How to find the best cloud backup service?
Deciding to finally backup your computer is one thing; finding the right provider from all the best cloud storage providers is another. Given that the initial backup of your hard drive can take days or even weeks depending on how many gigabytes you’ve got to protect and that many backup services require an annual subscription, chances are you’re in the relationship for a long haul.
If you’re as picky about your technology as we are here at Cloudwards.net, you’ll no doubt want to know everything there is to know about your backup-to-be before tying the knot.
That’s why we put together this handy guide to finding the best online backup solution, as well as around 30 online backup reviews. Below, you’ll find our picks across a variety of categories that we feel define the modern online backup space. But first, let’s make sure you’re in the right place.
Best Online Backup Services 2018
The Difference Between Online Backup and Cloud Storage
When shopping for an online backup tool, one of the first things you should understand is that there’s a fundamental difference between online backup and cloud storage.
For many people, their backup solution is Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. However, strictly speaking, those are cloud storage solutions. Unlike online backup, they aren’t equipped for disaster recovery. They don’t have schedulers to automate routine backups, don’t generally maintain your file structure when saving to the cloud and don’t have click-and-restore capabilities.
Despite those limitations, cloud storage tools are good for many things that online backup tools aren’t. For one, cloud storage is designed to help you reduce the space files take up on your hard drive by offloading them to remote data centers. Online backup, meanwhile, is usually designed for replication rather than replacement.
Most modern cloud storage tools can also perform device synchronization, which is a means of making the same file content available on multiple devices, even reflecting changes to files in near real-time. Very few online backup tools can sync content.
Cloud storage tools are also usually more geared towards content sharing than online backup tools, whether that’s sharing individual files or inviting others to access your folders. In that way, cloud storage is great for facilitating collaboration; online backup isn’t.
Some cloud storage tools also integrate with productivity apps like Office Online and Google Docs. So, another way to think about cloud storage is as a productivity tool. When it comes to collaboration and productivity, online backup tools will rarely meet your needs.
If you’d like to learn more about the subject, we have an article detailing the differences between online backup and cloud storage. If its cloud storage you’re looking for, be sure and read our article on finding the best cloud storage solution.
For now, let’s talk more about the value of adding an online backup tool.
What Backup Does
When it comes to the term “disaster recovery,” many users probably think of hard drive issues. That makes sense. Some of us have had the unfortunate experience of a hard drive crash, while most of us have probably heard horror stories from others.
Hard drives are made from moving parts that can break, particularly if you carry your laptop around in a jostling backpack. File system corruptions can occur too, leading to logical failures. Also, partitions can be accidentally deleted or formatted
However, there are other kinds of disasters that can necessitate recovery. Topping the list are lost and stolen laptops. Research from Gartner performed in 2015 suggests a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds. This is a good reason to encrypt your hard drive. It’s also a good reason to back it up.
We store more files on our hard drive that we can easily move to cloud storage. That means a crashed, damaged, stolen or misplaced hard drive will almost certainly result in the loss of important files if you haven’t implemented a true backup solution. These could be family photos, financial records, emails or other irreplaceable files.
Online backup solutions ease the process of protecting these files through automatic backup. Some automatically tag common folders like your user and desktop folder for backup, while others go a step further and automatically backup all files with certain extensions.
In the event of a disaster, online backup tools let you recover everything at once onto your repaired or replaced hard drive, keeping the same file system structure you had previously. Alternatively, they also let you recover individual files if there’s something specific you need. This can usually be done through a web browser or mobile app, too, giving your remote access to your computer content.
While the basic concept behind online backup is the same for all providers, there are substantial variations in how services approach the backup experience. As we mentioned in the introduction, the initial backup process can take some time, so you’ll want sure you’re well-versed in what these variations are before committing your money.
The goal for the remainder of this roundup is to help you reach that level of understanding; think of it as a buyer’s guide.
Online Backup Comparison
This guide will show you what – in our opinion – is the best online backup service in 2018. We take a comparative approach ranking each of the major services by features and categories.
While it certainly isn’t the only component of establishing the value of an online backup service, the bottom line is obviously of great importance. In addition to sticker price, you’ll want to consider how much backup space a subscription gives you and how many devices it covers.
Effective August 22, 2017, CrashPlan got out of the consumer backup game, taking its family backup plan — one of the best deals in online backup — with it. Unfortunately, there aren’t really any other family plans worth mentioning at this time. However, there are still some very good CrashPlan alternatives out there if you’re looking for an option that won’t break the bank.
First Place: Backblaze
Backblaze not only gives you unlimited storage, it’s also cheap. That makes it our pick for the best overall value in online backup: The monthly cost is just $5 per computer. On top of that, Backblaze is one of the few good online backup services that even has a month-to-month option.
It also has annual and biannual subscription offers if you’d like to save even more money. An annual subscription saves you $10 and a biannual subscription saves you $25; make sure to read our Backblaze review for more on the service’s pricing.
$ 5 00monthly
$ 50 00yearly
$ 95 002 years
Plan is for one computer.
Prior to committing, you can try Backblaze out for fifteen days, but it doesn’t offer any sort of free plan.
Second Place: IDrive
IDrive doesn’t offer unlimited storage. However, it’s 2TB of storage plan can be used to backup unlimited devices, which for some people will be more important. Also, it’s pretty cheap, at just $52 for the first year of service. You can also sign up for two years in advance at that price. Afterward, it reverts to the normal monthly cost of $69.50. IDrive doesn’t have a month-to-month option.
If 2TB isn’t enough for you, IDrive offers a very good deal on 5TB of storage that also covers unlimited devices. If you’d like to avoid spending any money at all, IDrive also offers 5GB for free.
|Plan||Free||Personal 2TB||Personal 5TB||Business 250GB||Business 500GB||Business 1.25TB|
$ 52 12yearly
$ 104 252 years
$ 74 62yearly
$ 149 252 years
$ 74 62yearly
$ 149 252 years
$ 149 62yearly
$ 299 252 years
$ 374 62yearly
$ 749 252 years
|Storage||5 GB||2000 GB||5000 GB||250 GB||500 GB||1250 GB|
The cost for backup itself is a good deal, but IDrive sweetens the offer with matching sync space. Very few backup services offer device synchronization, which, as we mentioned earlier, is really a cloud storage feature; for more particulars, check out our IDrive review.
Third Place: Carbonite
Carbonite gives you unlimited backup for one device, like Backblaze, but its $59.99 Basic plan is a touch more expensive. That plan also doesn’t include external drive backup. If you want that, you’ll need pony up $99.99 per year. Carbonite also has a very expensive Prime plan that costs $149.99 and includes automatic video backup and courier service.
Also unlike Backblaze, Carbonite doesn’t have a month-to-month option, which you can read more about in our Carbonite review.
$ 71 99yearly
$ 111 99yearly
$ 149 99yearly
|Storage||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB||Unlimited GB|
Doesn't include external hard drives.
Includes external hard drive backup and automatic video backup.
Includes courier service.
Carbonite has a 30-day, no-commitment trial, however, if you want to try it out before buying.
Ease of Use
Most online backup solutions make hard drive protection easy relative to cloud storage tools, but some make it much easier than others. It’s very likely that any one you pick will at least select certain common folders for backup. You’ll then be left to go through your file system and tag everything else on your own.
The best solutions spare you from all that work. After installation, they automatically scan your hard drive and start backing up all of your documents, photos, videos, emails, bookmarks and other common file types. Usually, the only thing not backed up are system files and temporary files, which can cause issues if you restore them to a new machine.
When evaluating ease of use, here at Cloudwards.net we also evaluate the user friendliness of desktop clients, web interfaces and mobile apps. Good tools flatten the learning curve, after all.
First Place: Backblaze
Backblaze is designed for people who really don’t want to be bothered with backing up their computer, but still want it backed up anyway.
Backblaze takes advantage of its position as an unlimited backup service by simply backing up all the important files on your computer. Once you install the desktop client, it’ll do a quick scan of your computer for everything it thinks should be saved and give you a readout of that information.
Click “ok” and it will kick off the backup process. You can go about your life without having to bother any more about making sure your hard drive is secure
The interface design is about as minimal as it gets. There are only a few settings play with, including switching from continuous backup to scheduled backups, picking which drives on your computer get protected and modifying folder and file type exclusions that don’t get backed up.
Backblaze also has a web browser, which is where you’ll go to recover individual files. Mobile apps or iOS and Android are also available for file access. Both the browser and smartphone experience are as simple as they can be without limiting functionality.
Overall, the Backblaze approach is really the epitome of ease of use, making it the easy choice for the number one spot in this category.
Second Place: Carbonite
Like Backblaze, once you install its desktop client, Carbonite automatically scans your hard drive for certain file types (minus system files) and starts backing them up without you having to closely manage the process.
The initial Carbonite backup doesn’t provide as much useful information you get from the Backblaze interface, like telling you how many files are marked for backup. Backblaze also has a website link that gives you an estimate of how long your backup is going to take and how fast your connection speeds to the data center are, so you’re not left quite so much in the dark as you are with Carbonite.
Beyond that, however, the user experience isn’t too far behind Backblaze, which is why it earned our nod as runner up. The desktop client is well-designed without too many confusing menus and setting and the web interface lets you easily sort through your files to for remote restore.
Third Place: IDrive
IDrive subscriptions plans are either 2TB or 5TB. As such, automatic backup by file type won’t work with this service since that could easily lead with people exceeding their backup space with no easy way to get back below it.
Instead, IDrive automatically tags important folders for backup, including your desktop and documents folder. You can add additional folders easily from the backup tab of the IDrive client. You can also select individual files.
The IDrive interface is a bit more complex than that of either Backblaze or Carbonite, too. However, some users, particularly those that prefer to closely manage their backup process, will prefer that. For example, IDrive offers far more customizable scheduling options, including the ability to set both start and cut-off times for backups.
That same complexity overflows to the web experience, although that’s largely a product of the fact that IDrive incorporates cloud storage features like sync, which Backblaze and Carbonite do not.
The IDrive mobile experience is one of the best we’ve seen for an online backup service, letting you easily backup phone data. We’ll talk more about those capabilities in our next section.
When evaluating the options to find the best fit for your needs, there are standard and not-so-standard features you might want to be on the lookout for that greatly enhance an online backup service’s utility.
One such feature is external hard-drive backup. Some backup services can be used to backup local storage devices, while some can be used to backup to local storage devices (in addition to the cloud). This occasionally includes NAS devices.
Most online backup services have smartphone apps that let you access files. Fewer can actually be used to backup your smartphone. If you have photos, contact lists and text messages you want to protect, make sure your online backup service can accommodate or you may have to purchase a separate service.
Perhaps the most uncommon features that extends a backup service’s usefulness are those that more commonly belong to cloud storage tools. A few years ago, several top backup services incorporated sync as a feature. Today, only a handful still do. More common are file sharing features that enable collaboration.
First Place: IDrive
IDrive is one of the few online backup companies that’s still trying to complete in the cloud storage space, too. It does this by giving users equal storage allotments for both file backup and file sync.
IDrive creates a sync folder on your hard drive, which is the same approach taken by Dropbox, Google Drive and other cloud storage services. Any files you put in this folder get stored in your cloud sync space and sent other devices with IDrive clients installed.
IDrive also lets you share files and folders to specific individuals via email, or generate links that anybody can use. These links can even be posted to Facebook and Twitter.
Beyond doubling as a cloud storage service, IDrive is one of the few backup services that offers comprehensive smartphone backup. This includes photos, music, video, calendars and contacts for iOS and Android devices. The Android app can also backup text messages.
IDrive SmartDocs lets you scan documents like identification cards and save them to the cloud. It will even check the expiration dates on your IDs and send you reminders when it’s time to renew them.
On top of that, IDrive can be used to backup photos and video from your Facebook and Instagram accounts, including those you’ve been tagged in.
IDrive will also backup any mapped local storage, including USB drives and external hard drives. You can also backup to external drives if you’d like to keep a local copy of your backup on hand. To help support its flexibility, IDrive can be used to backup unlimited devices with a single user subscription.
Second Place: SpiderOak ONE
Like IDrive, SpiderOak ONE provides cloud storage capabilities, which naturally gives it a good deal more flexibility than most backup services. Its cloud storage features include a sync folder called “SpiderOak Hive,” which you can read more about in our SpiderOak review.
However, its sharing capabilities aren’t quite as advanced as IDrive or Jottacloud. The experience hinges on what the company calls “ShareRooms.” ShareRooms can be linked to folders that you have stored in the cloud. It’s a nice way of compartmentalizing things, but we wish there was a way of share individual files by generating links.
SpiderOak ONE also falls short of IDrive in that it only lets you access files from its smartphone app. There’s no option to backup your smartphone. The service does, however, let you backup external hard drives and, like IDrive, a single user subscription can be used to backup unlimited devices.
Third Place: CloudBerry Backup
CloudBerry Backup doesn’t provide the cloud storage features of pCloud or SpiderOak, however, it does let you turn your cloud storage service into online backup space. Rather than providing its own server facilities for you to use, the service lets you pair the software with any of over 50 different storage options. For more details on how this works we recommend you read our CloudBerry Backup review.
The choices include popular cloud storage options like Google Drive and OneDrive, as well as scalable storage options like Amazon S3, Google Cloud, Azure and Backblaze B2. In addition, CloudBerry Backup can be used to send data to local storage devices.
A handful of other cloud backup options, including Duplicati and Arq, also let you pick your storage options, but none currently offer as many choices as CloudBerry Backup. For a matchup between these three services, check out our best Mac backup battle.
Getting your data into the cloud can take weeks. Generally speaking, the disaster recovery process tends to run more quickly because most Internet service providers provide faster download than upload connections. Still, if you need files quickly, you may not have time to wait.
Most backup services let you let you access files remotely and restore them individually rather than having to restore everything at once. A select few, including our three top picks for this category, will also mail you your files in an external drive. If you’ve got hundreds of gigabytes of data to backup, that can make a substantial difference.
First Place: IDrive
IDrive provides several ways to get your files back. You can restore all of your files or individual files directly from the desktop client, both from the IDrive cloud or an external drive, if you’ve save your files to one.
IDrive supports backup of unlimited machines and you can restore from any of them via your desktop client. You can also download any folder or file stored from the IDrive web client and IDrive smartphone app.
What puts IDrive ahead of every other online backup tool, though, is its IDrive Express service. Available only to U.S. customers, IDrive Express is a free delivery courier delivery service for up to 3TB of data. While other providers offer courier delivery service, only IDrive offers it for free, once a year for Personal plan subscribers. It can be used for initial backups, too.
Second Place: Carbonite
Carbonite gives you the option of restore all of your files from the desktop client or going to the web interface to select and download specific files. When restoring all files, you can choose to restore them to their original location or save them all to a zip file.
Web restores let you restore based on your file system hierarchy. There’s also an option to search for specific files if you know exactly what you’re looking for.
You can also access files from the Carbonite mobile app.
The reason we rank Carbonite lower than IDrive is that its courier service is only included for free with the Carbonite Prime subscription, which costs $150 a year — and even then, you have to pay for shipping. Carbonite Basic and Carbonite Plus users can still get an external drive delivered to expedite recovery, but it’ll cost at least $99.
Third Place: Backblaze
Backblaze doesn’t let you restore files directly from its desktop client; you have to login into the website. When restoring from the website, there’s no option to restore files to their original locations. You have to download a zip file.
However, you can select to download all of your files or select files to speed the process up. Once the zip file is ready to download, Backblaze will send you an email.Backblaze also has a courier recovery service that sends you either a flash drive with up to 128GB of files or a hard drive with up to 4TB of files. Neither is free up front; the flash drive costs $99 and the hard drive costs $189. However, if you send them back, Backblaze will issue a refund.
Another useful restore feature to look out for when selecting an online backup service is versioning, which is a means of retaining previous states of files after changes are made. Versioning protects you from accidental changes and file corruptions, including corruptions caused by ransomware programs like WannaCry.
Most online backup services incorporate versioning, but some have have better versioning policies than others. Common versioning attributes to look out for include how long file versions are retained and how many file versions are retained.
First Place: SpiderOak
Whenever a file stored in SpiderOak is altered, the service stores the previous version of that file indefinitely. There’s no 30-day limit and no limit on how many versions you can keep. Also, stored versions don’t count against your backup space.
The only issue we have with SpiderOak’s approach to versioning is that there’s no way to set limits to how many versions are kept. If you don’t want them, you can delete them manually, but that takes time.
Second Place: IDrive
IDrive takes a more measured approach to backup than SpiderOak: The last 10 versions of any given file are kept indefinitely.
While not as impressive as keeping all of your file versions, in most cases this should be more than enough protection against unwanted file changes or file corruptions. Like SpiderOak, stored file versions don’t count against your backup space, so you don’t have to worry about monitoring the extra usage.
IDrive also makes it easier to bound back from a system-wide corruption with its IDrive Rewind feature. With Rewind, you can restore to previous version states en masse for all files within a folder.
Third Place: Carbonite
With Carbonite, the last three versions of any file are kept, regardless of age. On top of that, one version is also kept for each of the previous seven days, one for for each of the previous three weeks and one for each of previous two months. Given that Carbonite is an unlimited backup service, you don’t have to worry about how much space these versions are taking up.
Word of warning: If you’re using a Mac and require versioning, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Right now, Carbonite doesn’t support versioning capabilities for them. However, for PC users, it’s versioning policy is better than most.
Knowing your file are secure in the cloud is of paramount importance. This is more true of online backup than cloud storage, since online backup services tend to upload more files than you’re aware of.
When evaluating an online backup service, you’ll want to be sure that it scrambles your files while at rest on the server either using AES or Blowfish encryption. That way, nobody who obtains those files can read them without the encryption key.
Most online backup services retain those encryption keys for you. A few, however, give you the option to set up private encryption. With private encryption, you create your own encryption key and the service never knows what it is. Also known as zero-knowledge encryption, this prevents anyone but you from ever reading your files.
Even with AES or Blowfish encryption in place, weak passwords can be easily exploited by those who know how to conduct brute force attacks. To protect against that, many online backup services offer two-factor authentication, which will require that a security code sent to your phone be entered when logging into your account from an unfamiliar machine.
You also want to make sure your backup provider stores data in hardened server facilities designed to withstand natural disasters and physical and virtual attacks.
First Place: Acronis True Image
Acronis True Image incorporates many attractive standards and non-standard security features, which led to a top ranking in this category.
The most important security feature it offers is private, end-to-end encryption that’s truly zero knowledge. By default, files aren’t encrypted, but by toggling “encrypt backup” when creating your backup plan, they’ll be scrambled before leaving your computer for the Acronis cloud.
You’ll be asked to set a password, which is used to generate your encryption key. Acronis never knows this password, even when recovering your files, so the company will never be able to replicate that key.
The encryption protocol used is AES 256, which means its a 256-bit key. It’s estimated that it would take several billion years to for the world’s most advanced supercomputers to brute-force crack a 256-bit key, so your data should be pretty safe — from mere mortals, anyway.
The big issue we have with Acronis is that it doesn’t also provide an option for two-factor authentication. While supposedly on the Acronis to-do list, there hasn’t been any word of an implementation date yet.
Despite this big miss, we still ranked Acronis number one because of some innovative security features that you won’t find anywhere else. The best of these is Acronis Active Protection, which intelligently scans your backup for possible ransomware corruption.
The Acronis Cloud consists of data centers around the world, each of which is designed to rebuff both physical and virtual attacks. They’re patrolled by security 24/7, monitored and protected with high fences, biometric scanners and key cards.
Second Place: CarboniteCarbonite data facilities are protected with a range of checks to protect your data. These include climate control systems, battery backup, CCTV surveillance, guard patrols, biometric scanners and electronic key cards.
All data stored on its servers are scrambled using AES. Normally, Carbonite retains the encryption keys for you. However, when you first sign up you’re given the option of setting up a private encryption key instead.
If Carbonite retains your encryption keys, it uses 128-bit AES. If you set up private encryption, it uses 256-bit encryption.
Carbonite also lets you set up two-factor authentication,
Third Place: Backblaze
Backblaze rounds out our top three security picks for online backup. The main reason that it didn’t finish higher is that we have some concerns about its implementation of private encryption.
By default, Backblaze holds onto your encryption key. However, you can set up a private encryption key when backing up your data that the company will not know or record.
The muff on Backblaze’s part is that the company requires that you give them your passphrase when you recover data so that they can decrypt your data before zipping it and sending it to you.
Backblaze claims that it doesn’t record key and destroys it once decryption is complete, but we would prefer files simply remain encrypted until arriving at your machine, where they can be decrypted privately.
With Backblaze, whether the company or you hold your encryption key, 128-bit encryption is used. While we prefer 256-bit AES, neither level of encryption is believed to be crackable.
Backblaze also has an option for two-factor, which you can set to trigger every time you sign in or only when you sign in from an unfamiliar device.
Backblaze also has an option for two-factor authentication, which you can set to trigger every time you sign in or only when you sign in from an unfamiliar device.
Backblaze also has a location feature for finding lost or stolen computers. While somewhat unusual for a backup service, it’s still a nice security addition.
There’s no easy answer as to what the best online backup service is today, and that’s not a bad thing. Several prominent players have carved out niches in the space that should appeal to people with different needs. We hope that this overview helped you get your bearings. For the average shopper, it should be enough to pick the a solution that meets their needs.
However, we also know that some of our readers have more specific needs when it comes to online backup. If that includes you, rejoice: We have a large selection of articles on finding backup solutions to meet a variety of needs.
- Best online backup for small businesses
- Best unlimited online backup service
- Best free cloud backup
- Best server backup solutions
- Best Mac backup
- Benefits of unlimited backup for SMBs
- IDrive vs Backblaze
- CloudBerry vs Acronis vs Storagecraft vs Macrium
- Azure vs Amazon S3 vs Google Cloud vs Backblaze B2
- How Backup with Microsoft Azure Works
- How Backup with Amazon S3 Works
We hope you enjoyed our online backup overview. If you have any thoughts, questions or quibbles, be sure and let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.