An online or cloud backup service protects your files and hard drives from disasters. We have paid for over 27 online backup services with our credit card and only distilled the very best for you.
Why Do You Need An Online Backup Service?
Many people think that backing up to an external hard drive is enough. What they don’t realize is that an external hard drive can be stolen, damaged or simply fail like any other computer hard drive that carries your data.
That’s why we believe it is crucially important to have at least two backups. One backup on-site – in your office, at home – and another one offsite with a cloud backup service company. That way you’ll always have another copy of your files available in case your local copy fails. But signing up for an online backup service has more advantages:
- you can automatically backup your files (no need to manually drag your folders to your external HD)
- you can access your files from anywhere in the world (when you’re on vacation or a business trip)
- online backup storage services encrypt your files for you, so you don’t have to worry about security
How To Choose An Online Backup Service?
Choosing an online backup service doesn’t have to be a difficult chore. You only need to answer a couple of questions that will lead you to the best possible service for your needs. After you’ve answered a couple of questions you can browse our comparison chart to choose your service. Take our backup quiz and find the best provide in a matter of minutes!
Data backup has become a lot more easy with online backup and cloud storage services. Most of those services will perform automatic and continuous backup for your files and sometimes even share or sync your files across multiple computers. BUT there are so many of them that it seems hard to choose the right one for your needs.
Don’t go away just yet! You need a backup, no matter what.
“But I have mine on an external hard drive“, you say.
Good! But that’s just the first step.
In this extensive guide we’ll tell you anything and everything you need to know about online backup services: how to use them, which one to choose, what pitfalls to avoid – you name it! This guide is not set in stone, our team works on it almost every day to improve it, to make it better for YOU:
- Because we want you to have the best backup possible to avoid data loss
- Because we believe the easier the backup plan the better
- Because you deserve piece of mind
- Because we know how painful it is to lose precious data
- Because there is too much misinformation about backup out there
Again – it is all about YOU!
So, as this guide is in constant development – you should bookmark it and come back to see if there are any updates that will help you make your data safer – and better yet, share this guide on Facebook or Twitter to help us spread the word.
Your Guide to Online Backup Services – Table of Contents
- Online backup works like an insurance
- What is an online backup service?
- What do online backup services offer?
- Should you use an online data backup service?
- Pros and Cons
- How Secure are Online Backup Services?
Life is beautiful – and your data is, too!
Picture this scenario: you just came back home from a beautiful vacation with your family, well tanned, in a good mood (there is still some days left before you’ll have to be back at the office) – and now you want to sort through all the beautiful pictures you took of your son, your spouse, that flabbergasting sunset you’ve not seen before. Of course you transfer all the digital files onto your computer and erase them from your camera.
After editing, tagging and sorting your photos you think: now its time for a little diashow. Everybody get together! But then – darkness. Your computer just wouldn’t turn on. What a nightmare! With horror you remember that you’ve already deleted your photos from your memory card! Doesn’t matter what you try – your data is lost – gone are the pictures and other important files on your computer – because you didn’t have a backup.
This story is not artificially constructed – it is happening to thousands or even millions of people throughout the globe. It has happened to us, and, unfortunately, it will happen to you, too.
Unless you have a backup!
An online backup service will protect you from data loss. When you sign up for one of the services you can download a software client that you install on your computer with the help of a little wizard. That will guide you through setting up your computer. But don’t just let the software do the job for you! Stop and think for a moment – what files do you want to back up? How often do those files change? Do you really need to back up everything?
Don’t act when it is too late!
Online backup services work like an insurance. You pay a monthly fee in order to be protected in case of an emergency. Just like you would do with your health insurance or life insurance. Generally, you pay a fraction of what it would cost you if you got sick or, God forbid, died and your family is left alone. Of course it is too late to buy life insurance when you are already dead.
While that might seem like an extreme example data backup work in the same way: if you need a backup and haven’t implemented it before, it is inevitably too late. You will have lost all your files.
Fortunately, online backup services are not that expensive anymore and compared to health or life insurance is they come at ridiculous prices. The important thing is that you get a backup because it is too late when a virus has already affected your computer. You can find a comparison of the major services here.
What is an online backup service?
Online backup services work similar to web hosting – if you want to get a web site up and running you need to rent web space on a server that belongs to a web host, a company which provides this space. You pay a monthly fee for that space and you can do pretty much anything you want – within legal boundaries, of course.
Online backup services act pretty much alike!
A company provides space on one of their servers for your files. For that space you have to pay a fee, that can be monthly or annually. Some providers even offer billing every 4 years which comes with huge discounts but obviously commits you for a longer period to one single service.
Online data backup storage space comes in a variety of fashions: there are services that offer 50GB or 125GB plans like Mozy Home. Or even services that promise unlimited online backup for your files. Some services will restrict the amount of computers that you can back up or provide you with computer back up for up to 5 PCs or Macs like SOS Online Backup. So you can decide which plan fits your needs best.
After you paid for your online storage you can download a software client to your computer. That client will guide you through the first steps of an your online backup. You can, for example, choose which files to backup first, or do an entire backup of your disk.
|Popular Online Backup Services||Included Computers||Storage||Price|
What do online backup service offer?
- Some services offer unlimited online backup
- A setup wizard will guide you through your first data backup
- You can pay monthly or annually, sometimes commit to even longer peroids
- Online backup services offer storage space online for your files
- You can, therefore, access your files from anywhere in the world
Who should use an online data backup service?
This question can be answered quickly and easily: everybody! But we’ll dissect it a little further. Perhaps you find yourself in one of the described groups:
Average PC users
You are an “average PC user” if you use your computer for a couple of hours a day, either for your job or personal use, but you wouldn’t describe yourself as very tech savvy. You use the computer as what it is: a great tool to be more productive. You frequently create documents, PowerPoint presentations, edit photos and listen to music. If you belong to that group, an online backup service makes much sense because you can protect your personal as well as business files with an online backup service. You don’t have to worry about losing your files anymore.
Students are always on a budget. So you have to make sure your online backup service is very affordable. Also, you’ll most likely work in teams to create research papers or presentations. That’s why you need an online storage service with file sync ability. If you are a student, online backup services are perfect to protect your files and collaborate with your classmates.
Small business owner
If you are a small business owner, your life and business depend on your digital files that you create either for yourself or for your business. Unthinkable what would happen if you lost a database with all the client information you need. Or if you lost an important contract. It is very likely that you need more storage than the average PC user and you should consider signing up for the business plans that online backup services offer. Those are more expensive, but they add better flexibility and security to your files.
You own at least three computers, you like to play around with hardware and software configuration and you want to know everything up to the last detail. Also, you have terabytes of data that you have already archived on your network attached storage or on several external hard drives and now you’re looking for an off-site solution. Online backup services that offer unlimited online backup are the only choice for you because you don’t have to worry about running out of space.
As you can see, the use of online backup services applies to virtually any category of computer users. If you do not back up your data, doesn’t matter how frequently you use your PC, you will inevitably lose files in case of a computer crash or hard drive failure.
Can I afford an online backup service?
The question you should ask yourself is rather can you not afford using an online backup service. Online backup has become very cheap as storage price decreased dramatically. We have now come near to a third of a dollar per gigabyte storage. As you can see in this chart, storage price will decrease even further by 2015.
Source: Credit Suisse; Gartner; 2009
Obviously, cheap storage reflect in the pricing you can find with online storage services. Cheap storage allows services like Backblaze to offer unlimited online backup for only five dollars per month.
So, you can backup all of your files online for only one caffè latte per month. You should, however, consider other online backup services if you are looking to back up your business files. The question you should ask yourself is: how much is your data worth to you? If you are a small business then it might as well be thousands of dollars per month. Fortunately, even as a small business you do not have to pay that much for a backup solution.
Depending on how much data you have you can get advanced business backup solutions at around $50-$200 per month.
Online Backup Services – Pros and Cons
There are a lot of misconceptions about online backup and storage services, especially when people think about security and backup speed they’re afraid that an backing up their files online might not work so well. Certainly, there is always some truth in misconceptions and there are certainly some disadvantages when using online backup services.
Let’s have a look at some pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages when using a cloud solution to backup and store your files:
|Advantages (Pros)||Disadvantages (Cons)|
Obviously, this list in not definitive but it’ll give you a good overview at what are the implied risks when using an online backup company for your data.
Let’s examine the pros and cons a little closer
To fully understand the pros and cos of online backup services we’ll now have a look at them a little closer. We’ll start with the advantages that you will have using a cloud storage solution for your backups.
- Automatic backup
The majority of online backup service will perform your backup automatically, unless you configure it otherwise. You can decide if you’d like to continuously protect your files which is recommended or if you’D rather choose a fixed schedule, say, once per day to save bandwidth. Continuous data protection (CPD) means that your files are updated whenever a file on your system changes, for example, when you edit a PowerPoint presentation: the moment you save it it gets backed up.
- Access your files anywhere
Due to the nature of cloud storage all your files are ‘in the cloud‘. That means you can generally access your files from anywhere you are and where an internet connection is available. Many online backup services offer mobile access to your files as well. Some even have a native iOS or Android app, other only have a mobile web interface for easier access.
- Your data is stored off-site
One of the major advantages of using an online storage service is that your files are being stored off site. That means even if you are a victim of natural disasters, theft or other kinds of data loss your files are protected in the cloud. It is very important to keep always one backup off-site. Doesn’t matter if you decide to choose an online backup service or if you just store and external hard drive and your friends house. Always keep a backup copy somewhere that is not your house or your office.
- Strong data encryption
The better online backup services will take care of the encryption. That means, you do not have to worry about encrypting your files locally on your PC. There are different kinds of algorithms to encrypt your files. One of the most sophisticated is the 448 bit blowfish encryption that will guarantee maximum protection for your files.
The best way your data can be protected is by three way protection only offered by the best online backup services: first, your data is encrypted locally with a private encryption key on your hard drive. That private encryption key will make all your files unreadable, even for the services staff, and you will only be able to decrypt your files with that private key. Second, your files should be sent over to the online backup service via a SSL connection that will protect other people from spying on your data while transferring it over. Third, your data should be encrypted on the services servers so that it resides securely.
- Automatic versioning of your files
Just like continuous data protection, automatic versioning will guarantee that any version of your files are available to you so that you can go back in time and access the file version you need. Some services will limits the versions to 30 days or even less. Make sure you choose a service that will allow for as many versions as you need.
- Automatic data de-duplication
Automatic data duplication will save you a lot of bandwidth because your data will be compressed and only the bytes that changed will be uploaded to the server’s. That way storage costs are reduced significantly and backup speed can be increased, too.
- Long initial backup
When starting with an online backup process it might take several weeks or even months until all your files are uploaded. Many factors can come into play that influence your online backup speed. It might be a slow Internet connection or a slow machine that you are working on. But also it can be a bandwidth By your online backup service provider. Make sure, you are prepared to wait several weeks until all your files are uploaded.
That’s why it is important to first perform a local backup on an external hard drive, for example. That way, you have a full working backup copy and don’t have to wait until the online backup is finished.
- You are not in full control of your files
If you upload your files onto an online storage service, you are not in full control of your files. There may be security risks involved, such as other people may be looking at your files or or your files may be compromised in different ways. Depending on the risk you are willing to take the online backup service will be more or less expensive.
- Quite high costs when used for business purposes
Remote storage services for businesses are generally more expensive because of the implied security risks and special requirements that businesses have. Also, business online backup solutions will require more and better support and technically first staff is expensive. However, if your business depends on your data (and most businesses do) you should not shy away from spending a couple of dollars more per month in order to get the perfect online backup solution for your business.
- Security risks from hackers
If your online backup service does not offer proper encryption, hackers might intervene in the file transfer from your computer to the backup services servers. With so-called man in the middle attacks they might be able to read your data and compromise it. So be careful to always encrypt your data when using an online backup service. Better yet: always encrypt your data even for your local backups.
How Secure are Online Backup Services?
Whenever we try out something new online we ask ourselves is this service or website secure enough for me to store my personal information? At least everybody should ask this question because data privacy should be your primary concern when surfing the web. Especially, when it comes to online backup services and you transfer your data to a server you hardly know what is really happening to your files.
So let’s tackle this security thing once and for all!
Online Backup is all about encryption
Of course, it is not all about encryption but encryption plays a major role in online backups and backups in general. Online backup security should be taken even more seriously than just plain local backup because you potentially expose your data to a third party. With encryption you can prevent people from spying on your files.
Basically, when speaking about online backup security and encryption you can differentiate between three “layers” of encryption that can (and possibly should) take place:
- Layer 1: local encryption
The first step of any backup process should be local encryption of your files. Either your backup service does this for you or not. If it doesn’t you have to take care of it yourself but this can be quite a tedious process. Let’s assume you chose a backup service that does offer local encryption like Backblaze or Crashplan.
Normally, the backup software uses an encryption key to encrypt your data. The key’s length ranges from 128 bit (16 ASCII characters) to 448 bit (56 ASCII characters) and provides enough security even for business purposes. In most cases the key itself is invisible to you: you can unlock the key with your personal passphrase which is more memorable and thus, easier to manage. This password will unlock the key and consequently decrypt your data.
If you let the software manage your keys and passphrases then this will lower the level of security you have because technically employees could use both to see the data that is stored on their servers. They will not see the password itself, though.
If you want to take it up a notch security-wise you must choose a private password that is not stored on the company’s servers. That would make it impossible for employees to decrypt the data for you – even if you want them to. So, DO NOT FORGET THIS PASSWORD or your data might be permanently lost.
Some online backup services will even allow you to create a custom encryption key which offers the most security but lacks a great deal in convenience. You’ll always have to type in the whole key to decrypt your data.
Doesn’t matter which way you go – local encryption is indispensable for secure online backups. Now it’s up to you to decide which trade-off you choose between security and ease-of-use/convenience. The more security you need the less convenient it will be accessing your files in case of data loss.
- Second layer: Transit encryption
Local encryption is just the first step. The most critical aspect of online backup is yet to come: sending your files over the Internet to an online backup service provider.
You have to make sure that your service provider uses an SSL (or sometimes called TLS) connection to send your files over the Internet. Fortunately, it is almost hard to find a service that doesn’t offer this feature.
An SSL connection is a common standard of encrypting files on the Internet that is also used by many banks for online banking purposes.
Transit encryption will generally prevent any hacker from getting to your data because it’ll make it hard to “fake” your identity when identifying to the online backup service (so called man-in-the-middle attacks). You don’t have to understand the details – just make sure SSL/TLS is there.
- Third layer: Server side encryption
Some online backup service providers offer their clients to encrypt files server side. Many times this is done with a special encryption technique called AES-256 bit. The AES (advanced encryption standard) is a method wildly used in a lot spaces that need extra file security – especially government institutions.
If your online backup service provides all three layers then you are pretty safe.