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How to choose and use cloud storage

Futuristic Data Center Server Room
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Once a relatively niche field, the growth in numbers of the best cloud storage providers available has seen the market expand dramatically in recent years. Users now have access to a wide range of cloud storage tools, and it makes it easy to manage documents across multiple devices, as well as within an organization.

Here, we’ll cover the basics of cloud storage, and how it can make your business more efficient. We’ll also outline helpful security tips to help keep your information safe. It’s important to be vigilant about your online security, and these cloud storage tools are reliable and secure ways to store and share your documents and data.

How to choose and use cloud storage

Cloud storage: Finding the right service 

The first thing to consider when looking for a new cloud storage service is whether it’s compatible with your hardware. Fortunately, leading providers support the vast majority of devices, including desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets running both iOS and Android. Sharing data between devices is the main benefit of cloud storage, so it’s critical to verify that the service will work for your organization.

Identify value 

OneDrive's homepage

OneDrive is available both as a standalone and a paid Microsoft 365 subscription service (Image credit: Microsoft)

Free cloud storage is a great option in some cases, but there are good reasons to consider paying for a premium service. Paid applications typically offer higher storage limits and a wide range of additional benefits, depending on the service. Some are also available in larger bundles.

OneDrive, for example, is available as a standalone subscription, but it also comes with paid Microsoft 365 plans, starting at just $5 per user a month when paid annually. This is a convenient way to add several new cloud services to your existing practices for a relatively low price.

Optimize mobile security 

Data breaches can take advantage of various security weaknesses, but phones and other mobile devices are clear targets. If your phone unlocks automatically, it would only take someone a few seconds to extract sensitive information.

Your organizational security is only as strong as its weakest link, so make sure to inform your team of the risks involved with mobile devices. Secondary security measures will prevent malicious actors from accessing someone’s data if their phone is lost or stolen.

Keep the most important files local 

lock on a keyboard

Passwords are great for security, but encryption is by far the most effective security tool (Image credit: Unsplash)

Adding a passcode will go a long way toward securing your phone, but the reality is that any data you put online could potentially be compromised. Even the most secure cloud storage tools can’t completely eliminate the risk of threats to your data.

Besides storing them locally, file encryption is the most effective method of securing documents. Different cloud storage tools provide different options and settings for file encryption. It’s especially important to increase security for files that contain private or personal information.

Enable 2FA

While strong passwords can significantly improve your security, two-factor authentication is a critical addition to any organization’s security practices.

Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is an easy way to verify login attempts. 2FA systems generally send a code to the owner’s smartphone or tablet to make sure they’re the one who is trying to access the account. Most cloud storage platforms at least provide the option to enable two-factor authentication, so there’s no reason not to take advantage.

Make consistent backups 

Google Photos' homepage

Google Photos is an example of a cloud storage service that regularly syncs information to ensure new files are safe (Image credit: Google)

Along with security breaches, cloud data storage loss is a notable risk for users. Backing up files in a second location is a common-sense strategy, especially for information that you can’t afford to lose.

If you prefer cloud storage, you can simply use two different services to add a redundant layer of security. Google Photos, for example, will regularly sync information to make sure new files are safe. Of course, you can also store files on a local drive if you’d rather avoid keeping both versions online.

Monitor login history 

Google Drive, Dropbox, and many other services give admins the ability to view login histories. Dropbox, for example, displays all current connections, along with the full list of devices that are approved to access your account.

Keeping tabs on your account history will help you identify unauthorized access and fix the problem quickly. Don’t forget to remove devices from your account when a user leaves your organization. Also, access to your files should always be provided on a need-to-know basis.

Consider app permissions 

Google Drive's homepage

Google Drive allows for third-party app integrations, like most of the leading cloud storage providers (Image credit: Google Drive)

Just as authorized devices can gain access to your files, third-party apps may be able to view your information with the right permissions. OneDrive files, for example, might also be visible in Microsoft Office applications. Similarly, you might connect your Google Drive account to Slack for convenient sharing.

The simplest way to avoid any issues is to revoke permissions when they’re no longer needed. Leaving more access points than you need makes your business unnecessarily vulnerable to security threats. Major cloud storage providers have the option to view and manage app permissions.

Track your storage and mobile data allowances 

Almost all cloud storage tools come with storage limits, depending on your specific subscription. Google Drive provides up to 15GB of free storage, while free Dropbox users are limited to just 2GB. You will need to upgrade your account in order to go beyond your storage limit.

On the other hand, it’s easy to forget that mobile data allowances can also lead to issues with cloud storage. Individuals and organizations typically use these services to share data between devices, including phones and tablets.

If you’re limited to a certain monthly bandwidth, make sure to take that into account when uploading to or downloading from your cloud storage account. You can always perform these operations via a Wi-Fi network to avoid any additional charges.

Don’t forget to update your payment information 

Dropbox homepage

Like many other solutions, Dropbox will automatically switch users to basic accounts should payment issues arise (Image credit: Dropbox)

You shouldn’t lose any files if your cloud storage subscription renewal doesn’t go through. Dropbox, for example, automatically switches users to Basic accounts if there are any issues with their payment method. That said, losing premium features can be a major inconvenience for your business.

While files that are already stored in the cloud will remain, you may not be able to sync new files until you fix the problem with your subscription. Basically, when you switch to a new card, remember to update your payment information to avoid any issues.

Extra tips for finding the right cloud storage service 

Look for easy integration 

As with any IT decision, the first step in looking for a cloud storage service is analyzing your existing systems. This is particularly relevant for larger enterprises with hybrid infrastructures including data centers, private clouds, and other services, along with public cloud storage.

IT departments don’t always have anything beyond surface-level knowledge of their organization’s practices. Even if a cloud storage tool seems to provide unique features or amazing value, it’s crucial to understand how it will integrate with your current systems before making any final decisions.

Get more for your money

Providing excellent performance on a tight budget is a significant challenge for many IT departments, and cloud storage and backup services generally represent a small percentage of IT budgets (roughly 7%). This isn’t much money considering the key role that these platforms play in keeping information secure and accessible to everyone in the organization.

While many cloud storage services charge a set monthly rate for a given storage maximum, you may get a better value through a pay-as-you-go platform. This pricing model ensures that you only pay for the data you use. Furthermore, you’ll avoid the process of predicting your future storage needs by simply paying for whatever you have used at the end of the payment period.

Prioritize uptime

Cloud storage is often used to recover files that have been deleted or lost, but backup services can also help your organization get back to normal operations after going offline. Uptime is obviously a relevant factor for personal users, but it’s even more impactful for businesses that rely on data for their income.

With that in mind, you should always look for a provider that has the tools necessary to get your business running quickly. Efficient recovery is one of the most important factors to consider for a new cloud storage or backup service.

Further reading on cloud storage

Read our comparison of cloud storage vs local storage, to see which solution will be best for your business. You might also benefit from reading about hybrid cloud storage, which combines the two types: make sure to read our guide to the best cloud storage for business to find the right provider for you.