Backing up: External HDDs vs the Cloud

For years, the solution to storing files from your PC long-term was to transfer them to an external hard drive, with them being relatively cheap at around £50 for a 1TB model. But more and more users are now adopting cloud technology.

Having a solid backup strategy is something we’re always banging on about; you want to make sure that all of your precious files like photos, movies, music and documents are safe. But you also want extra space to be there when you need it. We’ve all seen the “low disk space” warning message, and users running short on storage space is increasingly common with the advent of typically lower capacity SSDs. External hard drives are certainly a good way to back up your files, but they do have their downsides. They are, after all, mechanical drives with moving parts, and failure rates for cheaper external HDDs can be shockingly high. Just a small knock or bump when one is in use, or a fallen drive, could potentially cause a catastrophic head crash. Hard drive failure rates increase along with their lifespan, so storing your precious files on them long-term can be risky. You could find that, upon trying to access files on an external hard drive you last used four years ago, it won’t work. This is where the cloud comes in. But what exactly is “cloud storage”? We’ve written extensively on cloud storage in the past, but here are the basics. The cloud refers to software and services which run through the internet rather than locally on your computer. Examples of cloud storage providers include Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive.

The main advantage of the cloud is universal access of your files -  you can access your files from anywhere with an internet connection. An external hard drive has to be physically plugged into your computer or laptop for you to gain access to your data whereas data stored in the cloud is available instantaneously, as long as you have an internet connection, of course. Many manufacturers are taking advantage of the cloud by making cloud-based computers. Because you don’t need an expensive, high-end machine if you’re relying on the cloud, some companies are producing low-cost options with very little internal storage – Google’s Chromebooks are a prime example.

This doesn’t mean there are no cons to the cloud, however. Human error is the most common cause of cloud issues – last year, 123-reg accidentally deleted dozens of servers, affecting thousands of customers in the process. There’s also the issue of cloud downtime; even the biggest cloud storage providers suffer from this unavoidable issue. Amazon Web Service suffered a massive outage in 2015, affecting a whole host of other companies that used the service to host their applications, including Tinder, Netflix and IMDb.

Ultimately, though, the move away from backing up your files on external hard drives and instead storing them in the cloud is a sound one. Not only will it save you physical space, but you’ll be able to access your data from anywhere with an internet connection, which these days, is pretty much anywhere. There is the issue of cost; external HDDs still have the edge when it comes to cost per GB. But cloud storage packages are getting cheaper and cheaper.

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