As cloud storage multiplies faster than a YouTube viral video, government officials may be wondering which service is best suited for their organization’s needs — as far as pricing and features. Although there are a plethora of file storage services, three products in particular have garnered much attention recently from the IT world: Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive.

They essentially provide a similar service: file storage hosted in a cloud that can be synced to multiple devices, with the perk of receiving a few extra gigabytes of free storage upon signing up. Each of the three comes with unique pricing options.

Dropbox

Offers 2  GB of free storage upon signup and has individual pricing as well as group pricing available. For “team” pricing, the first five users to sign up for the service collectively receive 1,000 GB of storage, with 200 GB added for each additional user. The service is currently available for Windows, Mac, Linux and the major mobile operating systems.

    Team price: $795/year for five users (1,000 GB)

    Individual price: $199/year (100 GB)

Google Drive

Offers 5 GB of free storage upon signup. The offering is currently available for Windows, Macs, Androids and will soon be available on iPhones and iPads.

    Price: $60/year (100 GB)

Microsoft SkyDrive

What may be considered the most attractive option in terms of cost, Microsoft SkyDrive offers 7 GB of storage upon signup and costs less than both Dropbox and Google Drive. The service can operate on Windows, Windows Phone, Mac, iPads and iPhones.

    Price: $50/year (100 GB)

What GovTech.com Readers Use

According to an unscientific online poll conducted by Government Technology, a majority of respondents said they don’t yet use a cloud sync storage offering work-related purposes.

When asked, “Which of the following cloud sync storage solutions do you use most often for work-related purposes?” the results as of Monday afternoon, May 7, were as follows:

  • Google Drive – 2 percent
  • Microsoft SkyDrive – 8 percent
  • Dropbox – 22 percent
  • Other (SugarSync, InSync, Cubby, Mozy Stash, etc.) – 4 percent
  • I don't use cloud sync storage – 63 percent

Selecting a Cloud Option

Before selecting one of the three cloud offerings, it’s important for government agencies to know their security requirements, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for advisory firm Enderle Group. They need to ensure that if they’re audited, the cloud offering they choose can meet the audit’s conditions.

But if agencies are only looking to use cloud file storage for publicly available information, any one of the three services should be a viable option for government agencies, Enderle said. However, for secured information that’s often confidential, it may be possible that none of the three cloud services should be adopted for an agency.

“So the first step is to determine what the security requirements are on the data that they plan to put into one of these services, and then make sure the services can actually be made to comply with those requirements,” Enderle said.

Governments also shouldn’t be overly tempted by the few free gigabytes of storage. “[Agencies] shouldn’t go and grab a chunk of free storage, especially if they are going to be storing government information,” said Shawn McCarthy, an IDC Government Insights research analyst.

The city of Fraser, Mich., is currently considering the adoption of a file storage and syncing cloud service for public city data. Earlier this year, the city initiated a technology advisory commission to provide the City Council with recommendations on IT practices, which includes helping the city work to overhaul its official website.

“What we want to do is put documents that are public domain so that we have a central repository for things that we can then link to the [official city] website; they’re readily available; they’re in a single spot and they’re always in the same place,” said Michael Lesich, a city resident who volunteered to serve on the commission.

As of now, the city has no plans to store private city data in a file storage cloud service because the city would like to ensure those records are protected according to their sensitivity. For now, only data in the public domain, such as recorded minutes from City Council meetings, is under consideration for the cloud storage.

Pros and Cons

Which cloud storage solution a government chooses likely depends on individual needs.

Lesich said of the three cloud offerings, Dropbox may be at a distinct disadvantage for Fraser’s government because it’s a stand-alone service.  But Enderle said a stand-alone product like Dropbox could also be construed as advantageous. Because Dropbox doesn’t have additional features, there’s less of a chance that an outside user or malicious software (like a bot) could harvest data from the system without permission, Enderle said.

Google’s and Microsoft’s additional features, aside from file storage space, might be more appealing, Lesich said. But it’s not a slam dunk. Lesich said he feels that Google Docs are not user friendly — an opinion that could influence his final recommendation to the City Council.

Enderle said government agencies should also look at redundancy. In the event of a cloud outage, it’s important to have a redundancy program so services can still operate.

“Whether or not there’s a backup process in place, if they do have problems with their stuff, you’re not left wondering where your data went,” Enderle said.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.