Cloud Storage vs Offline Storage— All You Need to Know

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As more and more personal information and records become digitized, people started looking for safer and more convenient ways to store their files and keep them safe.

While it used to be easy keeping all your precious possessions behind a locked door or in a safe, this has shown to be a massive inconvenience as most people now store their data on their laptops, phones, and desktops.

Sure, having everything you need right there on your main device might sound like the best-case scenario, but it’s the furthest from being a safe and secure storing method for your files.

To put things into perspective; on average, a laptop gets stolen every 53 seconds, while 70 million smartphones are lost every year with less than 10% of them recovered. And while you might think that safeguarding your devices is the answer, close to 150,000 hard drives crash weekly in the United States alone.

The wisest decision you could make is considering a backup method for your files. While the concept itself might seem pretty straight-forward on its own, there is actually more to a successful backup than simply creating a copy of your files and dumping it “somewhere safe”.

What Makes a Successful Backup?

A photo of an aisle of stocking shelves filled with boxes — Photo by form PxHere

For a backup to be successful, it needs to have 3 main elements to it.

Frequency

The frequency of backups is how often the stored data gets updated with newer versions of itself. As for how often data should be updated… the answer depends.

How often files need to be backed differs greatly depending on the importance of the files and the frequency of changes they receive. While some documents need to be backed up immediately, others, like a phone’s camera roll, can be done anywhere from once or twice a day for the avid photographer, to weekly for the casual one.

The important thing to know is that if the frequency of the updates doesn’t match the importance and usage of the files in question, irreversible data loss becomes a high possibility.

Organization

You could have the best backup system ever created, but if the data stored isn’t sorted appropriately, it’s all for nothing. You’ll end up with a jumbled mess where you can’t find anything. Not to mention, the lack of proper organization could cost you valuable storage space as things get backed up as duplicates under different names in multiple places.

Backed up data needs to be sorted into groups that best suit you, the user, and your personal needs. By finding a system that works best for you, you’re able to easily retrieve lost files and update them, whether manually or automatically.

Security and Privacy

I’m going to take a lucky guess and say that you really care about the security of your files. After all, who wants a complete stranger going through their financial records or family photos behind their back?

Creating multiple copies of your files naturally increases the chances of them being exploited or accessed by others. A backup is straight-up useless if it doesn’t keep your files private.

Whether it’s hard drive malfunction from natural causes or poor maintenance, a successful backup needs to keep your data safe from harm’s way.

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Now that you know the pillars that ensure a successful backup, the next step is to compare your options. Before jumping into specific brands or services providers, you need to decide whether you want to keep your data online or offline.

Cloud Storage

A cloudy sky peeking through a cloud-shaped paper cutout — Photo by form PxHere

As the name suggests, cloud storage service providers back up your data online using their own private servers. Thanks to the fact that many well-known names, like Google, Samsung, and Apple, offer free cloud storage for their users, it became one of the most popular backup methods of our day.

In 2017, it was estimated that around 1.8 billion users worldwide use cloud storage as their main method of data backup and storage. However, just like any service out there, cloud storage has its own set of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Automatic Updates: Most cloud services offer the feature of automatic updates, where backed up files get updated either on a scheduled basis or whenever a change occurs.
  • Encrypted Data: To ensure privacy, cloud storage services often encrypt users’ data as an additional security layer.
  • Server Maintenance: With cloud storage, there’s no hardware maintenance required on your part. Service providers take care of the logistics and maintenance of the servers used.
  • Free (most of the time): Companies tend to offer several gigabytes of free and secure cloud storage for all of their users. Although, the storage space might be too limited for people with lots of files to backup and might end up upgrading to a paid plan.
  • Accessibility: Cloud storage can be accessed from anywhere in the world and from any device. All you need is an internet connection and your email and password.

Cons:

  • High Security Risks: Because the files are accessible online, this could pose a serious threat of unauthorized access or exploitation of your data.
  • Lack of Privacy: Many service providers aren’t completely transparent when it comes to their terms of service. This could jeopardize your privacy if your data gets shared with a 3rd party without your knowledge or consent.
  • Not Permanent: Service providers, just like any other company, can always go out of business with short notice due to a variety of reasons. This might force you to relocate your files to a new location in a small window of time, which could result in data loss, damage, and disorganization.
  • Costly: For anything more than half a dozen gigabytes, cloud storage usually requires a monthly or yearly subscription, which can prove costly when dealing with massive amounts of data.
  • Accessibility: Access to your data can be hindered by the lack of solid internet connection or regular maintenance by your service provider.

Offline Storage

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While this form of file storage disappeared for a bit when free cloud storage first became popular and people still didn’t have much digitized data, it’s making a strong comeback.

Offline storage is often done using external hard drives (EHD). This gives users absolute control over their backup experience, making it a top favorite to tech-savvy people and those with terabytes-worth of data wishing to keep it well into the far future.

Pros:

  • Accessibility: Using an EHD allows for easy access to the stored files, even with the absence of a reliable internet connection (which isn’t available everywhere). All you need is your external hard drive and a device to browse your files.
  • Security: Offline storage’s strongest point is its lack of internet connection, making the data stored on it 100% safe from a myriad of cyber attacks.
  • Customized Encryption: Instead of being restricted by a certain type or degree of encryption, using your own hard drive allows you to choose the type and level of encryption you see fit.
  • Longevity: Once bought, hard drives can’t be taken back even if the manufacturing company went out of business.
  • Guaranteed Privacy: Along with encryption and security, the data doesn’t get shared with anyone without your knowledge or consent.
  • One-Time Purchase: Most external hard drives last a very long time (depending on the frequency of use) and require a one-time payment instead of a subscription.

Cons:

  • Accessibility: The only way to access the files is to have the hard drive ready on hand.
  • Safety: Due to their relatively small size, an EHD can be easily stolen or lost along with all the files stored on it.
  • Requires Maintenance: All the required maintenance falls on the user. External hard drives need to be kept in suitable environments and regularly checked up on for early signs of malfunction.
  • Costly: A high-quality EHD with large storage space can be quite expensive. Not to mention, hard drives used excessively break over time and require a replacement.

Best Solution

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Reading all the benefits and drawbacks above, you might’ve come to a conclusion of which method works best for you, and that’s great!

This final part of the post is for people who got even more frustrated after reading long lists of pros and cons and still don’t know which to choose.

The best option, in my opinion, is a mix of the two.

Since the benefits of each method almost contradict the other, the best answer, for people with tons of files looking for a way to back them up before it’s too late, is to combine them both.

Using Cloud Storage:

Cloud storage can be used as the first line of backup. Thanks to automatic updates, cloud storage can be used to immediately backup photographs and update work in progress projects as you work on them.

While the drawbacks of using cloud storage might’ve seemed overwhelming, and totally not-worth-it to some, there are ways to go around most of them:

  • Do a Background Check: Check the reputation of the service provider you plan on using. Keep an eye out for reports or articles that review or criticize their services along with their history of privacy and 3rd party data sharing.
  • Educate Yourself on Encryption: Average cybersecurity knowledge is a must in order to survive in the digital world. Know and understand the type of encryption and security protocols your service provider uses to keep your data safe and decide whether they meet your standards.
  • Get a Deal: If you’re planning on buying additional cloud storage space, it’s better to subscribe during a holiday or discount seasons, where prices drop drastically.
  • Accessibility: The lack of access problem can be avoided by making sure everywhere you go has reliable internet access whenever possible.

Using External Hard Drives:

Since the risk of an EHD crashing increases the more you exhaust it, use them for long-term storage. This can be older and finished projects or archival records like financial documents, receipts, and photos.

Similarly to cloud storage, using external hard drives also has its downsides. However, they can be easily worked around:

  • Get a Safe: A drawer with a key or a simple box also does the trick. Keeping your EHDs laying around is like writing your email and password on a piece of paper and hanging it on the wall. Having them all in one place helps keep them safe and makes it easy to transport them in case of an emergency.
  • Do Regular Check-Ups: Keep on the lookout for unusual clicking or grinding noises when running the hard drive along with its running speed. Any decrease in the speed or inconsistencies could mean that it’s time to invest in a new hard drive before losing or damaging your files.
  • Use Different Sizes EHDs: While a large book-sized EHD, that needs to be plucked into an outlet to turn on, might be tempting, you should invest in a couple of pocket-sized hard drives to store files you’re most likely to need while on the go.
  • Get a Deal: It’s the exact same situation with cloud storage subscriptions, buy your most expensive hard drives during sales to cut back on costs.
  • Have an Updating Schedule: It’s your responsibility to make sure your data is up to date. Create a schedule and set a reminder to update the files on your external drives.

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There’s no right or wrong way to backup your data (unless you don’t). A system that works splendidly for you today might need little tweaks or a complete redo in a few months.

Storage technology is constantly evolving, and while the pros and cons mentioned above are generally universal, their effects might increase or decrease depending on your needs and future developments.

My only advice is to NOT invest in anything too elaborate or too expensive right away. There are many helpful and free resources, like this one, out there that can help you make the right decision for your storage needs with minimum drawbacks and loss.


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