If you worry about losing really important files or travel a great deal, then an online backup service may be just what you need. It’s a great way to preserve your most precious data, especially irreplaceable photos. But just make sure that it’s not your only backup, as we explain in this article.
Until recently, most people stored their personal data in different places. This could include family photos in albums, videos under the TV set, financial papers in folders, and so on. Even if someone broke into your house, they probably wouldn’t steal them.
Today, most of your valuable data - photos, videos, financial records, etc - can be stored on a laptop, and backed up to an external hard drive. A burglar could walk off with both. And computer hard drives eventually fail.
Free online storage
Companies protect themselves against catastrophic data losses that could put them out of business by keeping off-site backups. You can do the same, using free online storage.
As well as backing things up on CDs or DVDs - and perhaps to an external hard drive - you can upload files to the net. This is sometimes called ‘cloud storage’ - your data lives somewhere in the communications cloud but you don’t need to know where.
The simplest online backup is just a fixed amount of storage that works as a folder on a server. You can upload and download files whenever you like. This is very useful if you are travelling around with a laptop. More sophisticated services provide software that, on a daily basis, finds all the new files on your PC, compresses and encrypts copies then uploads them automatically.
It can be painful to back up a whole PC using a home broadband service because uploads are slow. (ADSL broadband is ‘asynchronous’ which means that the download speed can be five or ten times faster than the upload speed.) Once the initial data has been uploaded, updates should be relatively quick. However, if disaster strikes, downloading hundreds of gigabytes of data can be tedious and time-consuming.
If you use a free online backup service, you won’t have enough space to back up a whole hard drive, just essential files.
The usual sales strategy is to get people hooked with a few free gigabytes then get them to upgrade to a paid-for service with more storage. Automated services often have a monthly service charge.
There is a wide choice of online backup options including Mozy, Carbonite, Box, Dropbox and SugarSync. Microsoft’s SkyDrive is a simple service that offers 7GB of free storage space with more available to purchase. Apple’s iCloud service comes with 5GB of free storage which, with paid for add-ons, can be extended to 55GB. Some PC suppliers, such as Asus, offer free online storage with portable PCs.
Word of warning
It’s not wise to rely wholly on online backups, because there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose your data.
Web-based companies frequently change their business terms and strategies, and they tend to be taken over or go bust. You could suddenly be faced with paying a monthly bill - or given just a few days to download all your data, or lose it!
People can also lose access to their data if their computer is hacked, if they lose their password and cannot recover it, or if they are locked out of their account for reasons unbeknown to them. It happens.
Online backup services are a great addition to local backups, not a substitute for them.