What, exactly, is the cloud? Is it some magical method of storing your computer’s ones and zeros within a wireless frequency, floating around in the air like an actual cloud? No—far from it!
What the Cloud Actually Is
It’s not magic and it doesn’t float in the air.
When you choose a cloud backup solution, you are handing over control of the safety and security of your files to a third-party service. The service you choose connects to your system through the Internet in order to make a copy of the data on your computer. This copy is then stored and maintained along with other people’s data on large installations of hard drives at a centralized location. This is known as multitenancy.
Using the Cloud for Backup
If you choose to try a cloud-based solution, be aware that the first back up you perform on your system will likely take an excruciatingly long amount of time. How much time depends on 2 things: how much data you have on your computer and the speed of your Internet connection. This is because your data is being copied and uploaded to the service provider via the Internet, which is much slower than a direct connection with an external hard drive. Speeds vary, but it usually takes several minutes to handle 1GB of data and many hours (perhaps days) to download 100s of gigabytes of data via a cable Internet connection.
Keep in mind that this punishing sluggishness will likely only be an issue the very first time you use your cloud service.
After your initial data upload to your cloud backup storage, subsequent backups will take far less time and may even be unnoticeable. This is because the service is able to recognize what files have been touched since your last backup and will only upload those files. Any file that hasn’t been opened since the date of the last backup will be ignored.
Be sure to set an automated backup schedule so you can relax and just let it happen.
Restoring Lost Files Using the Cloud
The whole purpose to using the cloud (or any backup solution) is so you can successfully restore all of your data in the event that your computer crashes or you otherwise lose the data on it. In order to restore your lost data via your cloud backup solution, you’ll need a good Internet connection and a hard drive to which you can transfer the backed-up files. Remember that the slow speed that occurred with your initial backup will also apply to re-installing your files to your computer from your cloud service.
We all know we should be backing up, but how often do we actually take the time to do it? Or even remember, for that matter? One huge benefit of cloud-based backup solutions is that they can run automatically on a schedule that the user determines, thus eliminating the human factor.
We always recommend that you have at least 2 backups of your data, one of which should be off site in case of fire, flood, etc. Cloud-based backup counts as your offsite backup solution. If a natural disaster occurs in your home or business, data stored on the cloud will not be affected.
As discussed above, transferring files through an Internet connection can take a ridiculously long time. If you want something that will always be quick, stick to external drives. But make sure to keep one copy off site in case of disaster.
If something goes wrong with your cloud service (remember—it’s not magic; things do sometimes go wrong), fixing the problem is entirely out of your control. You are at the mercy of a company who has thousands of clients, and you are probably not at the top of their list. The same can be said if something goes wrong with your Internet provider, through which you access your cloud backup service. Of course, if you are good and have an additional backup solution (remember—we always recommend at least 2), this is much less of an issue.
Security is more of a concern when using a cloud solution than when using an external drive that sits in a drawer when not actively in use. This is because cloud storage is always connected to the Internet. Any time an Internet connection exists so does the risk of a cyber attack. Recent breaches with Dropbox and iCloud come to mind. That being said, chances are pretty good that the computer you are backing up is also always connected to the Internet and probably has weaker security features than the servers used by cloud storage providers.
Choosing a Cloud Service
When it comes to selecting a cloud backup plan, features and prices range all over the place. It’s best to check with multiple providers to find the perfect solution for your needs.
For example, Apple offers iCloud (mostly for consumers), Microsoft offers Microsoft Azure (mostly for businesses) and there are lots of other options for individuals and small businesses, including Google Drive. Prices for single computer backups normally run less than $100 per year, depending on the provider.
Along with pricing, here are some good questions to ask any backup service provider:
- Can I protect more than one computer with a backup?
- What security measures do you employ?
- Is there 24-hour-a-day access to my stored information?
- What level of support do you offer?
- What happens if I make changes to my backed-up data?
- What happens with my data if I choose to no longer use your service?
Interested in more information? Here’s a list of top-rated commercial cloud services in the United States from Top 10 Reviews.