What are the best options for hosting data files?
I replied to a question on site a while ago that my business holds all of our data files in the cloud, we do not have a local file server. I still think that is the best solution for a small business such as mine, but I am exploring options for this service.
The files I want to save are the usual range of files a consultancy business would hold - Word & Excel, PDFs, Powerpoint and so on. Many of these get used frequently, they are regularly opened by multiple users.
What are the pros and cons of:
- Generic cloud storage such as Dropbox / Boxnet (and the many other similar options)
- Sharepoint or Google Drive (which rightly or wrongly I perceive as differing from those above), or
- A private cloud option
Are there other (better) options that I have missed?
It depends on your budget, I will show you some examples of services I have used in the past and I would recommend, I have also broken this down into different sections based on cost:
Level 1 - Free (Google docs can be an option for hosting the excel and other shared work files, yet the thing is data privacy is low and also in terms of professionalism it can look lower if you are using it but in terms of doing the job it does that very effectively)
Level 2 - Low Level Cost (Host Gator is a good option I have used for hosting files and data for clients in the past, the issue is some data is on the same server as other businesses and it is hosted in the US, overall the up time has been quote good)
Level 3 - Medium- High Level cost (I have used Macquarie Telecom for cloud hosting in the past, servers are based in Australia, the cost is more than other suppliers listed but the service is top notch)
So these are some set ups I have used in the past, it really depends on your budget and how you want to host things, if budgets are small just go with a US host, if theirs more try and use an Australian service.
For a private cloud option, which does more than just file-sharing, Nextcloud is amazing. The biggest obstacle may be the technical part of setting up and maintaining a server, but there are loads of hosted + pre-installed options out there. If you want to try it out, you can go to https://try.nextcloud.com/ to make a demo server that lasts an hour. I also run my own Nextcloud server in Melbourne and I'd be happy to give you (or anyone else) a couple of demo accounts you can use to test out for a bit longer.
If you're curious about going down the Nextcloud route, here's a rough idea of what it'll cost you, since it can be a bit confusing. The server requirements will scale fairly linearly based on the number of simultaneous users. The following will be fine for 2 people using it concurrently, which you might find is typical if you have around 5 total users:
- Cost per user: $0
- Optional cost for official support: $3000+ pa.
- You don't need to pay this, but it funds development.
- Cost for a bare minimum international server on the cloud: $20-$45/month
- $20 is for 80GB on DigitalOcean, add the $25/month for 250GB extra block storage.
- Double the cost if you want it hosted in Autralia, which will be noticably snappier.
- Optional extra cost if you want to run a document server: $20/month
- Either a seperate server or beef up the main server to handle both tasks.
- Cost to setup (pick one):
- Do it yourself: $0, it will take between 4-12 hours to get everything right, depending on how well you follow tutorials, and how accurate they still are.
- Hire installer: $200 ex. gst would be fair, $300 including docserver.
- Cost to maintain (pick one):
- Do it yourself: $0, takes around an hour or two a month just to update all the software and make sure things are running smoothly.
- Hire maintainer: $100-200/month depending on how involved you want them to be with administration tasks (e.g. adding and updating apps, managing users).
- Hardware scaling:
- if you have more than 5 users, you're going to want better hardware. If you plan for around $20 per month for each simultanous user, you should be fine. That's not how many people you have in your company, it's how many people will actually be doing something on the server at the same time, like editing documents, making calls, and so on. If you plan to regularly have remote team meetings of say 10 people, spend at least $200/month on the hardware itself.
- You can roughly halve the cost if you use international hosting, but only choose this if you don't mind the lag.
General benefits of Nextcloud (aka, secure and flexible file-sharing is only the beginning):
- 100% private data if you put it on your own machines. If you host it on anyone else's computer (e.g. in the cloud), it depends on how trustworthy the provider is. This is super important to me, and the biggest reason I advocate so strongly for NC over similar suites.
- Nextcloud is open source, so the software itself is free. If you want to support the developer you can buy a support plan from them starting at around $3000 per year (50 users). They don't provide servers themselves but have lots of enterprise partners on their website: https://nextcloud.com/pricing/ This payment is optional, though. To install it on your own server it'll just cost you time and the cost of the hardware.
- If you host it yourself you can have as many users as your hardware can handle.
- You can federate with other Nextcloud servers, so for example you could trust your accountant's NC server, then you can share contacts and folders securely. Same with a client if they have a server. It's like making a cloud of clouds.
- You can add a huge number of extra apps to your instance. These tend to be a bit less polished than the big commercial players, but this is mostly because the apps are open-source and provided for free. They tend to be pretty solid in my experience, though, and I've come to depend on several of them over the last six months. If you want a specific feature that is missing, you can always beg (or pay) a developer to add it. They're easy to install and access, and you can view all the apps here: https://apps.nextcloud.com/
- It works with OnlyOffice and Collabora document servers, so you can have multiple people editing a file in the browser, without causing multiple copies to spawn. You have to set up a seperate document server, though, but there are ways to do it all in one box.
- There is a dropbox style sync app as well, but that will cause the same conflicts as dropbox. To get around this, or if you just don't like using the browser to edit files, Nextcloud lets you "lock" a file temporarily through the nextcloud interface, so that others know you're writing to it. Then when you're done you can unlock it and others can have their turn.
- Sharing has all the features you've mentioned, here's a screenshot: https://cloud.blisteringdevelopers.com/s/fKWbMC5eAK6x6Ex
- That link may have expired by the time you click it, because Nexctcloud now enforces a maximum 1-week share time for publically accessible shares, in case you forget to unshare something. Here's the same screenshot on imgur: https://imgur.com/QR1Z8z5
- You can share to other nextcloud users or groups indefinitely. https://nextcloud.com/sharing/ for more.
- I don't know whether this would be annoying or not, but apparently they've just added video approval for file sharing - when someone clicks the link you can see their mugshot before you approve the download. I suppose it would be very reassuring for sensitive documents. Either way, privacy and security are clearly the top concern for the developers.
- The other big focus is on collaboration, with a side of app-synergy. There's a built-in simple text editor for taking quick notes during a call (everyone can edit). You can also make links between files and conversations in Talk (a built-in chat/video call program), as well as a project board from Deck (kanban/trello style app), so they can all be easy to find. It doesn't have an app for everything, but I suspect that might be a case of just not yet.
- There are a couple webmail apps available, so you can integrate your email here too. All the apps are accessible through an app menu, and you can order them as you like them (another app!).
- I could go on all night about Nextcloud. I've been using it for the last six months and I've become enthralled by it. Here's a more comprehensive list that compares it with box, dropbox, google suite and more that you might find more concise than my musings: https://nextcloud.com/compare/
Ok after all that, surely there are some downsides, right? Of course! Here are a few I've found at least:
- Programs can be a bit clunky. Since many apps are made in people's spare time, and given away for free, they're not fully tested in all browsers, window sizes and timezones. That's to say, while it's functional experience, it's not a very hassle-free one on mobile. As I mentioned earlier, though, if you've got money to burn you can make everyone's life better by setting a developer or two on it. I'm sure this issue will improve over time, but it's much more pleasant if you're a laptop or desktop user right now.
- It's coded in PHP. That makes me want to cry. I mean it's perfectly fine if you like obscure rules for everything, but not if you like things to be simple. This only matters if you're going to write an app for it, though, thankfully you won't even know it's there as a user.
- If you're coming from heavily using a particular software (e.g. slack), and you're hoping to put all your collaborative tools in one place (by e.g. using the built-in Talk instead), you'll be surprised at how much of that you could do, except you'll also probably find that the apps won't have everything you're used to compared to their specialised counterparts. There'll be a feature missing here or there, or the developers decided to do things differently and you just have to accept that. On the bright side, you'll get a lot more other stuff that you never knew even existed. It's especially good for people who've heard of kanban boards and group calenders and video conferencing and all these modern collaboration tools before, but never got round to trying them because they just don't know where to start. You can add and remove apps at will from the adminstration page. If something's really annoying you, you can add feature requests for things you really want on the app's github page. Open-source devs work on pride so they tend to respond quickly as to why they can't do it, but just sometimes, if you're lucky, good ideas do get implemented.
- Keeping things updated and secure are all on you. It's fine if you're technically minded, but if not, you'd be doing yourself a favour just getting someone you trust to host and manage it for you. That will bump up the cost, of course, but since you don't have to pay $10 per month, per user, per app any more, you're still getting huge savings. No messages are lost after you've hit a certain cutoff, no features are limited because you're on a cut-down version, nothing restricts you except for the hardware you pick. You just won't get the polish you'd expect from fully commercial software.
- It doesn't have a built-in mail server, only webmail apps that let you access it from within Nextcloud. It can be integrated easily enough onto the same server, or just left to be hosted with your domain registrar.
- You get fanatics like me that give you way too much information about it.
Thanks James & Dave, just what I was looking for. A couple of follow up comments.
Budget is probably less important that the functionality (within reason of course), and there do seem to be a range of options all of which will cost significantly less than a locally installed server.
To date we have been using both Dropbox & Boxnet, both for storing internal documents and for file transfer to / from clients (with access restricted by user of course). One of the downsides of Dropbox is the lack of granularity of access control - you either grant a user access to a folder or not. Boxnet offers better control than this - users can be given read only / upload only / download only / edit but not delete / and a number of other variations of access.
An issue I have with both Dropbox & Boxnet is that users can set up to automatically sync to their local workstation, which is great in terms of speed of opening files and also overcomes concerns of internet access (although as we have primary and backup access I don't see this is a likely risk). A problem this creates is in terms of conflicted files - user A opens a file from their local machine, Dropbox syncs this. User B then opens the same file from their local machine and Dropbox creates a "conflicted copy" - you now have 2 different versions of the same file. We manage this internally at the moment via procedures, but that is becoming steadily more challenging.
As my business grows I am keen to ensure that the solutions we use are appropriate for the size of the business. Thanks for the input above, I will continue to explore this issue & will at some stage implement some amendments to our current set up.
I'm a big fan of Google. We use Google for business so get to use our own domain names for our emails and Google docs is an excellent platform for file storage of all kinds. Google for business is only US$50 per email so very affordable for small business.
We tend to use Google docs for internal business documents like policies and procedures and our office network layouts.
We use Dropbox for file sharing outside of the business.