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Choosing a cloud file storage provider: A first-person perspective

Cloud file storage can be a great way to work on the go. Evaluate your needs and policies and test out the available services before you lock in a provider.

For companies that support mobile workers, a business-class cloud file storage system makes a lot of sense.

Mobility is driving of the future of IT. People can't carry all of the information they require for work with them, and files change frequently: Users share and upload data without informing coworkers, and cloud file storage offers employees a great way to stay in the loop.

More on the cloud and file sharing

Based on concerns about availability, performance, support and security, some IT folks may have a hard time imagining the vision of the cloud that I have. But I believe cloud-based storage has the potential to eventually encompass most (if not all) of what an organization might require from IT. Today's cloud storage service might be tomorrow's IT shop, which I find very appealing. That unexpected conclusion has redefined my cloud storage search: It's really no longer about simply storing files in the cloud, but rather about the evolution of platforms that will define the future of IT itself.

Cloud storage used to be exotic, but today there are dozens of storage and file-sharing services, and choosing one isn't easy. I recently undertook a project to select a cloud storage provider for my company. I'm still in the middle of it, but I've been evaluating a number of potential services and, most importantly, how they address my specific requirements.

Evaluating cloud file storage needs

I need my data files to be accessible via a browser on any compatible device I might choose, and I need the ability to send those files anywhere. An app for this function would be acceptable, but for me, using a browser is more convenient.

When I do share files, I need account and file security, and I need to be able to make sure that files are only shared at my explicit request. The internal security policy at my company states that any sensitive data -- at rest or in transit -- must be encrypted, so that's something I need from a cloud storage provider as well.

The cloud is valuable for backup, but that isn't my primary need. Many cloud services focus on backing up data and automatically copying files to another location, so I have a to find a service that does more than just back up files.

Security is a critical cloud file storage service requirement, but it isn't easy to verify. As a user, I have to count on a cloud storage service provider to take security seriously, and I can only hope that they don't screw up. My requirement for browser access prevents encryption separate from what's provided. I hope that two-factor authentication becomes common over the next few years, because it would likely address cloud security challenges in ways IT could be comfortable with.

On my cloud file storage wish list is the ability to do basic calendar, address book and related personal information management database file synchronization. I will eventually move these entirely onto the Web once I'm satisfied that security won't be a problem. My primary goal will be to move not just files, but also IT functions to a platform in the cloud, and I think this may become the goal of many IT departments.

See what's out there

I explored a number of services that meet my criteria. For each one, I signed up for a free, limited account and waded through all the features and functionality. Besides pricing, which is all over the map, the core difference between services is the range of function that each vendor provides.

Some services are basic and/or platform-specific. Others are still in the formative stages of what I expect will become ecosystems of functionality, involving storage, applications and groupware. There's not one cloud storage provider or service that's right for every organization, so it's important to figure out what you need, then test out your options.

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