Cloud storage - it's 'what service?' not 'should I move?'

Cloud storage is an absolute no-brainer - the only question is deciding which one to use. That's tricky

I've made the decision.

Cloud storage is no longer optional, it is a necessity. A recent data loss finally convinced me that cloud storage is a requirement going forward.

The loss arose out of one of those rare occasions when I had not had time to check backups and where a hard disk suddenly failed. Unfortunately, the loss was one of those 'must have' files that cannot be replicated. But then it is a topic I've been thinking about for a while.

As our data consumption and creation rises, there is no limit to the amount of data we need to store. Putting aside your accounting and customer data, we are increasingly being drawn into other, much bulkier data, like video and image files. But what to do? I already use DropBox for sharing certain files but that's not really enough for my needs. Cloud backup and storage solutions are growing like weeds and there is plenty of competition to help keep prices within reason, even for micro businesses like mine.

This is not a topic I know in geek-depth but I have enough understanding of needs to make a reasonable decision.

I'm aware, for instance, that any of the current providers could change their Ts&Cs at the spin of a hard disk, could go out of business, shut down the service, suffer a catastrophic outage or a myriad other problems. My level of knowledge is probably a bit more than most business people but less than those who live with this topic. That puts me in a very good position to share what I believe the average buyer would likely need to consider. So where to start?

Google is always your friend and a quick search took me to The 10 Best Back Companies Reviewed. It's out of date but provides a sensible starting point. Listed are companies I vaguely know like Carbonite but others I'd never heard of like ZipCloud.

I quickly discovered that while '10 Best' ranks cloud storage providers, it is comparing apples with oranges when it comes to viewing each from the business perspective. Each of the services mentioned offers a consumer grade solution, some of which are free but business users have different needs. As I trawled through the solutions, I also realised that my needs are more than just backup and storage. That means making a list of the things I think I need and then seeing if there is anything else on offer that I could usefully apply. This was my initial requirements list:

  1. Automated backup - I don't want to touch it unless I have to.
  2. Synchronise with the machines I use.
  3. Share selected files and I'd like those with whom I share to be able to view or play video files in particular from inside the storage solution.
  4. It has to be cross platform as I run both Apple and Windows based machines.
  5. Access from my mobile devices including Android so I can for example show video files from that device while on the move.
  6. UK based - I value my privacy and consider the US government 'right' to poke about in any of my files for any reason they choose an infringement of my rights to privacy.

That list had me discounting a number of services right off the bat because a number are Windows-only services. That's a surprise in an age where Apple is now a major supplier of laptops.

Having run my own comparisons against the list, I quickly settled on LiveDrive as a potential solution. At this point I start trawling for reviews as these are usually a reasonable starting point. Mike Gibbs skates over the major features, providing a thumbs up but with the caveat that once stored, LiveDrive does not encrypt the files. The problem is that it doesn't look like the author has tested the service in anger on OSX machines. The review was written July, 2011 so is reasonably current.

But LiveDrive put out a new version for Mac the day before the publish date of Gibbs' piece. That release was royally panned with grumbles about performance, support and bugs to say nothing of being clunky. Not a good start. However, in mid-November, the company released a new version. The one comment from a Mac users suggests things have improved. What worried most at this point was the support issue. Back in July, one commenter said:

The concept is awesome. The technology is there. The functionality is designed right in to it…..but, the actual implementation fails miserably!!! I even wrote to Live drive with my problems and have never received a response. I paid for the pro version, 5 years and thought..WOW, this is going to be great, as .me gets phased out….Boy have i been mistaken. I have 3 Mac machines and 1 PC linked to the account and am having issues all the way around. The pc application seems to work fine, but it stops uploading to my briefcase, so I have tons of files that don’t work…What a mess. My Mac machines, can’t seem to stay connected long enough to finish loading to the back up or the briefcase. The application fails on all of them. I upgraded one of my machines to OSX Lion to see if that would help….WRONG. I am going to hold out for 1 more week before requesting a refund. It’s so disappointing.

This pushes so many of my buttons that at this point I was ready to give up on additional analysis. Especially as this person's experience is so out of whack with what the company claims. But it would be wrong to dismiss a service without going further in the due diligence process.

For that, you'll have to read my next piece together which includes my summary checklist of how to assess this type of service.

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