It’s all the rage, but you may want to do more.
Cloud storage is awesome, and I use it heavily.
However, to mangle an old advertising slogan: “It’s part of a healthy breakfast.”
Let me emphasize: it’s only a part of the solution you want.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Cloud backup - enough?
Cloud or online backup can be useful, but has limitations that prevent it from being a pragmatic, complete solution. Instead, use it in conjunction with traditional external hard drive backup to ensure that everything is backed up and available when you need it.
Honestly, what’s right for you depends on what you’re attempting to accomplish with your backup.
Cloud-based backup — meaning backing up to some kind of online storage or backup service — is fine, as long as you keep three things in mind.
1. Pay attention to what is and is not backed up
Most online backup services back up only some of the information on your computer.
This usually means your data files. Most commonly, it means the service will back up only the files it finds in or under “Documents”, or perhaps also folders like “Pictures”, “Video”, and others.
That’s enough for many people. For others, it’s a surprise, because it’s not backing up your entire computer; it’s only backing up your data.
2. Understand the limits
By its very nature, an online backup uses your internet connection — perhaps excessively.
Exactly how heavily, whether or not it will impact your use of the computer, and how long it all takes depends on two things:
- How much data there is upload and back up.
- How fast your internet connection’s upload speed is.
The first backup, in particular, can take a long time, since it has to upload everything for the first time.
Even incremental or backups can still take a long time if your internet connection is slow and the amount of data to be backed up is large.
Sometimes the backups can be so slow as to be pragmatically useless. And there’s one particularly important case.
3. Online isn’t for image backups
Full image backups are backups of absolutely everything on your computer.
I absolutely love and rely on image backups because no matter what happens, everything is backed up. If my hard disk dies completely, I use an image backup to restore to a replacement hard drive, allowing me to carry on from that point.
Here’s the problem: “everything” means everything, and as a result, image backups are huge.
Image backups are typically too large to be uploaded in any useful timeframe. For example, if it takes a day and a half to upload a daily backup, there’s no way you’d ever be able to keep up. Your online backups would always be severely out of date and your internet connection would always be slower than it needs to be, because your backup software would constantly be uploading as fast as it could.
Why not both?
After you factor in its limitations, online cloud backup can be useful, but it’s not enough.
My recommendation is simple: use both online and local (external drive) backups, and use them for what they’re best at.
For example, perform an image backup to an external drive once a month and an online backup of your data files daily.
My approach: a monthly full image backup, a daily incremental image backup — both to an external drive — and then use online services such as OneDrive and Dropbox to back up my work in progress as it changes throughout the day.
The most important thing you can do, of course, is back up regularly.
It’s important to realize that external drives and online backups are different kinds of backup, each with its own pros and cons. You need to make sure that you choose a solution — possibly using both — to achieve a backup strategy you can rely on to be there when (not if) you need it.
Subscribe to Confident Computing, my weekly newsletter. I talk about backing up a lot, and you’ll get all that and more. Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.