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Cloud vs local backup

All of us have important data stored on our computers, so deciding how you back up all your information can prove to be amongst the most important decisions you make. There are advantages to backing up your data on a local device or a cloud service and so deciding which is best for your needs can be a little difficult.

This guide will take you through the pros of backing up your data via these two different methods to help you decide.


Local backup options 

To say that data is backed up locally is to say that it is stored somewhere on the device you're using. There are a number of different methods to back data up in this way, and it'll likely be very different depending on the device. 

Hard Disk Drives (HDDs)

Hard disk drives were first put to use by IBM as far back as 1956; but they could only store under 5 megabytes of data, which is roughly enough to store a single song from Spotify. In those days, hard drives were physically bigger than most computers are today. 5 MB was also the storage capability of the first small (for the time) hard disk in 1980. 

Today, hard drives are essentially little compartments containing single or multiple platters (spinning disks to you and me) stacked on top of each other. The data that needs backing up is both loaded onto these disks and can be accessed later with a read/write arm. 

Hard drives are connected to the motherboards of computers, laptops, and other devices, transferring data on request. The speed at which the disks inside the hard drive are spinning determines how quickly the data can be read by your machine. 

Solid State Drives (SSDs)

Sold State Drives are much more popular than hard drives these days. They are much more robust, faster, and can store more data than hard disk drives in a much smaller space, which is why they're more commonly installed on newer computers. 

Solid State Drives have no moving parts and no storage disks; instead, the drive's memory capacity is dictated by the size of the NAND memory chips it houses. NAND is just a type of non-volatile flash memory that doesn't need power for storage. These chips are somewhat comparable to the ones used in USB drives, but they're usually speedier and more dependable. 

What is the best local backup option?

Both HDDs and SSDs have their own advantages, despite fulfilling a very similar function. HDDs – as the more senior technology that's less in demand – are a bit cheaper than SSDs, and this gap may widen even further in the future. But that's not the only reason.  

As aforementioned, SSDs are the clear winners when it comes to speed. They take way less time to boot up and everything from transferring files to general system speed is much quicker on SSDs. They're also more energy-efficient (because they aren't spinning all the time) so use up less battery life. 

It's not really a problem for most people because we're so used to the low-level hum that most computers make, but SSDs are quieter than hard drives because they don't have moving parts that produce sounds. 

Read/write arms found in hard disk drives, on the other hand, make them a little riskier to move around than devices with SSDs. From computer cases to game consoles, you don't want to move a device whilst a disk is being read. So you're always running that risk with hard drives and have to be marginally more careful moving devices whilst they continue running. 

Cloud backup options 

It's worth mentioning that cloud storage, online syncing, and cloud backups are not the same things, even though such phrases are often used interchangeably and some providers offer both or roll both into one. 

Cloud storage is essentially software that ensures a selected document or collection of files is readily available from multiple different devices. Cloud storage can perhaps be described as the online equivalent of an external hard drive to supplement a HDD.

Cloud backup, conversely, is designed to make new copies of files and will continuously back them up to the cloud, fulfilling the same function as a HDD. There are, broadly, three main types of cloud backup: 

Full backups lead to every single one of the files on a given device being backed up to the cloud. Even after this, in any further backups, all your information would be backed up again in the exact same way. 
Incremental backups simply save any new changes made to files since the last time they were backed up. If you only modified one out of 10 previously backed up files on Wednesday, then your Thursday backup would only replace the one file, not the full set. 
Differential backups are very similar to incremental backups, the only difference being that whilst incremental backups will back up anything that has been changed since the last backup (incremental or full), differential backups simply back up any changes made since the last full backup only. 

Some great cloud backup options

Here at ProPrivacy, we've taken a closer look at some of the best cloud backups available online and assessed their key features in detail. If you're looking to invest in cloud backup and are unsure what provider is best for you, here's a short summary of our top picks to get you started:

  1. - The best cloud backup service. It offers strong end-to-end encryption, 2 factor authentication, and a 100% online storage option.
  2. NordLocker - The best cloud backup service for beginners. Offers sleek and easy-to-use apps for all popular platforms. Plus, it's super secure.
  3. IDrive - The cheapest cloud backup service in our list. We found it had super user-friendly apps and it's jam-packed with features!
  4. Livedrive - The best value for money cloud backup. We found the apps really easy to use, plus it offers users unlimited backup storage and has a 14-day free trial!
  5. Tresorit - A well known cloud backup service with a zero-knowledge client, making it great for privacy and cross-platform support.

Cloud backup vs local backup

Cloud and local backups fulfill different purposes for different people and are used accordingly. But it's still possible to compare their qualities. 

Cloud backup advantages

The main advantage of backing up your files to a cloud is that your files will still be recoverable even if your physical device is written off. If I'd saved all my precious work to a local drive and then spilled coffee all over my laptop, breaking it in the process, it could be possible I may have damaged the drive beyond repair. Data from hard drives can be recovered in the event of device destruction, but this may require a computer hardware expert and many hours of work. If your device is stolen, on the other hand, and you haven't backed up your data to the cloud, the thief now has the sole copy of said data.

Overall, cloud backup is superior when it comes to disaster recovery, something that local backups cannot provide.

Cloud backups are also a better option if multiple people need to back up and subsequently access the same files from different locations, so are often a popular choice for large businesses. They're also managed by a provider, which is useful if your business needs large amounts of backup space yet has no one to manage or maintain it. Check out our what is a cloud backup guide for more information about how they work and a breakdown of the encryption they use. 

Local backup advantages

Even though cloud storage is very much the flavor of the month, local backup is the superior choice in some instances and cases. If you have fleeting access to the internet, for example, but will need ad hoc access to specific files (maybe you're traveling and a connection isn't guaranteed to work at every step of the journey) then it might be safer to go with a local backup option instead of (or as well as) cloud backup, as you won't need to rely on the internet to ensure what you want is saved. Arguably, it's also safer – if you choose cloud backup over device backup, you will have to consider:

  • Whether the physical data center the cloud servers are in is safe.
  • What other entities (if any) are using the same servers. 
  • If the cloud backup company itself is trustworthy. 
  • Which client companies utilizing the space have access to the server. 
  • Whether the country the server is live has robust data protection laws. 
  • The standard of the provider's network security. 

With a local drive, all the information is just stored on the computer, and you don't have to worry about any of these considerations. But as was mentioned above, that comes with its own risks (like device destruction). 

Recap: what's right for you?

Cloud backup is a lot easier to scale up than a local backup, which just means that it's easier to commandeer more space to use at the drop of a hat. If you're a business owner and you think you might need a lot more storage in a short space of time, this may prove the more logical option. For larger companies, it can turn out to be cost-effective, particularly since many reputable cloud backup providers now offer completely unlimited storage capacities. 

But until reliable, consistent, and fast wireless internet is available all over the world, physical drives will likely persist with a healthy market share as millions of people will still want to – and have to – use them. 

SSDs are more likely suited to people who pride speed over anything else. If you want a device that loads up quickly and you're not planning to download large multimedia files or video games that require huge amounts of memory, then you'll find a laptop with an SSD, for example, more than adequate. 

HDDs, as was also alluded to before, would be better for someone on a budget, as a very good hard drive is likely to be significantly cheaper than most good SSDs. They're also better for people who need huge memory banks for their use cases. But SSDs are becoming increasingly able to provide more storage. 

Written by: Aaron Drapkin

After graduating with a philosophy degree from the University of Bristol in 2018, Aaron became a researcher at news digest magazine The Week following a year as editor of satirical website The Whip. Freelancing alongside these roles, his work has appeared in publications such as Vice, Metro, Tablet and New Internationalist, as well as The Week's online edition.


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