Cloud Storage 101 for Construction: Choosing the Right Storage Provider

You probably use the cloud every day without realizing it.

Browser-based email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail all provide cloud-based access to your important correspondence. They allow you to access your inbox from any computer with an Internet connection — a handy feature.

But that’s just one way the cloud can help you get your daily tasks done. In this post, we’ll briefly talk about ways construction professionals can use the cloud, and do a brief roundup of some of the big names in cloud storage.

When it comes to running business computing applications, you have two options these days. The first is to maintain your own local servers. You’re probably all too familiar with those bulky servers in trailers or shanties on the jobsite. If your company works off of a server rather than the cloud, it’s difficult to access job-related information stored on those servers when you are away from the jobsite. Not to mention they often spontaneously go offline or crash, and require an IT specialist to come and fix them or care for their upkeep. It can get expensive.

The second option, embraced by more and more companies from every industry, is cloud computing. By storing important documents in the cloud, you can save a lot of time by being able to access your data — and give your team access — from any internet-connected computer or mobile device. This makes collaboration and communication on your projects far easier and more efficient. You’ll cut down on your production time and associated costs for each job, boosting your profits.

The only question is, which cloud storage provider should you choose?

Box
Free up to 10GB; Paid plans start at $5/user/month for 100GB

Quickly becoming one of the most popular cloud-storage options out there, Box has a little bit of everything. You can securely share files with anyone, and they automatically sync to any device. Integration with Google Docs is made easy so that users can take advantage of Google’s realtime collaboration tools. Change history and comments are saved, as are all previous versions of a document so that you never lose any information.

At the enterprise level ($35/month/user for unlimited storage) Box is the leader in ensuring company data is kept secure. Simple but secure data protection is employed across all devices and for all users, including an audit trail of access and changes made to content. Multiple sharing and content storage options are available, along with a dedicated customer support person.

Dropbox
Free up to 2GB; Paid plans start at $9.99/month for 100GB

One of the most widely used providers of cloud storage, Dropbox is a versatile and easy-to-use solution. It works across platforms, so your crew can access documents from their Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Dropbox offers near-effortless file synchronization through its array of apps, updating your files as soon as they’re modified and saved. It’s simple to install, and shows the change history for each document.

This cloud provider does have one downside compared to some other solutions (most notably Google Drive and Box): It doesn’t provide an easy way to collaborate on files in realtime. Each person on a project will have to make changes and save the file in order to update it in Dropbox. Still, its ease of use makes Dropbox an excellent cloud storage choice.

Google Drive
Free up to 15GB; Paid extra storage space available

Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) started out as a free, online alternative to Microsoft Office. It’s since grown into a powerful solution for creating, editing, syncing, and collaborating on documents.

If you need to collaborate with other team members on the same document simultaneously, Google Drive is a no-brainer. The service lets you upload your files, converts them to Google’s format so you can edit online, and allows realtime collaboration between different users. Every change you make to a document is saved as you make it, speeding up the collaboration process so you can get things done instantly. Once you’re done with your document, you can export it to whichever common format you prefer — Word Doc, rich text, PDF, etc.

SkyDrive
Free up to 7GB; Plans start at $25/year for 50GB

While Dropbox and Google Drive get most of the attention, Microsoft’s cloud storage solution has remained relatively low-key. It’s been around for about five years, and has proven to be a powerful choice for many businesses. SkyDrive provides a modern, tiled interface to match Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8. Like Dropbox, it has clients available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, as well as Windows Phone.

The service lets you store documents or media files online for easy retrieval, and also allows for syncing to multiple users’ devices. It does have one big drawback in that it doesn’t allow for easy collaboration. Files synced to SkyDrive will need to be downloaded, modified, and then re-uploaded for changes to become viewable. Still, for smaller operations it may be a good option.

No matter which solution you choose, cloud storage is sure to make collaborating with your team easier and faster. By giving all of your key players instant access to important documents from whichever device they’re using, you can reduce downtime. The improved communication can also reduce the chance of costly mistakes on the job.

Best of all (well, in our humble opinion), is that all of the providers mentioned above are compatible with FieldLens. You can easily download documents into FieldLens from any of the storage solutions mentioned above to ensure all content is easily accessible to you and your team.

Do you have a prefered method of cloud storage? Which provider do you prefer? Tell us about it in the comments!