As much as computers make life easy, they are not the most reliable machines in the world. Hard drives fizzle, files are corrupted for no discernible reason and computers instantly go bad when mixed with Diet Coke. Computers are great for getting work done, but they are not so great for saving files over the long term.
Every hard drive eventually goes belly up. It can be due to an accident, theft or failure of technology – but the end result is the same. Important files are lost and you are left scrambling to turn in that important homework assignment or finish that work presentation.
The importance of protecting your files is clear. What’s not so clear is the best method for protecting those files. There are dozens of ways to back up a computer, but two of the most popular are online backup solutions and external hard drives.
When comparing online backup vs. external hard drives, there are several things to consider. In this post, I’d like to help you determine which form of back is the best for you.
Online backup solutions use the internet to store your files on servers hosted by some company. Companies such as Carbonite and Mozy specialize in online backup. They store your files in the cloud and monitor your files for changes. When changes are detected, those files are updated in the cloud.
Online backup is relatively hands-free. Once you pay for a subscription and install the backup software, you don’t have to do anything else. The backup software monitors your computer and performs automatic backups on a set schedule. Not only does this make your life easier, but it also reduces the risk of human error (such as forgetting to perform regular backups).
Another advantage of online backup is that it stores your files on remote servers far away from your home or office. This is important because physical disasters such as theft or fire can easily wipe out your computer and any on-site backup solutions that you might have in place. Online storage does not suffer from that risk.
Online file storage comes with recurring subscription costs. However, this con has been negated in recent years as prices in the industry have been forced down due to competition and cheaper storage technology. Many companies today will give you a year of online storage for about the same cost as an external hard drive.
A more serious con is that online storage places your files in the hands of a third party. If you have sensitive information that needs backed up, you have to place a lot of trust in your storage company. They are responsible for keeping your information safe and available.
A third con is that online storage requires an internet connection for backing up and restoring your files. If you lose access to the internet for a significant length of time, you’ll have a hard time backing anything up or accessing anything.
External Hard Drives
External hard drives are storage devices that you can connect to your computer for additional storage space. They work in the same basic manner as the hard drive inside your computer except they are portable and sit on the outside.
External hard drives are easy to set up. Most drives that you get at the store today come ready to go from the box. All you have to do is connect it to your computer and transfer your files over. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
Another advantage of external hard drives is that they come with a one-time cost only. Once you pay the purchase price of an external hard drive, you’re done paying. There are no recurring subscription costs with this backup method.
The biggest disadvantage of the external hard drive is that you have to remember to perform backups on a regular schedule. This one is bigger than it sounds because you might be motivated to back everything up weekly right now, but that can change over the long run. Copying hundreds of files over every week “just in case” is not very rewarding work.
Another disadvantage is that your drives are susceptible to flood, fires and theft. Most people just leave their external hard drives sitting around the home or office somewhere. If you leave your backups in the same building as your original files, you run the very real risk of losing everything in one fell swoop.
So which is the best option?
Let me warn you that I run an online file storage website, so I might be a little biased. But having said that, I think online storage is the best method for backing up your files. The biggest selling point for me is the reliability of backups.
Online backup software runs in the background and handles everything. This is a major advantage because it is very easy to get lazy and not back up as often as you should. Online backup providers can give you daily backups and you don’t have to waste your time dealing with it.
However, any backup method is better than nothing. If you are leaning towards an external hard drive, that option is fine too. Just make sure you remember to perform regular backups and store your external drive somewhere safe.