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Research Data Management

Cloud Storage: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Cloud storage services should be favored especially in cases of distant collaboration or multi-site work. They are not acceptable for sensitive data, and specific informed consent is required to store any personal data on them.


  • Automatic synchronisation when using multiple computers.
  • Easy collaboration, also with external researchers.
  • Accessible from most countries.
  • Some include a file version history.
  • Major players are GDPR and privacy shield compliant.


  • Being US companies, they are covered by the CLOUD act.
  • Dropbox and Google have shown questionable data access policies in the past.
  • Backup is not guaranteed in the usage conditions.

Cloud Services Comparison

Your account gives you extended institutional access to Google Drive.

  • Storage limit: previously unlimited, now in discussion.
  • Single file size: max 10 TB.
  • Price: free.
  • Version history: 30 days, up to 100 versions.

Your institutional account also includes a Team Drive. This specific kind of Google Drive can be used in the case of projects that should remain in control of the Institute: access can be managed by the IT service, which allows for ownership transfer, and it includes advanced file restoration tools.

Synchronisation applications can be installed on your computer and mobile devices. While they are efficient, Google Drive's synchronisation is considerably slower than Dropbox's.

G suite tools are also very interesting when collaborating with other researchers.

The Dropbox free account is much more limited than Google Drive's, but this service is extremely popular in academic circles. This means that it could be favored when collaborating with external researchers, even if it requires payment to become sufficient.

Dropbox Basic

  • Storage limit: 2 GB.
  • Price: free.
  • Version history: 30 days.

Dropbox Plus

  • Storage limit: 1 TB.
  • Price: 99 € / year.
  • Version history: 30 days.

Dropbox Professional

  • Storage limit: 2 TB.
  • Price: 199 € / year.
  • Version history: 120 days.

Another advantage of Dropbox over Google Drive is the speed of its synchronisation tool. It achieves much better results by using block-level transfer, which skips the parts of files which have not changed.

Dropbox also offers Paper, a collaborative tool, and can be integrated with Microsoft Office.

You may of course opt for other cloud storage services. The following solutions could be interesting:

  • Microsoft OneDrive is somewhat popular but not as interesting as Dropbox or Google Drive in most use cases.
  • pCloud is a Swiss encrypted solution that also allows backing up data from your Dropbox and Google Drive.
  • ownCloud is free and open source software that allows you to set up your own cloud storage service on a server of your choice.
  • SWITCHdrive is a SwissUniversities solution that is not currently available at the Institute.