Public cloud storage solutions have found their way into small businesses, but not all are created equal. Here’s a roundup of the standouts.
By Matt Whitlock
August 23, 2013
At a recent event, I had an interesting conversation with resellers about the use of public cloud storage solutions in small business teams. There is, after all, no shortage of companies willing to give any user a few GB of free cloud storage. It only makes sense that these tools would find their way into small workgroups or companies. And while nearly all of them provide the ability to place a file in the cloud, it’s the other abilities the different cloud hosts offer that change the way small teams manage, use, and share cloud files. In fact, some of these tools have unique and useful capabilities that larger “business” solutions deliver at much higher price points.
To begin with the obvious, it’s more than likely today that a small team would use either Office 365 or Google Apps as the base of its productivity solution. It’s also likely that you sell one or both solutions, so there’s no need to spend a lot of time talking about them. What is important to note, though, is that while both solutions offer cloud-based file storage and tools that enable their use from PCs and mobile devices, they are not without their flaws.
Skydrive Pro, for example, currently gives each user a fixed, 7GB pool of data, but it can’t be expanded. Google’s Drive sometimes butchers Office docs on import for collaboration, which is clearly problematic. Its file management system is also odd, and expanding beyond the base data pool is expensive if the whole team needs more storage.
The idea is to use the features Office 365 and Google Apps provide and augment them with other services when necessary. So let’s take a look at several popular solutions in use for small teams, compare costs and features, and find out which deserve your attention. Hopefully you’ll pick up a few new tools to add to your arsenal.
Dropbox’s popularity among consumers is justified. All users get 2GB of free storage to start and can add 16 more through a referral program. It’s fast, easy to use, offers powerful sharing capabilities, mobile applications for everything but Windows Phone, and hooks into a PC with software that exposes your cloud files in your local file system. Expanded storage plans give 100, 200, or 500 GB for $99, $199, and $499, respectively, when paid yearly.
Many small teams can (and do) get by with the free option, but Dropbox also offers a business-level service (and a partner program!). The business plan provides centralized administration, “unlimited” storage, and better security tools. Plans start at $795 per year for a team of five, which breaks down to $159 per user.
At the consumer level, Box offers 5GB of free storage, sharing, simple collaboration tools, and mobile applications (including Windows Phone). In many ways, Box is a more robust option at the free level than the other products listed here, although the upload speeds can occasionally be pokey.
Box offers separate tiers for business and enterprise, and unfortunately, all the really nifty features like custom branding and mobile device management are in the enterprise SKU. Small teams will have to settle for the business level, where $15 per user per month nets 1TB of storage for each of those users, integration with Google Apps, better search, version history, and faster uploads. There’s a 2GB file size limit though, which is a bummer if the team has large encrypted containers or media files. At $180 per user per year, it’s a little more expensive than other solutions in this roundup, but it has the most features for collaboration.
I have a soft spot for PogoPlug, as it was the first company to open my eyes to the benefits of cloud storage. Oddly enough, PogoPlug got started offering a plug-and-play hardware solution that allowed you to create a personal cloud with local storage drives. Over time, the company expanded with new services that enabled you to add local folders on a PC to your personal cloud, and more recently with remote cloud storage in the more traditional sense. As a result, a personal PogoPlug cloud could be a mix of local and cloud storage, and can be shared with others with certain plans.
PogoPlug recently launched a business-focused initiative for small teams. For a ridiculously low $5 per user per month, it offers unlimited storage, with no file size limits, secure collaboration, and backup. At $60 per user per year, it’s the most affordable unlimited solution available.
But there is a downside. Users often complain of incredibly slow upload and download speeds, unreliable backup software, and numerous connection issues. However, the complaints are often followed by statements such as “... but it’s still a great deal.”
SugarSync has evolved into a full-featured cloud storage and collaboration solution with some innovative, powerful business features at the PRO level. For example, not only is there an administrative dashboard with real-time monitoring, but admins can also remotely wipe data from a user’s PC. Given that Sync is in the name, the company clearly has that side of the business covered. Any file or folder on any device can be synced rather than having a single folder for synced items. Sharing and collaboration are also part of the offering, as is file version recovery for when accidents happen.
SugarSync isn’t forthcoming about its pricing, but does say that $550 per year gets a team of three 1TB of storage. Doing the math, a five-user team would come in at around $917 per month, which is in line with other services. And while there’s no dedicated partner program for the channel, the company has an affiliate program that gets you $150 per business sale, which is better than nothing.
The Bottom Line
Resellers looking for a structured channel program should focus on Dropbox and Box. Both are robust solutions that would serve the needs of many small businesses or workgroups and enhance more lucrative offerings like Office 365 and Google Apps. Best of all, they are additional tools at your disposal to serve customers. And isn’t that what it’s really all about?