There are a host of cloud storage providers including Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, and OneDrive, all ready to keep your files safe on the web, while syncing them across your various devices.
However, you might not want to stay married to the same cloud storage provider for life. Circumstances change, devices change, and you may have already seen an alternative platform with features and prices you prefer.
While the thought of moving gigabytes of data between cloud storage services might seem daunting, it’s not that difficult. But you will need a lot of local hard disk space, a lot of time and a bit of patience to do this.
The instructions for making the switch are more or less the same regardless of which provider you are switching from or to, but we will include occasional references to specific applications and platforms to help you.
Use two services in tandem
There’s no getting around the problem: the best way to switch cloud storage providers without losing data is to keep your files in your old and new cloud lockers for about a month. It may cost a little money, but it’s worth the investment.
A little planning can help though. For example, if you pay for your current cloud storage every year, check when the renewal is coming. You won’t want to pay for another year if you switch in a month, and you might want to switch to a monthly contract while everything is transferred.
You should be able to find your billing information and payment schedule in your current cloud provider’s app, website, inbox, or on your bank or credit card statement. If you still have several months until your renewal date, you might want to consider delaying the big change.
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When the time draws near, sign up with your new cloud storage provider, making sure you get the package with the same amount of storage space (or at least as much as you currently use, plus a buffer for use future). If you’re not 100% sure you want to switch permanently, sign a monthly contract with the new provider, even if the annual plans are cheaper.
Download all your files
Unfortunately, there is no utility to transfer all your files directly from one cloud service to another. There must be an intermediate step: downloading all your data from your old provider, then uploading it to the new one. However, you may already have all your files where they belong.
Check that everything you need is currently stored on your computer’s hard drive. For services like OneDrive (Windows) and iCloud (macOS), this functionality is built into the operating system; for others, you’ll need the appropriate client application. For Google Drive, for example, download desktop reader to synchronize everything locally.
Most cloud storage services can view files locally without storing them on your hard drive, so make sure all your data has been physically transferred to your computer’s drive. In Dropbox, for example, files and folders stored locally have a solid green check mark, while those stored online are labeled with a gray cloud icon. To get these cloud-based files to your computer, right-click on them and choose Make available offline.
If you can’t use the sync tools for some reason, downloading files directly from the cloud storage provider’s website is also an option. To connect to your OneDrive account in a web browser, for example, and you can use the To download buttons at the top to save folders and files. When you save entire folders at once, they are stored in compressed ZIP archives which you can then expand on your hard drive.
Download all your files
The next step is to upload everything to your new cloud storage provider, and various sync tools can help. Syncing apps like Dropbox works on both Windows and macOS, so you’re always covered if you switch operating systems. There is even a iCloud for Windows utility, if you need it.
Follow the instructions inside the new app to point it to the files you want to download and start the transfer. Depending on the download speeds you have at home, this can take a long time – 24 hours or more if you have tens of gigabytes of data. You may need to let the download run in the background for several days and nights until it completes.
As with uploading, you can also upload files directly to most cloud storage providers through their browser-based web portal. However, it’s easier to leave a sync client running in the background. Note that you don’t make duplicates of your files – you just get two cloud storage apps to point to the same files and folders.
The new cloud storage provider you’re switching to may offer to keep stored files in an online-only state (local copies will only be downloaded when you need them), but it’s best to keep your local copies in place until sure everything has been transferred. You should receive a notification when the download process is complete.
Complete and troubleshoot
We recommend paying to have your old and new cloud storage providers work in tandem for about a month, just so you can troubleshoot any issues and make sure all your data has been transferred. When you are satisfied, you can cancel your subscription to your original provider.
After about a few weeks, you can uninstall the sync client used by your old provider. This will not affect the files, but will mean that they are no longer managed or monitored by the original cloud storage company. What you don’t want to do is delete the local copies of your files. If you need to remove files from your old provider’s storage before canceling, do so through the web interface.
Having all your files stored locally can take up a significant amount of space on your hard drive. So you may need to move data in chunks, making sure it’s been transferred to the new service before deleting it from the old one. An external hard drive can help you here, by providing an additional backup copy of your data.
If you can afford it, we recommend using an external backup at all times, this means you will have a starting point if your files somehow disappear from the cloud. As reliable as iCloud and OneDrive are, you should always have multiple copies of your most important files in multiple places, just in case disaster strikes.