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Business Choice Awards 2017: Cloud Computing

Businesses are drowning under the relentless onslaught of data. IDC predicts that digital data will grow at the incredible annual growth rate of 42 percent through 2020, while many analysts say that the data generated by Internet of Things (IoT) systems will come so fast and furious that most storage systems won't know what hit them.

One popular option to meet this demand is cloud storage, or internet-based backup and syncing for businesses.

You can be part of Business Choice! Sign up for the Readers' Choice Survey mailing list to receive invitations in the future.

It's the focus of our latest PCMag Business Choice Awards; survey respondents were asked to rate their overall satisfaction, reliability, and tech support experience with the cloud storage service they use, plus the likelihood they would recommend it to others.

If you select, deploy, or administer the products covered in our Business Choice Awards, or if you advise or manage people in these roles, then you know how critical it is to choose the right products. Read on for the cloud services most recommended by PCMag readers.

Cloud Computing Services

The main advantage of using a cloud storage provider is that you outsource your storage needs to experts; they maintain massive storage infrastructures so you don't have to.

These aren't just big hard drives in the cloud. They're feature-rich environments that offer file versioning, file sharing, a variety of access methods, file viewers, and file system agents for server, desktop, and mobile operating systems.

Depending on their size, companies have very different needs when it comes to cloud storage, so we asked SOHO/SMB and enterprise readers to rate their providers separately.

In this year's Business Choice Awards for Best Cloud Storage Service, we had 80 companies (48 SOHO/SMB and 32 Enterprise) nominated. In the SOHO/SMB category, six services received enough votes to be included as finalists. Box, last year's winner in the SOHO/SMB category (a tie with Carbonite) didn't receive enough responses to be included.

This year, the SOHO/SMB award for best cloud service goes to Dropbox; which previously won in 2014. Dropbox scored very well across the board with an 8.3 out of 10 in overall satisfaction, 8.8 for reliability, 8.5 for likelihood to recommend, and a 44 percent Net Promoter Score (more on that below). It was closely followed by Google Drive with an overall satisfaction of 8.0 and iDrive with an overall satisfaction of 7.7. Last year's winner, Carbonite, only managed a 7.5 overall this year. Apple iCloud brought up the rear with an overall satisfaction of 7.3.

We also break satisfaction into sub-categories: development, storage, management, synchronization, access, flexibility/elasticity, and price. Dropbox did well in these categories, taking synchronization and access, while Google Drive impressed with the highest satisfaction scores in development, management, flexibility/elasticity, and price. Carbonite recorded the best score for price satisfaction.

Cloud service providers have their act together when it comes to technical support. So few survey respondents required technical support that we're unable to rate them with the exception of Microsoft OneDrive. Similar to last year, only OneDrive had 13 percent of survey respondents requiring tech support with a rating of 7.1. This is a slight increase in the percentage requiring tech support, from 11 percent to 13 percent, yet we're pleased to see the tech support rating rise from 6.7 to 7.1.

A key question asked is "how likely are you to recommend your cloud service provider to a colleague?"—a question used to calculate the Net Promoter Score (NPS). We're surprised to see Box not make the cut this year because it had the best likelihood to recommend and NPSes in the SOHO/SMB category last year. This year, Dropbox took the lead with an 8.5 likelihood to recommend (8.6 last year and 8.0 the year before) and a 44 percent NPS (42 percent last year and 32 percent the previous year).

In the enterprise category, our winner, for the third year in a row, is Amazon's AWS/S3 with an overall satisfaction of 7.9, slightly down from last year's 8.0 and the same as 2015's 7.9. Google Cloud Platform came in second with a 7.7.

Amazon took top satisfaction scores in the sub-categories of development and price, Microsoft Azure showed very well with storage, management, flexibility/elasticity, and a tie for price, and GCP took synchronization and access.

For enterprise recommendations, Amazon take a nose dive to 7.6 from last year's likelihood to recommend of 8.4 (7.9 in 2015) and earned only an NPS of 16 percent, well down from last year's 50 percent and even the previous year's 25 percent. Google pulls an upset in these categories with a 7.9 likelihood to recommend and 24 percent NPS. In fact, even Microsoft got a higher likelihood to be recommended than Amazon.

Related StorySee all of our survey results for cloud computing.

WINNERS: CLOUD COMPUTING

Business Choice seal SOHO/SMB—Dropbox
Back on top after a couple of years of middling scores in the survey, Dropbox not only triumphs overall and scores high for reliability, but when it comes to the specifics like synchronizing data and ease of access, no one else comes close. Business Choice seal ENTERPRISE—Amazon
This makes four years—the entire time we've done this survey—that Amazon's AWS/S3 cloud business has taken the award. It has the best price, it's best for development, and overall, corporate customers just like what it delivers for their business.

Methodology

We email survey invitations to PCMag.com community members, specifically subscribers to our Readers' Choice Survey mailing list. The surveys are hosted by SurveyMonkey, which also performs our data collection. This survey was in the field from August 14, 2017 to September 5, 2017.

Respondents were asked to rate their cloud computing solution using multiple questions about their overall satisfaction with the solution, as well as experiences with technical support within the past 12 months.

Because the goal of the survey is to understand how the email marketing solutions compare to one another and not how one respondent's experience compares to another's, we use the average of the email marketing solutions' rating, not the average of every respondent's rating. In all cases, the overall ratings are not based on averages of other scores in the table; they are based on answers to the question, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your cloud provider?”

Scores not represented as a percentage are on a scale of 0 to 10 where 10 is the best.

Net Promoter Scores are based on the concept introduced by Fred Reichheld in his 2006 best seller, The Ultimate Question, that no other question can better define the loyalty of a company's customers than “how likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?” This measure of brand loyalty is calculated by taking the percent of respondents who answered 9 or 10 (promoters) and subtracting the percent who answered 0 through 6 (detractors). (For more, read PCMag's Top Consumer Recommended Companies for 2016.)

If you would like to participate in PCMag's monthly Readers' Choice surveys and to be eligible for our monthly sweepstakes promotion, please sign up today.

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Facebook’s Kodi box ban is nothing new

According to recent reports, Facebook has updated its Commerce Policy to specifically ban the sale of Kodi boxes on its site – that is, devices that come with pre-installed Kodi software, which are often used for illegally streaming digital content. However, the ban is not a new one – Facebook confirms its policy on Kodi box sales hasn’t changed since last summer, and its external Policy Page – the one being cited as evidence of the new ban – was updated in December. It’s true that the changes have flown under the radar until now, though. The policy change was first reported by Cord Cutters News, and later linked to by TorrentFreak and Techdirt. The original report claims that Facebook added a new rule on its list of “Digital Media and Electronic Devices” under “Prohibited Content,” which specifically calls out Kodi boxes. It says that Facebook posts “may not promote the sale of devices that facilitate or encourage streaming digital content in an authorized manner or interfering with the functionality of electronic devices.” The Policy page lists a few examples of what this means, including wiretapping devices, jamming or descrambling devices, jailbroken or loaded devices, and, then “promoting the sale or use of streaming devices with Kodi installed.” (The only permitted items are “add-on equipment for Kodi devices, such as keyboards and remotes.”) But this ban on Kodi boxes, Facebook says, is not a recently implemented policy. According to a Facebook spokesperson, it launched a new policy last summer that prohibited the sale of electronic devices that facilitate or are intended for unauthorized streaming or access to digital content – including Kodi boxes. This policy has not changed since last summer, but its external Policy Page – this one being cited by the various reported – was updated in December 2017 to offer additional illustrative examples and more detailed information on all its policies, including the one related to unauthorized streaming devices. In other words, Facebook has been banning Kodi boxes since it decided to crackdown on unauthorized streaming devices last year. It’s just now being noticed. The ban affects all posts on Marketplace, Buy and Sell Groups, and Shop Sections on Pages. Facebook explains it takes a very strong enforcement approach when “Kodi” is mentioned with a product for sale. As Techdirt pointed out, that’s problematic because the Kodi software itself is actually legal. However, device makers like Dragon Box or SetTV have been using the open-source Kodi platform and other add-ons to make copyright infringement easier for consumers. Facebook does seem to understand that Kodi software isn’t illegal, but it knows that when “Kodi” is mentioned in a product (e.g. a device) listing, it’s very often a product designed to circumvent copyright. The company tells us that its intent is not to ban Kodi software altogether, however, and it’s in the process of reviewing its guidelines and these examples to more closely target devices that encourage unauthorized streaming. That could mean it will, at some point, not outright ban a device that includes Kodi software, but focus more on other terms used in the sale, like “fully loaded” or some sort of description of the illegal access the box provides, perhaps. (Facebook didn’t say what might change.) As for Kodi, the company says Facebook’s move doesn’t affect them. “It doesn’t impact us, since we don’t sell devices,” says Keith Herrington, who handles Business Relations at the XBMC Foundation (Kodi). He said his organization would love to talk to someone at Facebook – since they’ve never been in touch – in order to ensure that devices that are in compliance with Kodi’s trademark policy are not banned. Both Amazon and eBay have worked with Kodi on similar policies, he added. “We’ve gotten thousands of devices which were in violation of our trademark policy removed from eBay,” Herrington said. It’s unclear how well-enforced Facebook’s ban really is – I’m in Facebook groups myself where people talk about how to jailbreak “Fire sticks” and include posts from those who sell them pre-jailbroken. (It’s for research purposes. Ahem.) Industry crackdowns go beyond Facebook Facebook isn’t the only company that’s attempting to crack down on these devices. Netflix, Amazon and the major studios are suing Dragon Box for facilitating piracy by making it easy for consumers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows. In January 2018, a U.S. District Court judge handed down a preliminary injunction against TickBox TV, a Georgia-based set-top box maker that was sued by the major studios, along with streaming services Netflix and Amazon, for profiting from the sale of “Kodi boxes.” Google has removed the word “kodi” from the autocomplete feature of Search, along with other piracy-related terms. And more recently, the FCC asked Amazon and eBay to stop selling fake pay TV boxes. It said these boxes often falsely bear the FCC logo to give them the appearance of legitimacy, but are actually used to perpetuate “intellectual property theft and consumer fraud,” the FCC said in letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and eBay CEO Devin Wenig. Why Streaming Piracy is Growing There’s a reason Kodi devices are so popular, and it’s not just because everyone is being cheap about paying for access to content. For starters, there’s a lack of consequence for consumers who do illegally stream media – it’s not like back in the day when the RIAA was suing individuals for pirating music. While there has been some activity – Comcast several years ago issued copyright infringement notices to Kodi users, for example – you can today basically get away with illegal streaming. The copyright holders are currently focused on cutting off piracy at the source – box makers and the platforms that enable their sale – not at the individual level. The rise of cord cutting has also contributed to the issue by creating a highly fragmented streaming ecosystem. Shows that used to be available under a single (if pricey) cable or satellite TV subscription, are now spread out across services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV, HBO NOW, and others used by cord cutters. Customers are clearly willing to pay for some of these services (largely, Netflix and maybe one or two others), but most can’t afford a subscription for each one. And they definitely don’t want to when all they’re after is access to a single show from a network. That’s another reason they then turn to piracy. Finally, there is the fact that film distributors have forever withheld their movies from streaming services for months, creating a demand for illegal downloads and streams. Though the release window has shrunk some in more recent years, the studios haven’t yet fully bought into the idea of much smaller windows to cater to the audience who will never go to the theater to watch their movie. And when this audience is cut out the market, they also turn to piracy. Eventually, the record industry adapted to consumers’ desire for streaming, and services like Spotify and Apple Music emerged. Eventually, streaming services may be able to make piracy less attractive, too. Amazon Channels, could become a key player here if it expands to include more add-ons. Today, it’s the only true a la carte TV service available. And that perhaps – not skinny bundles – is what people really want.

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