If you think cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service solutions aren’t for you, keep reading: this best cloud IaaS article just might solve your online backup woes or open cloud storage doors you never considered before.
Paired with the right software (more on that in a moment), anybody, whether for home or business use, can use an IaaS provider to host critical files. There’s good news for those that like choice, too: there are several capable cloud infrastructure services to choose from.
Then again, there’s also this bit of bad news: there are several capable cloud infrastructure services to choose from. There’s much to parse when settling on a solution. To help navigate all that, we’ve put together this article outlining the premiere cloud IaaS picks available today.
While Amazon S3 tends to grab more attention and dominates the cloud IaaS market share at 33 percent ownership, we prefer Microsoft Azure by a hair thanks to cheaper storage costs and server network that actually exceeds Amazon’s. Google Cloud completes the triumvirate atop the IaaS world, while for those thinking smaller, Wasabi and Backblaze B2 are a perfect fit for businesses with a more limited budget.
Coming up, we’ll run down our picks for best cloud infrastructure services and the pros and cons of each. First, though, let’s get a few things squared away.
What is Cloud IaaS, Anyway?
Most of the cloud file-hosting services we cover here at Cloudwards.net provide everything you need to complete a specific task which is usually either cloud storage or online backup, although we also cover services like the best accounting software or best note-taking apps.
Such web-based solutions are often referred to as software-as-a-service ( SaaS). Cloud infrastructure-as-service, commonly abbreviated as IaaS, is an entirely different animal.
Rather than a complete tool, cloud IaaS is a building block. Specifically, it refers to server space that you can connect to via the internet, generally for some cloud computing purpose. This cloud server space, as we’ll soon discuss, is usually billed per gigabyte and often includes usage charges, too.
One of the biggest advantages of using cloud IaaS over complete cloud services is that most complete cloud services provide limited cloud space, too. While there are some unlimited online backup providers, there aren’t many. With cloud IaaS, however, you can backup a few gigabytes to hundreds of terabytes of data without ever worrying about hitting a ceiling.
It’s up to you how you use this server space, whether for backup or something else. If you’ve got programming chops, you might build your own apps to upload files. For those searching for easy street, consider third-party software, instead, to give it purpose.
Examples of such third-party software include simple file-uploading tools like FTP/SFTP clients, as well as more featureful tools such as those used to configure cloud storage or online backup.
Cloud IaaS Integration: FTP/SFTP, Cloud Storage and Online Backup Clients
Most cloud IaaS tools have web interfaces from which you can upload and download single files. While this is one way to get your files into the cloud, it’s not very efficient. Using third-party tools for one-time bulk file transfers or to set up persistent, automated relationships ( cloud storage and online backup) will save you considerable time.
Some of the best file-transfer client s available include Filezilla, Cyberduck, Transmit (MacOS only) and WinSCP (Windows only). Of them, we’re most partial to Cyberduck, which makes it easy to quickly upload or download multiple files at once to and from the cloud.
For cloud storage, somewhat surprisingly, the market is pretty thin. The best we’ve tested is Storage Made Easy File Fabric, which works with most of the best IaaS options we cover below (though not Backblaze B2). Commonly abbreviated as “SME,” this cloud storage tool can be used to sync and share files, or simply to free up hard drive space, as discussed in our Storage Made Easy review.
While storage solutions are rare, online backup solutions designed to pair with the cloud IaaS of your choice are not. Two of the more popular names you’ll find commonly mentioned on technology forums like StackOverflow include Duplicati and Arq. We have a Duplicati review and a separate Arq review you can read for more information on either.
However, when it comes to roll-your-own online backup, the clear frontrunner for features has to be CloudBerry Backup.
While more expensive than Duplicati, which is free, or Arq, the cost of CloudBerry Backup isn’t so prohibitive that it’s not worth spending on, even for home backup needs. In return, you’ll get key features like block-level backup, hybrid backup, private encryption and customizable retention policies. Read our CloudBerry Backup review for more details.
Now that we know a bit about cloud IaaS before we get to our top picks, we think it’s worthwhile to detail the criteria we used in making those picks.
What Makes the Best Cloud IaaS
In searching for a cloud IaaS for your home or business needs, there are two factors above all that you should pay attention to: cost and infrastructure.
Cloud IaaS Costs: Storage and Usage Charges
When it comes to cost, the most important aspect to pay attention to is cost-per-gigabyte for storage. While some services make you pay for a minimum amount of storage, most often you’ll only pay for what you use, which means scalability and cost control for you.
Services with better infrastructure, like Amazon S3, usually cost over $0.02 per gigabyte stored, which can mount pretty quickly. Charges are usually billed monthly, so you could be looking at over $20 per terabyte per month.
Services with more restricted infrastructure cost much less. Wasabi, for example, only costs around $0.005 per gigabyte, so around $5 per terabyte per month.
In addition to storage charges, usage charges are sometimes assessed as well. The most commonly assessed usage charges are what are known as “egress” charges, which simply refers to what you take out of storage (i.e., download).
Some services also charge for data uploads, in particular for cold (archival) storage. There are also occasional API call (“select,” “list,” “get” and “put,” etc.) charges to worry about if you’re a developer, but we’re mostly sticking to file hosting in this article.
When we talk about infrastructure, we’re talking primarily about data center networks. More data centers, and more servers in those data centers, usually means you can upload files faster and access them more quickly later on. Good networks mean more servers per user and make it easier to find a data center closer by, both of which help to decrease network congestion.
Cloud IaaS services, especially those that cost more like Amazon S3 and Azure, tend to result in better file-transfer speeds than standalone cloud storage or online backup services. That’s especially true in the latter case: while value-driven services like Carbonite and IDrive look good on paper, that can be painfully slow, which is mostly due to limited networks.
Now that we’ve got all of that straight, let’s get to our picks.
When it comes to choosing between Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure for cloud file hosting, we ultimately landed on Microsoft Azure because it costs less and has the bigger network. The service works well with both Storage Made Easy and CloudBerry Backup, providing an overall excellent user experience.
While many won’t have trouble figuring out Azure for themselves, we put together a beginner’s guide to backup with Azure for those that want to get a quick handle on how to protect their hard drives using CloudBerry Backup. Azure is also compatible with Duplicati, a backup software that isn’t as feature-packed as CloudBerry but comes at no cost (read our Duplicati review).
Microsoft Azure Storage Costs
There are different costs for Azure depending on what type of storage you use, options for which include Azure Files, Azure Disks and Azure Blobs. For cloud storage and backup, you’ll want to use Blobs because it supports unstructured data.
Blob storage with Microsoft Azure is tiered and billed per gigabyte per month. You can opt for either hot or cold storage depending on how often you intend to access your files.
Both hot and cold storage come with “local redundant storage” (LRS) or “geographic redundant storage” (GRS) options. LRS rates are cheaper but buckets are only stored in one geographic region, while GRS rates cost more but redundant data is stored over a broader region for fast access no matter where you are in the world.
LRS hot storage is likely what you’re going to want to use for cloud storage or backup if you’re a home or small business user. The cost works out to $0.0208 for the first 50TB of storage each month. That’s $20.80 for 1TB.
There are no usage charges for uploading or downloading files if you use hot storage. LRS cool storage costs $0.0025 per gigabyte to upload and $0.01 per gigabyte to download files. GRS cool storage costs $0.005 per gigabyte to upload and the same price as LRS cool to download.
Microsoft Azure Storage Server Network
When it comes to server-network size, Microsoft Azure takes the cake: there are over 50 different regions around the world with data-center networks available. Countries with server facilities include the U.S., Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, the U.K., Australia, India, Japan, Korea and China. Servers are coming to South Africa, soon.
Many of those countries have multiple sites, too. For example, the United States has data centers on the West Coast and East Coast, as well as in the North and South Central U.S.
In short, you can pretty much store data wherever you want to in the world. The multitude of cloud facilities means network congestion is controlled, too.
In a comparison piece between Amazon, Azure, Google Cloud and Backblaze, we actually found Amazon outpaced Azure when it comes to speed, though to be fair we also only tested that for the Eastern U.S. Most likely, had we gone around the world testing speeds, Azure would have won hands down.
Though we rank Amazon S3 behind Azure, we can’t deny that its a close competition. Like Microsoft, Amazon has a huge network of data centers which means better file upload and download speeds for you. Amazon S3 storage isn’t cheap but costs have come down dramatically in recent years. If you just want to backup files and don’t require regular access, you can also opt for Amazon Glacier, an archival IaaS option that has much lower storage costs but runs at slower speeds.
Amazon S3 can be a bit hard to use at first because access is buried in the larger Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform, which provides many more cloud services than file hosting alone.
Again, we’ve sought to smooth the experience for our readers by creating a with Amazon S3 guide. The guide focuses on file backup and highlights making an S3 connection with CloudBerry Backup.
Amazon S3 Costs
With Amazon S3, you can try the service out without spending a dime thanks to 5GB of file storage and 15GB of no-charge data transfers out. However, even if that is enough for you, the offer is only good for one year.
Storage costs with Amazon S3 are tiered. Additionally, there are three different types of storage: standard, standard-infrequent and Amazon Glacier.
Standard storage is hot storage: it’s storage that you need to access frequently. While storage costs are high, data upload and download speeds are faster and usage rates are lower.
Up to 50TB, you’ll be paying $23.00 per terabyte per month, which, as we said before, is somewhat steep. Even if you use over 500TB, with the discounted rate you’ll still be paying $21.00 per terabyte. That said, S3 about a quarter the cost of Rackspace Cloud Files, so there’s that.
Data retrieval (egress) costs for Amazon S3 Standard are detailed in the next table. Uploading data – hurray – is free with S3 Standard.
Amazon Glacier, meanwhile, costs just $0.004 per gigabyte. Unlike Amazon S3, you’re also charged for uploading data to Amazon Glacier, however. The rate is $0.05 per 1,000 requests.
For retrieval, you can download up to 1GB of Glacier files for free. After that, bulk data retrievals cost $0.0025 per GB and an additional $0.025 per 1,000 requests. Because Glacier retrieval is slow, you can also pay more for expedited retrieval.
As with S3 Standard, there are a whole host of other charges for other transactions with Amazon Glacier, including transfers to Amazon S3 and non-Amazon applications.
In a nutshell, costs for Amazon IaaS storage are not only pricey but rather confusing, too. Make sure you know how it all works if you intend to store a lot of data and download frequently. Especially make sure if you intend to use Amazon S3 for app development.
Amazon S3 Server Network
The pricing structure may be a headache but for some, it’ll be worth it thanks to speedy data uploads and downloads, which is especially useful for large backup jobs. Those speeds, as mentioned, are thanks to Amazon’s massive global network of cloud servers.
There are four U.S. locations, two in the Eastern U.S. (Northern Virginia and Ohio) and two in the Western U.S. (California and Oregon). There’s another North American server in Canada and one in South America (Sao Paulo).
Wasabi Hot Cloud Storage
As you’ll discover in our Wasabi review, we’re fond of this cloud infrastructure service overall. That’s mostly because Wasabi provides hot cloud storage at rates that no other provider, even Backblaze B2, can match.
However, like Backblaze B2, the tradeoff is infrastructure, which we’ll get to in a moment. It’s fair to think of Wasabi sitting on the opposite side of the cloud IaaS spectrum from Amazon S3.
While relatively new as far as cloud IaaS providers go, Wasabi has done a great job making sure it’s supported by many popular software providers. Partners include CloudBerry Backup, Storage Made Easy and Otixo, a multi-cloud management service (read our Otixo review).
Another thing we love about this service is how responsive and personable its customer support team has proven so far. We always get fast, accurate answers. You don’t often get that with small companies, or even big ones.
Not only is Wasabi cheap, its pricing structure is simple. You don’t have to try and decipher pages of charge information that may or may not apply to you as you do with Amazon S3. For everyday consumers, that’s a big plus when it comes to user experience.
Overall, Wasabi’s about 80 percent cheaper than Amazon S3. That cost is a flat $0.049 per gigabyte per month. That’s just under $5 per terabyte per month, which we’re pretty sure classifies as a tasty bargain.
Even more delicious, there are no egress or any other usage charges with Wasabi Hot Cloud Storage. You don’t pay for uploading files or even downloading them.
Wasabi’s no-egress plan is relatively new. There’s also a legacy Wasabi plan that does charge for downloading at $0.04 per gigabyte. With that plan, though, storage is also cheaper at $0.039 per gigabyte per month.
You’ll have to crunch the numbers to figure out which plan works best for your needs. The good news is that if you make a mistake it won’t cost you very much and you can switch between plans later.
The only knock on Wasabi is that you do have to purchase at least 1TB of storage. However, you’ll still end up saving big over most of the alternatives.
Wasabi Server Network
Wasabi either has one or two data centers depending on when you’re reading this article. The company started out with one located in Ashburn, Virginia but plans to add another located in Oregon sometime during June 2018.
Even still, that’s not many server centers, at least compared to the competition. The result is that as Wasabi gains popularity, you may experience slowdowns, even if you’re based in the U.S. Our own internal tests have found that speeds don’t match those of more distributed IaaS providers, although it works well-enough for backup jobs.
Google Cloud is an extremely popular cloud IaaS, which means we’re probably going to catch some grief for slotting in fourth in this article. The truth of the matter is that, as far as “best of” lists go, this one is pretty fungible.
The main reason we ranked it last is that Google Cloud is that it costs a little more than Azure and S3 when it comes to storage rates. However, there’s no question that Google maintains a very fast, stable network. That’s why it’s attracted so many big customers, which you can read about in its case studies portal.
Google Cloud Pricing
Google has both multi-regional and regional pricing for hot storage, as well as cold storage (“coldline,” in Google Cloud parlance). Unlike Amazon or Azure, pricing isn’t tiered, however, so you won’t get a discount for storing massive amounts of data.
Multi-regional storage is the most secure when it comes to file redundancy and it’s the fastest but costs $0.026 per gigabyte per month. That’s $26 per terabyte.
For home or SMB use in the U.S., go with the cheaper regional storage, which is $0.02 per gigabyte. Note that different regions come with different price tags for Google, however. For example, regional storage in Tokyo costs $0.023 per gigabyte.
For usage charges, file uploading is free while egress is billed per gigabyte downloaded. Unlike storage charges, egress is tiered. Charges also vary by region.
Google Cloud Server Network
When setting up your cloud buckets via the Google Cloud console, you can choose one of 15 regions around the world. Those include multiple data center locations in the U.S., found in Oregon, Iowa, Northern Virginia and South Carolina, with one coming soon for Los Angeles.
Other western hemisphere locations include Montreal, Canada and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
European facilities number four at present, though more are on the way. Current locations are London, Belgium, the Netherlands and Frankfurt. Meanwhile, in the Asia Pacific, Mumbai, Taiwan, Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney are represented.
That’s not nearly as many locations as Azure offers, but it’s impressive, nonetheless. Plus, Google does data centers as well as anyone, since those are the backbone of its search and web-apps businesses.
Honorable Mention: Backblaze B2
Backblaze Personal ranks as one of our favorite online backup providers thanks to its $5 per month, unlimited backup offer and exceptionally simple user experience. Until Wasabi came along, Backblaze B2 was also our favorite low-cost cloud IaaS solution.
Backblaze B2 prices for storage are only $0.005 per gigabyte per month or $5 per terabyte. However, that’s $0.001 more than the cost of Wasabi and Backblaze charges for egress, too, at a rate of $0.05 per gigabyte.
On top of that, while Wasabi is soon to have two U.S. data centers, Backblaze B2 only has one, which is located in Sacramento, California.
For those located in the U.S. and on a budget, it’s still a good deal and Backblaze makes bucket setup pretty pain-free. For that, we figured Backblaze deserves an honorable mention at least.
We should mention Rackspace Cloud Files, too, which has a strong network and is one of the most recognizable brand names in the IaaS market. The problem with Cloud Files and the reason we didn’t rank it is that unlike Amazon, Microsoft and Google, Rackspace hasn’t lowered its storage costs in recent years to match the market.
At a starting cost of $100 per terabyte and with egress rates of $0.12 per gigabyte, Cloud Files just doesn’t make practical sense. If you do decide to go with Rackspace to host your files, our getting-started guide will help you navigate setup.
Landing on Microsoft Azure as the top IaaS pick wasn’t an easy choice. Amazon S3 provides close value and has a much larger userbase. Then again, that latter point may be a reason to choose Azure, instead. With fewer users and more servers, it’s reasonable to expect less server congestion with Azure.
For some readers, particularly those based in the U.S. where its servers are located, Wasabi will make the most sense thanks to its low cost.
All of these services work well for those looking for alternatives to the all-in-one solutions that we typically write about in our best online backup and best cloud storage guides. That’s especially true in the first case, as there are several compatible backup applications that connect easily to each via API.
In term of the rest of the cloud IaaS field, there really aren’t many options to mention. Of course, we no doubt missed a pick or two that our tech-savvy readers will want to share. If that includes you, let us know in the comments below and we’ll happily take a look. As always, thanks for reading.
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