Feature rich, online-backup solution IDrive is a good choice to lend a helping hand, not only for its drive backup capabilities, but for an approach to security that OneDrive falls far short of.
In this side-by-side breakdown, I’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of using each service. This should give you an idea when to use a cloud storage service like OneDrive and what OneDrive is, as well as when a dedicated online backup solution like IDrive is the better bet.
Cloud Storage, Online Backup … What’s the Difference?
A common misconception is confusing online backup with cloud storage. We go through the main differences in another article, but I like to think about it this way:
- Cloud storage helps you work more productively
- Online backup protects you from hard drive crashes
Some providers of one type have blurred the lines a bit by offering features traditionally associated with the other. That includes one of the two providers featured in this article, IDrive, an online backup solution that also packs sync and share capabilities.
But for the most part, the distinction still holds. Let’s take a closer look.
How Cloud Storage Makes You More Productive
With cloud storage, there are two elements you’ll commonly see with any service:
- Content sharing
- Device synchronization
Content sharing is exactly what you think it is: the ability to let your family, friends, colleagues or whomever access and even edit your saved content. Usually, this is done either by generating a URL-shortened link that points to the content, or sending an email invite.
Device synchronization, or simply “sync,” is that you have a folder created when you install the cloud storage solution on your device. This is your sync folder, and it’s an exact mirror of a folder stored on the cloud.
Here’s a look at my Google Drive folder.
Any changes to content in this folder are automatically uploaded to the cloud and vice versa. By having such sync folders on all of your devices, you link them together; any changes made to a document on one are made to copies of that same document stored on the others.
That’s pretty useful for people, like me, who bounce around multiple devices. Given that, globally, the average person uses 2.9 digital devices, according to a 2013 survey conducted by Sophos Labs, I suspect there quite a few people like that.
Another facet you’ll find with some cloud storage providers is that they integrate work productivity solutions, such as office applications (word processors, spreadsheets, etc.).
It isn’t common, however, which is why such tools remain perhaps the sole true advantage of Google Drive and OneDrive over some of the smaller players, who do a lot of other things better, like offering generous amounts of free cloud storage, and security (read our Dropbox vs Google Drive vs One Drive comparison).
Protecting Your Hard Drive
Many people overlook the online backup option, and choose to protect their most valuable files with their cloud storage pick (like the ones in our cloud storage comparison chart). That’s actually marginally viable, provided you’re using a secure provider.
But in reality, cloud storage solutions are not well suited to such important duties, and trying to do so is a bit like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole.
Most designated online backup services incorporate numerous features to streamline the backup process that cloud storage solutions simply don’t have, including:
- Desktop tools to oversee the backup process
- Schedulers to initiate backups automatically
- Throttle controls to alter how much bandwidth is used
- The ability to turn real-time backup on and off
- Automated system restore features
- Management controls for your external hard drive
Such features help you easily maintain data continuity in the event of a hard-drive crash, corruption, or a lost or stolen computer.
For a casual user, such continuity is sometimes merely a nice convenience. For a business user, it’s essential.
Bringing it All Together
Now that you have a bit of an understanding of the basic difference between cloud storage and online backup, I’d like use OneDrive and IDrive to nail home the point.
Neither may be the best in their class, but they both do a lot well, are both are quite popular, and seem to compliment each other rather nicely. The latter point is particularly if you use a lot of Microsoft products, such as Windows, MS Office, Sharepoint and MS SQL Server.
Over the course of the next several segments, I’ll breakdown the cloud tools and their feature sets to help you understand what they do well and where they fall flat.
First things first, let’s meet the basic interfaces. That should help you visualize and understand the differences better, so you can start envisioning how to implement them into your own digital life.
As with most cloud storage solutions, installing OneDrive on your computer creates a sync folder that works just like an ordinary folder– except that it’s connected to the cloud. Any files you put in this folder will both remain on your hard drive, and upload to a Microsoft data center.
Generally speaking, however, you’ll do most of your work with OneDrive via their web app.
The interface clean, simple, and, in my opinion ,very pleasing to the eye, which makes navigation a breeze.
It includes a search bar to quickly find documents, and allows you to configure how you sort and display content, similar to how you can in a Windows folder (i.e., sort by date, ascend/descend, view as a list or icons).
Along the left side of the interface is a navigation menu with the following options:
- Recycle Bin
I’ll touch on the “shared” tab later. Most of the other tabs are fairly self-explanatory, except for “PCs,” which is actually one of my favorite OneDrive features.
This tab allows you to not only see what computers you’ve got the OneDrive app installed on, but actually access those computers remotely to fetch files, as long as they’re turned on.
To be clear, I’m not just talking about access your sync folder, but your entire hard drive.
I don’t believe any other cloud storage service lets you do this, though it should be noted that it only works on computers running Windows 10.
IDrive happens to have one of the most feature-packed desktop interfaces of any online backup service. While this may not appeal to users who prefer simplicity (for that, check out Backblaze), the technically adept — not to mention control freaks and micromanagers — will love it.
Along the right side, you’ll find an assortment of navigation tabs:
- Server Backup
From the “backup tab,” you can pick and choose what folders/files you want to tag for backup.
It’s a kind of tedious process, particularly if you’re as haphazard as I am with regard to where you save content on your computer.
At the top of the interface, you can choose whether to backup to your IDrive account or WiFi-connected device. This helps simultaneously manage both backup channels (redundancy is good).
The “restore” tab likewise features a window with a file structure, but it displays what is stored on your IDrive account, or external drive (you can switch between the two), rather than your hard drive.
The “scheduler” tab lets you set date and time parameters on when your primary backup runs. Most users will set this to run nights, but you can limit it based on day of week, too.
You can also tell backup to begin immediately, if required, or set it to run hourly backups. Note that hourly backups aren’t the same thing as “continuous backup.”
Continuous backup, which is available on IDrive through the “settings” tab, is closer to real time.
IDrive caps files able to be uploaded with continuous backup to 500MB. Larger files are saved for your scheduled backup.
Most users will manage their backup processes from the desktop tool, but the web interface lets you get at your stored data from any browser, without having to download an app.
This is handy for when you’re away from your computer, or for when your hard drive crashes, and you really, really need a file or two immediately.
There are several other handy capabilities available, which I’ll get into shortly.
We discussed the basic interfaces, now let’s talk about scope. What desktop and mobile platforms are supported? What about securing your database? Servers? What about your social media accounts and contact lists?
OneDrive comes preloaded on Windows 10 devices, and is pretty integral to the experience.
But you can also install OneDrive on your Mac, which is handy for those of you who favor MS Office, but aren’t fans of the Windows OS. Mobile applications are available for all common OSes.
Microsoft does not make a native OneDrive application for backing up personal computers running Linux. However, you can access your OneDrive files on a Linux machine through your web browser and upload files that way, too.
You can actually backup databases and local files to OneDrive, but it requires an a lot of tinkering and ad hoc scripting, or an intermediary service like Layer2 Cloud Connector.
As you’re about to find out, IDrive is much better suited to this task.
Not only does IDrive let you backup unlimited devices, it supports as good a range of platforms as any online backup service.
The desktop application, which I highlighted in the first segment, is available for both Windows PC and Mac. Mobile apps come in Android, iOS and Windows Phone flavors.
The mobile phone apps not only let you access your cloud data — which is where many online backup mobile apps stop — but let you backup data, too. This includes videos, photos, contact lists and calendar events. Android users can also backup text messages, call logs, and apps.
What’s particularly handy about the mobile backup features is that you can backup one device, and easily one-touch restore that data to another device — even if you’re going from Android to iOS or vice versa.
On top of that, one of the reasons why IDrive is a favored backup solution for small business owners is that IDrive for Business supports backup for Linux/Unix servers.
For the curious, there are two ways to implement IDrive to backup your server:
- A command-line utility
- Backup scripts
I won’t cover the all the fun details here, but I’m sure that those of you are interested have plenty of questions, so here is IDrive’s Linux FAQ page.
I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that OneDrive is not a better productivity tool than IDrive. Cloud storage solutions usually trump online backup when it comes to work productivity. However, unlike most backup solutions, IDrive offers a few productivity features traditionally tied to the cloud storage niche.
We looked at OneDrive’s browser interface, but we didn’t talk about all of that utility packed into it. You can select one or multiple items stored in OneDrive, and quickly share it with friends, family, colleagues, or anyone else.
This done by generating a URL-shortened link that can be distributed by email, or shared to social media. Any content shared can be fixed with permissions that either restrict those with the link to view access, or let them edit it.
One of my pet peeves with link sharing is when cloud providers don’t let you set passwords or expiration dates on those links. OneDrive does neither. No passwords means that anybody who has your link can access your content.
The benefit of expiration date settings is that it helps mitigate the fact that it’s so easy to lose track of what content you’ve shared. To Microsoft’s credit, however, the OneDrive interface does provide a “Shared” tab that lets you audit your shared content, and that works just as well, if not better, as link expirations.
OneDrive also integrates with Microsoft’s array of productivity tools, which further facilitate collaboration thanks to features such as in-document commenting and edit suggestions on shared content.
Any OneDrive user can use the free version MS Office, Microsoft Office Online, as well as the more powerful paid version, Office 365.
Most cloud storage services don’t have the luxury of a host of native office tools to build around. OneDrive does, and uses that advantage to great effect.
OneDrive handles content sync across devices very well. Devices running any of the platforms discussed above can be synced, and sync times are pretty good.
Sync times are decent. I ran a test using a 258MB compressed test folder to gauge both upload and download times.
|Upload time||Download time|
The test files I used much larger than most files you’ll probably be syncing, so that’s not bad.
As an online backup solution, IDrive is primarily about protecting your hard drive.
However, unlike most cloud providers, it has a few work productivity tricks up its sleeve that are more traditionally associated with cloud storage.
This includes the ability to:
- Share folders/files
- Sync devices
Shares can be executed from either the desktop or web interface.
Sharing automatically generates a link. You can provide this to others manually (for example, over a Slack chat session), post it to Facebook or Twitter, or send it in an email.
As with OneDrive, IDrive fails to offer link expiration capabilities. But you can password protect shared content links, which is something OneDrive doesn’t let you do.
And, like OneDrive, IDrive offers a web interface tab that you can use to audit what content you’ve shared, which is called, “shared by me.”
A “shared with me” tab lets you see what other IDrive users have sent your way. IDrive’s sync capabilities decent thanks to its support of multiple platforms and unlimited devices.
I ran the same tests as I did for OneDrive, using the same file, and got the these times:
|Upload time||Download time|
I’m not sure why the download time took so long, but I would guess it has something to do with the fact that I use local encryption/decryption with my IDrive account, and that slows the process down. (We’ll talk security, next).
Final note, one of the perks of IDrive is that you a bucket of sync storage that’s separate but equal to your online backup storage. That means IDrive’s 1TB basic plan really gives you 2TB: one for backup, and one for sync, which is pretty handy.
Whether you’re talking cloud storage or online backup, understanding how well your data is protected is integral, particularly when storing sensitive personal or business content. Often times, consumers overlook this aspect in favor of convenience. However, doing so could prove to be a critical misstep in your data management plan.
Let’s look at how OneDrive and IDrive handle security, and I think you’ll grasp why that is pretty quickly.
As we discovered, its integration with office productivity apps gives it such an enticing edge over many cloud services that you’d be forgiven for overlooking the fact that it doesn’t offer zero-knowledge encryption.
More concerning is that, at this time, Microsoft doesn’t encrypt your at-rest data, unless you have a OneDrive for Business account. That means while your data is sitting in the cloud, anybody who manages to gain access to the Microsoft servers it’s stored on can read it.
Given the growing number of data breaches globally, and the fact that black-hat hackers seem to love targeting Microsoft products, that seems like a bit of a ticking time bomb.
Supposedly, this is a problem Microsoft is working to fix. However, the fact that they don’t already do it should probably raise a red flag or two if privacy is important to you.
For OneDrive for Business users, at-rest encryption occurs at both the disk and file level. Disk-level encryption uses BitLocker, while file-level encryption is secured with 256-bit AES.
Regardless of whether you’re a business user or standard user, any data being transferred to and from the Microsoft datacenters over the Internet is encrypted using SSL. So, at least you’ll be protected from man-in-the-middle attacks (i.e., Internet eavesdroppers).
Per their internal policies, copyrighted materials, such as films, won’t be removed unless a copyright infringement notice is filed with them. Furthermore, they claim not to use such scans for marketing purposes.
Still, given their lax encryption policies and the fact that they scan your your data in the first place, my advice is to only use OneDrive for ongoing work projects that aren’t sensitive in nature.
Unlike OneDrive, IDrive offers very good data security, which makes it the perfect long-term repository for sensitive work projects and personal files.
All data sent to IDrive is protected in transit with SSL, as expected. Data resting on IDrive’s RAID-protected servers is also encrypted, regardless of plan type, with 256-bit AES.
The fact that IDrive encrypts your data both in transit and at rest is pretty good.
But what makes IDrive superb is that it offers users the choice of either:
- A default encryption key
- A user-generated encryption key
With the default key option, IDrive retains the key for you.
If you opt to generate your own key, only you have a copy of that key. That means that all encryption and decryption takes place locally, on your machine. Nobody, not even an IDrive employee, can read what you have stored in the cloud.
The primary downside of generating your own key is that if you lose your password, you won’t be able to access your cloud data either. Also, creating a user-generated key cuts you off from IDrive’s share features.
If you want both local, zero-knowledge encryption, and the ability to share content, check out the aforementioned Sync.com and pCloud. They’re not online backup services, but they’re great for secure collaborations.
But as far as backup solutions go, IDrive does as nice a job with encryption as anybody.
The moral of this story is to secure your data using tools that are best designed for it.
If you’re using OneDrive as your primary backup, you’re not only creating more work for yourself than you need, but setting yourself up for a disappointing reality check in the near future.
Like a handful of other reputable online backup services, IDrive lets you image your hard drive with utilities designed to make the process a walk in the park. On top of that, it offers tremendous encryption architecture to make sure the only eyes on your confidential content are your own.
Are you a OneDrive user? Are you happy with the service, or do you think you should switch over to IDrive? Let us know in the comments below, and read our IDrive vs Carbonite piece, too. Thank you for reading.