One of the most frequent situations I run into when helping friends and family out with random computer issues (viruses, malware, computer won’t boot, dead hard drive, etc) is that almost nobody backs up their data. We live in a digital age where photos and family memories live on hard drives more often than they live in photo albums. Ask yourself, when was the last time you backed up photos from you vacations, photos of your children, or wedding photos? I know some folks are good about backing up weekly/monthly/quarterly to an external hard drive, however I’ve encountered situations in which the external backup drives have failed or have been dropped. The other potential issue of backing up to an external drive is that it often resides in the same house as the computer it’s backing up, meaning in the event of burglary or a fire, all would be lost. So by this point you’re probably asking yourself where I’m going with this, and rightly so, we’ll answer a couple of quick questions and jump right in.
What Constitutes an Offsite Backup?
Realistically, anything that gets your backups offsite, this can be as simple as backing up to an external hard drive, and backing that drive up to an additional external drive that you store in a safety deposit box or elsewhere. Additionally online backup services such as iDrive, Carbonite, or Amazon S3 are all reasonable solutions, however they take time to backup (2 of the 3 run on a schedule the other requires manual intervention) and unless you’re using a desktop most people will only crack open their laptop long enough to do what they want and put it back to sleep. The other option is the use a cloud based document storage solution.
What is the Cloud and Why Should I Backup There?
Loosely defined, the cloud is a software or service that is a web based solution, typically hosted in a large data center that meets major industry security standards, and more often than not is backed up redundantly to other data centers globally. Most of us carry multiple devices now, be it a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, I would venture to bet that you have at least 2 of the 3 if not all of the above. The four major cloud storage solutions we will discuss have apps for both desktop operating systems as well as common mobile operating systems. This allows you to access you data from any device seamlessly.
Which Cloud Storage Should I use and How Much Does it Cost?
While there are a multitude of cloud storage vendors out there, the most notable and commonly used 4 are Dropbox, Onedrive (formerly Microsoft Skydrive), Amazon Cloud Drive, and Google Drive. Fortunately in the arms race to attract more subscribers prices have continued to rapidly drop for cloud storage. While I will list prices below, the best bet is to check the vendor website before subscribing as prices will likely change. As to which vendor is the best choice, the answer is found in your current ecosystem and pricing needs.
Dropbox is one of the most widely known names in cloud storage and has one of the larger subscriber bases. Dropbox is simple to install and use. To setup Dropbox simply go to www.dropbox.com and download Dropbox. After install, you will be prompted to sign in or create an account. Once your account is created a Dropbox folder will show up in your user folder as well as in your system tray (Windows) or titlebar (Mac). Using Dropbox is quite simple, the tutorial during install walks you through the basics of dragging and dropping your files into your Dropbox folder. If you have a smartphone, you are able to go to the app store to download the Dropbox app, which will allow you to view your Dropbox files on your mobile device, as well as the ability to turn on automatic photo upload (automatically uploads any new pictures you take with your phone/tablet to Dropbox)
Costs: 2GB free storage, 1TB=$9.99/month
At the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft made the jump into the cloud storage business with SkyDrive. After some trademark issues with the name, Microsoft has rebranded the service to OneDrive. If you are currently running Windows 8 or 8.1 and have signed up for a Microsoft account, you will notice that OneDrive is already installed on your machine. Additionally if you opted to sign up for Office 365 (subscription based Microsoft Office), you are given 1TB of Onedrive space for free already. Additionally, Office 2013 allows you to save directly to OneDrive. If you are in this boat, this is probably your best value. Using OneDrive is simple, all you need to do is open windows explorer (click the folder icon on your taskbar) and click OneDrive on the left hand side of the window. Within OneDrive you can create folders, and simply drag and drop your documents, pictures, music, movies, etc and they will sync with OneDrive. Additionally if you have a smartphone or tablet with the OneDrive app installed, you are able to turn on automatic camera upload, which will automatically sync any pictures you take to OneDrive.
Costs: 15GB free storage, 100GB=$1.99/month, 200GB=$3.99/month, 1TB=$6.99/month (or free with Office 365)
Amazon Cloud Drive (https://www.amazon.com/clouddrive)
Anyone with a computer and internet connection surely knows who web retailer giant Amazon is. Among the many other entrants into the cloud storage space, Amazon has jumped into the game as well. Amazon features a similar feature set and use case to Dropbox and OneDrive, however it does slightly differ in the area of cost. If you have an active Amazon Prime membership, you are entitled to unlimited photo backups based on Amazon’s current offerings. Much like the other two services, backing up is as simple as drag and drop into the Amazon Cloud Drive folder, and mobile apps are available on all major smartphone platforms. If you are storing small amounts of data or just simply looking to backup pictures, Amazon may be one of the more affordable options, however the pricing quickly shoots up to more than double what competitors are charging as you begin to near the 1TB level of storage.
Costs: 5GB free storage, 20GB=$10/year, $50GB=$25/year,1000GB=$500/year
Google Drive (https://www.google.com/drive/)
If you’ve been on the web much over the past decade, you’ve realized there isn’t much on the web Google isn’t involved with. In an effort to help facilitate collaboration for small startups and to grant easy data sharing and backup for Universities and users alike, Google jumped into the cloud storage market as well. If you are a currently a Gmail or Google Docs user, you may find Google drive to be an appealing options as it seamlessly integrates with other Google services. The desktop and mobile clients function nearly identically to their competitors. Like many other Google services, Google drive is dead simple to use and works reliably without any notable issues or hiccups.
Costs: 15GB free storage, 100GB=$1.99/month, 1TB=$9.99 per month
The Bottom Line
The most expensive solution of all is choosing not to back up or not to back up effectively and redundantly. With so much of our digital lives at stake on a single point of failure, it just doesn’t add up to choose to go on without backups. I can promise you as an IT professional even the best kept systems will fail, even the best hard drives will fail, and the cost of professional data recovery starts at a minimum of $300-$500 and does not guarantee that all of your files will be recovered. At the end of the day, any of the four solutions provided above will offer adequate redundant offsite data backups, giving you piece of mind that your precious digital memories are safe and that you’ve done your part to protect yourself. There are other additional cloud services I did not mention in this post for sake of keeping this post from being any more excessively longer than it already is. Thanks for sticking with me, go get yourself a cup of coffee and start backing up! See you all in the New Year!!!