Looking for the best cloud storage provider around right now? Well, we’ve got you covered with the most extensive, thoroughly-researched and complete buyers guide with as little jargon as possible.
Most importantly, nobody has tested and reviewed more of the best cloud storage services online than us in 2021. We have researched nearly 50 services, from personal cloud storage to enterprise grade cloud storage, that store files in the cloud – and so much more – in a bid to provide you with our curated list, ranking on aspects such as capacity, price, file size, security and ease of use.
What is a cloud storage service?
To understand what cloud storage means, you need to grasp what the cloud is. In one line, that’s a resource (usually computing power or storage) that you can access remotely online either for free or for a fee.
Think of it as the self-storage services – cherished by home movers and renters – but instead of filling them up with boxes, you fill cloud storage accounts with your own files.
There are dozens of services that fall under that umbrella term (cloud storage) and many users interchangeably call them cloud backup, online storage, online drives, online backup, file hosting, file storage and so on.
At its simplest, it is a secure virtual space that you will usually access via your browser or a desktop application (or mobile app). The actual location of your files is usually in a data center somewhere, in a server, on a hard drive or solid-state drive.
Our experts have worked on a list that represents our top picks for the best cloud storage: most offer a free tier allowing you to see if they’re right for you before handing over any hard-earned cash. Just make sure you read the terms and conditions.
Whether you need to store a couple of files, an operating system, or entire collections of pictures, images or videos, we have something for everyone.
And if you can’t find what you’re after, check out some of our other guides, including the best free cloud storage, best photo storage and best business cloud storage roundups.
Best cloud storage services in 2021
1. IDrive is the best cloud storage provider
IDrive, the cloud storage veteran, delivers tons of storage online for an incredibly small outlay. 5TB for $3.48 for the first year is unmatched, and so is the support for unlimited devices and the extensive file versioning system available.
IDrive offers continuous syncing of your files, even those on network drives. The web interface supports sharing files by email, Facebook and Twitter. Cautious or click-happy users will be pleased to hear that files deleted from your computer are not automatically deleted from the server, so there’s less danger of removing something important by accident.
Up to 30 previous versions of all files backed to your account are retained. Another thing to note is that IT admins have access to the IDrive Thin Client application, which allows them to backup/restore, manage settings, and more for all their connected computers via a centralized dashboard.
For photos, you have a neat facial recognition feature that helps you to automatically organize them, as well as syncing them across all your linked devices. IDrive also offers IDrive Express which sends you a physical hard disk drive if you lose all your data, allowing for the swift restoration of all your backed up files.
An enhanced version – aptly named IDrive Business – exists and offers priority support, single sign-on, as well as unlimited users and server backup. While IDrive Personal offers 5TB or 10TB per user, the professional counterparts get between 250GB and 12.5TB of online storage.
EXCLUSIVE IDrive 5TB plan |
$69.50 $34.75 for 1 year
$69.50 may seem a bit expensive for a year’s worth of cloud storage, but $34.75 for a whole 12 months is ridiculously cheap. Not to mention 5TB should go a very long way in covering even the most demanding storage needs.View Deal
BackBlaze is a cloud storage giant which is an industry veteran and caters for both personal and large-scale business backup needs. The key word is ‘backup’ here, because there are no file syncing or fancy collaboration features here – as the name suggests, BackBlaze backs things up, and that’s it.
But if all you need is a backup system, then BackBlaze is a seriously tempting proposition on a number of fronts. For starters, BackBlaze makes the whole process of keeping your files backed up and safe extremely easy; trivial, even. Simply install the app, and it continuously backs up all important data (basically grabbing everything that isn’t a system file or similar), with no need for any intervention from the user. You can forget it’s installed and simply not worry about your files.
The subscription price for personal backups – which can be paid monthly, yearly, or on a 2-year deal – is good value ($60 for a year), particularly considering that you’re getting unlimited data. The caveat is that one account only covers one computer, so while there are no data allowance worries, you’ll have to pay for a fresh account for each PC you want backing up.
Backup speeds are fast, your data is encrypted for security, and you have the option – for a fee – of having a physical hard drive or flash drive sent over in the event that a restoration process is required.
Whether or not you go for BackBlaze will depend on your exact needs when it comes to cloud storage, but those who just need a pure backup system, with no extra features or trimmings, will find it a great service for sure – and an impressive value proposition given the unlimited data support. Also of note is a 15-day free trial (no credit card details required) to try before you buy.
BackBlaze is good value at its subscription price of $60 per year, but with this deal, you can get that first year for free. Those who want a VPN, too, will certainly be interested to get on board with our #1 rated VPN provider, ExpressVPN, while benefiting from a free year of BackBlaze.View Deal
pCloud is one of the very few cloud services that offer lifetime subscriptions; you essentially get a virtual, permanent cloud drive. It describes itself as a “personal cloud space where you can store all your files and folders [with] a user-friendly interface that clearly shows where everything is located and what it does.”
pCloud comes with a 30-day trash history and unlimited remote upload traffic (you only need the URL of the file); you are – as expected – limited on the download link traffic: 500GB for the Premium package and 2TB for the Premium Plus package every month.
While some bandwidth limits apply, there seems to be no limit to the size of files you can upload, so feel free to sync large media files. The service is available for all desktop and mobile platforms – users can also log in via the website.
Note that as of August 2020, pCloud now allows its users to choose where they want their data to be stored, either in the EU or US. The company itself is registered in Switzerland which has strong privacy laws, and you can also pay a premium of $4.99 a month for pCloud Crypto to lock (and unlock) individual files with passwords.
There’s also a family option that allows you to share your space with up to four other family members and a superior option – pCloud Business – that offers 1TB per user with pCloud Crypto included.
pCloud 2TB lifetime cloud storage – $350
At face value, you might think pCloud’s offering is a little on the expensive side. However, a one-off payment will be cheaper in the long run, because you won’t have to worry about outrageous renewal fees. Plus, you can rest easy in the knowledge your data is secured by strong encryption and extensive redundancies.View Deal
IceDrive may only have been in the cloud storage business for a couple of years, but the firm offers a compelling solution, and one that’s rather different to the traditional cloud locker.
The key difference is that IceDrive’s online storage can be presented as a standard drive on your (Windows) system, just like your hard drive, with the idea being that it makes this storage easier and more intuitive to use. It’s just the same as accessing a local drive, and you can use functions like opening or editing files with close to the same speed you’d get with a local operation – as we observed in our review, there’s almost no slowdown evident.
That’s a Windows-only feature, although there is a nifty app for other platforms – Windows, Mac or Linux, and a web app for that matter – with a streamlined and well thought out interface.
Security is also a strong suit here, with IceDrive employing super-safe twofish encryption on its servers, with the data leaving your machine encrypted client-side as well, to keep things even safer. The major weak point with IceDrive is the lack of any of the collaboration features and tricks you can pull off with the likes of OneDrive, for example.
IceDrive subscription plans are nicely priced, and you can get the Lite tier which offers 150GB of storage for as little as $20 for a year ($1.67 per month). A Pro+ plan with 5TB capacity comes out at $15 per month, and lifetime plan options could work out as superb value, running from $59 to $499.
IceDrive 1TB lifetime cloud storage – $149
One of the top options from IceDrive is the lifetime Pro deal, which gets you 1TB of storage – and 2TB of monthly bandwidth – on a permanent basis. Normally, it runs to $224, but you can pick up this plan for $149 now, which is a third off. If you prefer an annual Pro subscription, it’ll set you back $4.17 per month (meaning that in three years, you’ll pay the same as the lifetime cost).View Deal
NordLocker might sound familiar, mainly because it’s from the makers of NordVPN, one of our best VPN services. It’s a relatively simple but effective service which gives you a cloud storage locker, or alternatively can be used to create a local file vault on your device for secure storage, protecting your data with encryption in both cases.
To use on your own machine locally, NordLocker is free, and with that free version you also get a small amount of online storage – 3GB to be precise. If you want a workable amount of cloud storage, however, you’ll need to pay for a subscription, with one available plan that provides 500GB of space. That comes at a reasonable $3.99 per month on the annual subscription, or $7.99 if you want to pay month-by-month.
NordLocker allows you to sync all those files in the cloud between all your devices, and using the app is an absolute breeze – just drag-and-drop your files in, and they’re automatically encrypted and uploaded. File sharing with others can be achieved, but they must also have signed up for a NordLocker account and be using the app.
As you might expect, security is super-tight, with NordLocker using Argon2, AES256, and ECC encryption protocols, with a ‘zero knowledge’ policy in place, meaning that your files can only be decrypted by yourself (and not the company, even if it wanted to).
NordLocker may not deliver enough in the way of features for experts or more demanding users, but it’s a solid basic service, highly user-friendly, and if that’s what you need, it’s a robust value proposition.
NordLocker Premium 500GB cloud storage – $3.99 per month
NordLocker only has one paid plan, which gives you 500GB of online storage. The good news is that it’s currently being offered at 50% off for the first year, so instead of forking out $7.99, you’ll pay $3.99 per month. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with the service initially.View Deal
Like Google Drive’s appeal to Google users, OneDrive will be a good fit for anyone who is committed to using Microsoft’s services, offering neat integration with Outlook.com, the company’s popular email platform, for instance.
OneDrive also ties in nicely with Windows 10 and there is a selection of reasonable mobile apps to facilitate access on the move. It’s also integrated with non-Microsoft services like design behemoth AutoCAD.
It’s possible to share files with other people even if they aren’t OneDrive users (complete with customizable permissions), and the ability to edit files online without downloading them is a welcome touch.
Coming from Microsoft – a company with plenty of money to throw at the cloud – it’s a little disappointing to find that OneDrive doesn’t include more space free of charge. Free users get a mere 5GB of storage, although it’s relatively inexpensive to increase this to 100GB.
If you have Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365) either through your work, educational institution or private purchase, you’ll automatically get 1TB of space per user for free with an option to boost it up. Just bear in mind that this is cloud storage at it simplest with barely any advanced features here.
The Pro version has a dark mode and tighter integration with Microsoft Teams. Note that Microsoft upped the upload file size limit on OneDrive from 100GB to 250GB.
Microsoft 365 Family | $99.99 for 1-year
This is the best value for money offer from Microsoft. 365 Family costs only $99.99 per year and provides you with 6TB of cloud storage in all, spread across six separate users. Other than the apps included (Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Publisher, OneNote and PowerPoint), you get AI-powered creative tools and 60 minutes of Skype calling per month.
Google Drive is a natural choice for owners of Android devices as it’s already integrated, but users of other platforms may appreciate the generous free storage too.
You can also store unlimited high definition photos on your mobile phone with companion app Google Photos, and make use of Google’s own office suite (now known as G Workspace). Also, individuals upgrading to paid Google Drive plans will join Google One (although it might not yet be available, depending on the region).
The array of features delivered by Google Drive via One – which ties into Google’s Cloud platform – is bewildering and evolves continuously. At the time of writing, Google engineers were rolling out the ability to request approvals for Drive items and lock approved versions.
The 2TB tier – which offers 10% back in Google Store credits – allows the main account holder to invite up to five other additional members and costs $99.99 per year.
Downsides include the fact that the web interface isn’t very easy-to-use, although Windows and Mac users can download a desktop app to drag-and-drop files easily. Drive also integrates Google’s powerful AI and search technology, probably one of the best in the world.
Google One (2TB) | $99 for 1-year
Google offers One as a membership, a quasi-lifetime commitment that’s not unlike Amazon Prime. Although you get unlimited storage for your photos (terms and conditions apply), you “only” get 2TB to play with via Google Drive. You can share it among up to six members, and Google Experts are only a phone call away should you need them.View Deal
How does cloud storage work?
Believe it or not, the concept of cloud storage has been around for a long, long time. Amazon popularized the concept with its S3 (Simple Storage Service) launched in 2006 but the ability to upload and save files remotely on a service provider’s disk drive can be traced back to 1983’s Compuserve offer.
At the end of the day, you are simply using someone else’s resources (part of whole of a hard drive, a solid state drive or even tape) to store your information.
That resource is usually located in a server housed in a data center (but not always) alongside potentially hundreds of others. The process is done over the internet over a secure connection via a dedicated app or via a web browser.
Almost everyone who has a smartphone or an email address has a cloud storage account of some sort. One might even consider Facebook to offer a limited version of cloud storage to its members as videos and photos can be uploaded free of charge to its servers.
What’s happening in cloud storage in 2021?
There’s something fishy happening in the cloud at the moment when it comes to storage. Remember this: Google has said it will cut back on its previously unlimited Google Photos, and it has also confirmed that it will start deleting files in Google Drive after only 30 days, plus only recently it has stated that it will erase dormant Google accounts in the near future.
The common thread of these three announcements is cloud storage and given that there’s probably more than three billion Android accounts, each with at least 15GB of data, that is an awful lot of bits and bytes.
In February 2021, research company Trendfocus disclosed that the number of hard disk drives being shipped was free falling with year-on-year shipments seeing an 18% drop, most notably in the consumer market.
Enterprise saw a rise of 2% on the other hand which may indicate that cloud storage providers and hyperscalers like Google are buying as many hard drives as they possibly can.
3.5-inch enterprise hard drives – the bread and butter of cloud storage providers – accounted for 62% of all capacity shipped, and only 23% of units, while registering a staggering 12% growth. In other words, it looks like Seagate, WDC and Toshiba, the three remaining hard drive manufacturers, are shipping as many large capacity enterprise hard drives as they possibly can.