Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Are free online backup services worth it?

I make sure everything is neatly backed up and safely stored on an external
hard drive. I’ve always heard of making two backups; one relatively close to
your computer like your external hard drive for instance and another one away
from the place your computer resides, maybe even away from your home like a
server or something. Much like your “Are free E-mail
addresses worth it?
” – with the recent release of Windows Live Skydrive
services by Microsoft and Gmail’s Gdrive in a further past, how do you feel
about these services that offer online storage of files and documents for free?
Especially compared to their non-free counterparts?

I have mixed feelings.

Like free email, free on-line backup concerns me if used improperly, and of
course it’s the definition of “improperly” that needs clarification.

But I can’t help but think, again, of the adage “You get what you pay
for.”

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

My objection to free email accounts is not with free email accounts
themselves, but in relying on them for anything important. I’ve seen too many
situations where people have irretrievably lost everything because their
account was compromised, and they had no backup and no recourse.

Free on-line backups are, in some way, the reverse situation. You’re
explicitly not putting all your eggs into a single basket. In fact,
you’re using the backup service as another basket!

That all makes sense, and is, I think, a reasonable approach to backing up.
In fact even with respect to email, I often recommend that people use a free
email service as a backup to their primary. This is very similar.

“The thing to look for with any service such as this are the customer support
options.”

However it’s not without risk.

Here’s the nightmare scenario:

  • Your computer dies or is otherwise lost. The contents are, for whatever
    reason, irretrievably lost.

  • Your backup drive is also gone. The most obvious example that knocks out
    both your computer and the external hard drive is either theft, or something
    like a fire burning down the building in which they were both located.

  • You go to your free on-line backup only to find … it’s gone. You’ve lost
    access. You can’t get in. And there’s no customer support. It, too, is
    gone.

How likely is all that? I don’t know. But that’s the risk you’re running.
With a free service, how likely is it that it’ll actually be available when you
need it?

If it’s anything like free email services, the answer will actually be “most
of the time”. And yet I still, regularly, hear from people who were on the
other side of “most of the time” and as I said earlier, lost everything.

The thing to look for with any service such as this are the customer support
options. The for-pay options will typically have better customer support as
part of their justification for taking your money on an ongoing basis. But even
so, free or for-pay, it’s your ability to get help in a time of crisis that
will make all the difference.

But for most folks it seems like it could be a reasonable part of an
overall backup strategy.

Just make sure it’s not the only part of your backup strategy.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

7 comments on “Are free online backup services worth it?”

  1. I look for sharing in addition to backup from my online storage company. I like http://www.myotherdrive.com because their online backup is industrial strength with unattended operation and encryption. So I know my data is safe. But their sharing is where it’s really at. I can control who sees my shared files – I do not have to shared publicly for others to see. Very cool.

    Reply
  2. The cloud has become a lot more powerful. It is far more than just storage or backup. Not only you can backup files to the cloud, you can also move your entire file server, FTP server, email server, web server and backup system to the cloud. You can create sub-users and sub-groups; you can set different user roles; share different folders to different users with different permissions. For a small business, Cloud-based storage, backup, sharing and Cloud IT Solution can save you a lot of cost, while offering better, more secure and reliable services that can be accessed from anywhere. DriveHQ.com is one of the first few companies offering such cloud based services. For more info, please visit:
    http://www.drivehq.com/

    Reply
  3. now that everyone can upload 25gigs of info for free to windows live accounts, is there a reason to pay for online backup? google thinks so – they have various online storage plans including $50yr to store 200g of info.

    i had 2 backup hdd die during a lightning storm that wasn’t even that strong and i haven’t bought an hdd since: why waste the $$? i need another source of backup though and wonder which online service is really a good idea. or might it be good to have one free service like windows live and one for-pay service?

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.