Today I'm going to talk about where to store your files. This isn't just about backups, this is where you store files for frequent access and syncing between machines and devices. These solutions also usually enable you to collaborate and share files with people across the internet.

You shouldn’t have to worry about which computer or device a file was created on, it should be available everywhere all the time. This is the theory behind cloud computing for the consumer. All your important files are available in a cloud service that syncs all those files to every computer. You don’t have to worry about backing up those particular files and folders either, because if one device goes away, you can still get the files from the copy stored in the cloud or another computer. And, all of the good solutions have apps that allow you to do varying amounts of work on those files from your smartphone or tablet. In fact, until recently the cloud storage service Dropbox was the de-facto file system for getting real work done on the iPhone or iPad. Apple has remedied this somewhat with their newest iCloud offerings and better integrations in iOS8.

So, without further ado, here are the options I have researched or used personally.

NamePriceDifficultyProsCons
Dropbox2GB for free
1TB for $9.99 per month
EasyWell known. Good sharing tools. Reliable performance.Some privacy concerns.
OneDrive15GB Free
100GB $1.99 per month
1TB $9.99 per month and it includes Office 365
EasyBest value if you need MS Office anyway.Relative Newcomer. Privacy.
Google Drive15GB for free
1TB for $9.99 Month
EasyExcellent value. Connected to Google Docs productivity apps.Google’s privacy and advertising concerns.
iCloud Drive5GB free
200GB $3.99/mo
1TB $19.99/mo
EasyInstalled by Default with latest versions of iOS and OS XMac Only
Synology (+Apps)Up Front at least $375 one time for 2TB.AdvancedPowerful. Reliable. Private. Media server, web server and so much more.Higher self-maintenance time requirements. High up front costs.
File Transporter$99 + USB drive
$199 for 500GB
$349 for 2TB
IntermediatePrivacy. Convenience. One time costs. Ability to sync with offsite units for automated backups.If you want backups you need to buy two and put one in a friend’s house.
SpaceMonkey$190 up front + $50/year for 1TBIntermediatePrice and Value. Privacy. Distributed consumer cloud.Newer company.
ownCloud(hosting plans available through 3rd parties)$3.50/mo 10GB
$8/mo for 100GB
Or Self Hosted Hardware starting at $175 one-time.
AdvancedOpen Source project.Open source project. Higher level of self-maintenance.
CozyCloudSelf Hosted Hardware starting at $175 one-time.AdvancedOpen source project.Open source project. Higher level of self-maintenance.

These possible solutions are not all there is out there. I have used a service called PogoPlug in the past, but it appears to be sliding into the abandoned state. And this is a space which has a lot of newcomers popping up all the time. Individuals and companies are actively working on solving this problem better and better all the time. But beware of services that start up and then die quickly. You need to be flexible, but don’t trust any of your data to only one provider. Diversify.

You get so much for free right now it’s hard to not just use all the big players for their free storage and not worry about anything in the intermediate or advanced difficulty levels. But, it’s worth thinking about the reason those companies offer free services. Google wants our eyeballs in their applications. Microsoft is trying to figure out how to monetize this service still, but they will find a way. Dropbox isn’t focused on advertising, but that doesn’t mean your data is private with them either.

Private Cloud Options

All of the self-hosted cloud options are interesting. You can spend a little more up front for a lot of additional privacy and freedom. But there is some extra work and some lost convenience involved too. I am, of course, a big fan of the Synology DiskStations. These devices give you the power to host your own cloud services that are available to you anywhere not just at home. And the DistStation has the power to be so many other things like a media server, web server, jukebox, and time capsule.

If you don’t need the power of a Synology, and you don’t feel like hosting, installing and configuring a solution like ownCloud or CozyCloud on your own server, then you still have options.

The File Transporter and SpaceMonkey are both very appealing. The SpaceMonkey is unique because it copies your data into small chunks that get encrypted and distributed across the entire network of spacemonkey devices. This is a great distributed internet storage model, I’ll be very interested to see if it works, because it could really simplify offsite backups of your data. The File Transporter is well regarded as a good value for people who need a lot of storage in the cloud and want privacy as well. I haven’t personally used either of them.

Recommendations

It’s a little complicated right now, but my recommendation for most people is Dropbox and iCloud if you use iOS, Microsoft OneDrive if you use a PC, and Google Drive if you use Android or a PC but don’t need Microsoft Office productivity applications. But, don’t pay for any of them if you don’t have to. If you need more space than they offer in their free options, and if you care about your privacy at all, try a Synology DiskStation or a SpaceMonkey. For me the best combination right now would be free Dropbox and the Synology DS214se with 2 x 2TB WD Red hard drives. (The DS214+ with 2 x 3TB hard drives is even more powerful.) When you have your Synology search the app store for DS Video, DS Audio, DS Photo+, and DS Files. These apps are surprisingly good and actively developed.