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Local Backup or Online Backup?

Posted on 2013-01-09 23:34:47

Dear Charlie,

I just got an external hard drive. But, is it better to use one of the online backup services you talked about? What are the pros and cons of each?


Daunted by Data Backup

Dear Daunted,

Your best bet is probably a combination of the two.

One of my favorite tech websites: Lifehacker explained it pretty nicely:

“Local external drive backups are great for quick recovery when you’ve accidentally deleted a file, or if your computer’s internal hard drive crashes. But what if your house burns down or gets burglarized-including your backup drive? Hurricane Katrina victims can tell you that no matter how diligently you back up your computer to a local hard drive, you will still lose your photos, documents, and other important files if you don’t keep a copy off-site, preferably out of state. Some users keep an extra hard drive with a copy of their important files at the office or at their mother’s house in case of theft or fire. But that requires manually transporting your hard drive back and forth on a regular basis, and you want to set it and forget it.”

Local and online backup have their own strengths and weaknesses. In a nutshell, local backup (external hard drive) is a little more convenient and the cost-per-gigabyte is generally less expensive than online backup. However, if something happens to your computer and the external hard drive (fire, flood, theft, etc…) then all your data could still be lost. Whereas, if you had online storage, it would be simultaneously stored in several locations and therefore unaffected by local disasters. Plus, with many services, you could get to that data from any computer without having to lug an external hard drive around.

Of course there are costs associated with maintaining an infrastructure to allow for redundant online storage so there is a decent price difference. Generally speaking you’ll see a one time cost of about 10-20 cents per Gigabyte for an external hard drive. Compare that to anywhere from 5 – 50 cents per gigabyte per month for online data backup. At that rate 100GB of online storage would cost you anywhere from $60 – $600 per year.

Either way you go, redundancy is the key. Think of it as a kite. If you only have one string and it breaks, there goes your kite! But if you have more than one string, or a string that is less likely to break, you are less likely to lose your kite. The more places you have your data, the more backups have to simultaneously fail and thus, lower chance that you’ll lose your important stuff.