ensure Google Drive documents open automatically in your email browser. 

From your account dashboard, you can see what apps have access to your data, and what data they have access to. You can revoke permissions for apps you would rather not have access to your sensitive files and documents.

Don't exceed your allowance 

Having access to all your files across all your devices is great, but you need to pay close attention to your mobile data limit. Regularly syncing large files across devices can quickly bite into your data allowance. This can potentially lead to additional and unwanted charges.

We recommend downloading or syncing large files only when using a Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi accounts typically have much higher data allowances, so exceeding those limits is unlikely.

Keep your payment details current 

Ensuring your payment details are up to date on your cloud storage account is one of the easiest ways to ensure your account continues running smoothly. If a payment fails, your provider probably won't delete your files, but it will limit your access. This can be annoying and requires payment before you can access your files again. 

Bonus tips: How to choose a cloud storage/cloud backup provider? 

The CEO of Tectrade, Alex Fagioli, explains how to choose the perfect cloud storage solution for your business. 

1. Know your current system

Before upgrading or repurposing your business' cloud storage infrastructure, it's worth taking stock of what you are currently using. A full audit of your cloud storage setup will enable you to optimize your current resources and make an informed choice on any future investments.

Such an audit should consider your organizational data storage framework as a whole. What internal data centers are there? Do you use both private and public cloud services? And what protocols for data security and privacy exist across the different systems? Knowing the answers to these questions will immediately increase your business' preparedness for a new cloud storage solution.

2. Seek value

Many IT leaders feel pressured to deliver comprehensive network infrastructure and cloud storage technology at a low cost. Fortunately, there are many affordable and high-value cloud storage providers available.

The best approach is to consider several providers, making use of free trials to find a cloud storage solution that aligns with your organization's needs.

3. Prioritize workloads

In the case of data loss, a full system recovery and reboot can take several hours, if not days. While for individuals this mightn't be an issue, for businesses it isn't an option. An entire day without networked devices, cloud storage, or data security means lost revenue and time wasted.

So, when looking for a cloud storage solution, prioritize providers that offer 24-hour customer support and who will help ensure you can get up and running as quickly as possible. 

Although not directly related to cloud storage, it is also worth considering a data recovery solution. This will further protect your business against data loss when using a cloud storage platform.