Backing up to the clouds

There’s no more secure backup than a cloud backup. Hosted in managed data centres, your cloud backup is impervious to anything that might happen in your home: damaged or stolen hardware, disk failure, accidental deletion and more.

In terms of security, they beat USB hard drives, NASs, flash drives and anything else you might buy for your home.

There are downsides, of course. For a start, there’s a monthly or annual fee to pay, and then there are the bandwidth considerations.

The first backup in particular can gut your monthly quota. If your upload speed is slow (and, this being Australia, it’s slow) the first backup can literally take weeks or months to complete.

Still, it’s absolutely worth getting over that initial pain, especially if you have files you couldn’t bear to lose.

Backup vs sync and share

It’s important to note that what we’re talking about here are actual online backup services, which are distinct from the sync and share services you might be more familiar with.

Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive are not online backup services in this context — they’re syncing and sharing services, which are distinct from online backup.

A sync and share service is primarily designed as a mechanism for sharing files between devices and users.

Typically, the PC client adds a directory to Windows File Explorer, and anything you put in that directory is automatically uploaded to a cloud share that can be accessed from other devices or shared with other people.

A lot of people use that as a form of backup, and it is better than nothing. But it’s not a substitute for a real backup solution.

If you accidentally delete a file in the directory, it’s also deleted on the cloud share and probably gone for good — there’s no file protection. There’s no system for the recovery of older versions of files, nor is there an integral system for automatically copying files of certain types to the cloud share.

A cloud backup solution, meanwhile, is built primarily for backup. The various services that offer one will provide a local client that looks and works just like one of the PC backup apps you might be used to, such as Windows Backup or Acronis.

You go through the client and select all the files and directories you’d like to back up, as well as set a schedule or activate continuous backup. After you’ve done that it runs quietly in the background of your PC at all times, automatically backing up the directories according to the schedule you set.

Like a good local app, it will keep multiple versions of files and if you delete a file it won’t delete it from the backup (because it’s a backup, rather than a mirror). The difference between a cloud app and a local PC backup solution is that, instead of saving the backup on a USB or LAN drive, the software backs the files up on
a cloud server.

Typically, you can recover files either through the app or through the web site of the service provider. The latter also allows you to grab your backed up files and download them to a different device.

Nearly all providers (including all those reviewed below) also provide mobile apps for viewing and downloading files to mobiles.

All this is not to say that sync and share services and backup services don’t sometimes overlap in form and function. After all, you could use Windows Backup and simply set your OneDrive shared directory as the backup target, which would provide a de-facto kind of cloud backup (we just hope you have the hard drive space!).

More cloud backup providers are also implementing sync and share, allowing you to better sync your files across multiple devices as well as share your backed up files with other users easily.

What to look for

Storage limitations

Unlimited storage is (obviously) best, but if you only need a fixed amount you may be able to save some money. In our experience though, you should always add at least 50% to what you think you require.

Number of devices supported

Limitations on file types and devices (Does it let you back up videos? What about USB drives?) are common in the cloud-backup category. Double-check you’re getting everything you need before committing to a specific service.

Costs and hidden charges

Always do the math on the pricing to see if it works out. Also note that most prices are in US dollars and therefore subject to the AUD exchange rate.

Advanced backup features

Most cloud-backup providers have some form of file-versioning in place, where they’ll automatically store several (or more) copies of the same file, just in case you need to revert to an older one.

If you’re looking for extra levels of protection, it’s worth investigating how long your chosen service keeps old versions for (30 or 90 days are typical).

Web and mobile access to files

Cloud backup providers work through a dedicated application on PC and Mac, but some also allow you to access your files through a web browser or a dedicated mobile app.