Online Backup or Local: Which is Best?
When it comes to backups, you have two fundamental choices: local or online backup. Local means making backup copies on removable or external media that you keep nearby. With online backup, you're transferring your files over the Internet to a remote server. Here are the pros and cons for online backup, local backups, and two things you MUST back up, in addition to your hard drive...
The Best Way to Back Up Your Files
There are trade-offs when considering online backup or a do-it-yourself approach in your home or office. Local backup is secure while you are doing it. When you copy data from your computer to a DVD, a flash drive, or an external hard drive, no one else can steal it. Local backup is faster than online backup, because your Internet connection is not nearly as fast as your backup drive's data transfer rate. The initial full backup with an online backup service Mozy or Carbonite can take days or weeks, depending on how much data you have, and the speed of your Internet connection.
The downside of local backup is mainly before and after the actual backup process. Adhering to a regimen of regular, orderly backup sessions is hard for many people. Keeping multiple backup sets adds clutter and work. If you backup on DVDs, you have to swap discs, label them, put them in protective sleeves, and find someplace safe to store them. And if you use an external hard drive, should you have more than one backup image? Is it best to have daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly backups?
When you need to restore data from backup copies, there is the problem of remembering where the right discs are. And there's always the question of what happens in the event of a fire or flood. Keeping your backup media in a fire-proof safe is a good idea, but safes can be stolen. If you keep your backup copies in a safety deposit box or an off-site location, the time and hassle of retrieving them can be significant.
One good strategy is to make backups to a set of external hard drives. One stays connected to the computer for automatic daily backups, and one stays in a fire-proof safe. Once a month, you swap them. This way, you always have a complete, up-to-the minute backup, and another one that's safely stored away and at most a month old.
What About Online Backups?
Online backup services eliminate many of these hassles. You can configure backup sessions to run when your computer is otherwise idle, and backups will be made even if you forget about them. When you need to restore selected data, a Web interface helps you find the right backup copy and choose just the file(s) you want to restore.
So what's not to like about online backup? Cost is the first downside of online backup. Most online backup solutions give you a few gigabytes of backup storage space for free to get you to try them. But for a complete system backup, five gigabytes or even ten is often not enough. Then you have to pay monthly storage fees which can range from ten dollars upward.
Security is another big concern. But I'd argue that the online servers used to store copies of your files are MORE secure than the typical home or office environment. Online backup services employ strong encryption, 24/7 physical security, and have plans to protect against fire, flood and other natural disasters. They're also certified and audited by independent agencies. Chances are, the computer in your home is much more vulnerable. See my related article Are Online Backup Services Safe? for a more complete discussion on how online backup providers keep your data safe.
Speed is another consideration. The online backup process can run while you are asleep, but when you need to restore data you usually want it in a hurry. Even if you subscribe to the fastest broadband service available, Internet traffic jams can slow your online backup and restore sessions to a crawl. And if you need to restore a full backup, the sheer volume of data will make this a lengthy affair.
Mozy and CrashPlan both offer a service that helps you avoid the long wait times when making your initial backup, or if you need to do a full restore. They'll send you an external hard drive for your first backup. After you mail it back, all your backups are incremental, over the Internet. And if you need to restore an entire disk (or just a lot of data) you can have your backup drive sent by overnight mail.
Some online backup services to try include Mozy, Carbonite, iDrive, and CrashPlan. Check out my article comparing these offerings in Carbonite, Mozy, or Crashplan? Then try one or more, taking advantage of their free storage allowances, until you find one that suits your needs.
My Backup Strategy, and Other Considerations
Personally, I use a hybrid approach which combines both local backups and online backup. Using external hard drives, I make a full backup weekly, with daily incrementals. I then make separate backups of selected important files and folders. And I also backup my backup, so it's never just in one place. That's where the online backup component of my strategy comes into play. You can read more about how I do all this in Save Your Bacon With Acronis True Image Backup.
Oh, and don't forget that your hard drive is just one part of the backup task. Your webmail, social media accounts, and everything on your mobile phone needs protection, too. See Have You Backed Up Your Online Accounts? and How to Backup Your Smartphone for help completing your backup strategy.
Got something to say about backup options? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 4 Oct 2013
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Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved