Cloud Backup or External Hard Drive?

Over the last couple of weeks the computer gremlins have invaded our household, throwing up the ‘blue screen of death

Clouds over Tahoe HDR #1

Image by Bill Strong via Flickr

on the desktop PC and various funnies/frozen screens on my daughters’ laptops. This made me nervous and I decided we needed to have a proper back up copy of everything. I’ve mentioned the importance of regular backups before on this blog (see here) but I’ve still been bumbling along with a memory stick for documents and the occasional backup of photos to CD when we remember to do it.

So off we went to buy an external hard drive. But the nice man in the shop talked us out of it and into buying a Cloud back up instead.  This would mean we could access our data from any PC, it would be equivalent to an ‘off-site’ backup and my elder daughter wouldn’t have to cart yet another bit of kit off to university with her. It seemed a great idea so we bought it and set it to save everything that was on my elder daughter’s laptop – music, photos, university work etc.

It took hours and hours and hours and sent us way over our internet usage allowance (I suppose if I’d thought about it I would have realised this would be the case). Then we had trouble trying to determine whether the scheduled hourly scan & save for changed documents was actually happening. I tried phoning the Cloud support line but a machine told me all queries must be logged via the website.

We concluded the Cloud was a bad idea and went back to the original, external drive idea for the other PCs. It was so much easier! A few ‘copy and pastes’ and everything was saved and we could easily see it was there.

I’ve previously used the limited free cloud storage provided by Dropbox (and recommended by Simon Whaley) for some of my documents and will carry on using it. But it seems to me that if you have large amounts of pictures or music then an external hard drive is the better choice (especially since they don’t tend to change very often and it’s easy to remember to back them up each time you download a new bunch of photos or an album).

Does anyone else have experience of Cloud backup – am I the only one that struggled with it?


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  1. #1 by susanjanejones on January 11, 2012 - 2:52 pm

    Hi Sally, love the picture. I haven’t used cloud backup, so could’t say. I will investigate drop box, sounds good.

  2. #2 by Alison williams on January 11, 2012 - 3:03 pm

    I too bought a cloud but never got to use it, the men in the house decided it was unnecessary and I had to take it back. I won’t be telling them you struggled with it!

    • #3 by Sally Jenkins on January 11, 2012 - 5:14 pm

      Susan & Alison – I think I fell for the sales patter in the shop without really thinking about the cloud implications.

  3. #4 by Patsy Collins on January 11, 2012 - 8:27 pm

    I use Dropbox for all my writing. I just use it for storage rather than working directly on documents stored there as I often work offline. It’s pretty simple to do that – just the same as copying work onto a memory stick, except I don’t need to remember where I put the stick.

  4. #5 by Bev Morley on January 12, 2012 - 11:29 am

    Hi Sally

    I know we’ve spoken about the whole subject of backing work up in the past (and I still have your article on it from Writing Magazine!) but I have to agree with your last sentence and say that an external hard drive is a great all round solution. Mine is a Seagate Freeagent GoFlex – 250gb – and I don’t know how I would manage without it. There is an option to have scheduled back ups with it, but I simply leave it connected to the PC (via USB) whenever I am working, and save everything directly to it. I know that the sales guy mentioned being able to use cloud from any pc, anywhere, but to be fair, you can do that with any “portable” hard drive. My GoFlex is small enough to fit in my handbag so I can do the same with that.

    I also think that online storage is good though, to be fair, and I make use of the online storage/backup facility I have as part of my broadband package with Virgin Media. I’ve also used Google Docs on occassion too, and, od course, emailing yourself your docs is also a great way to gain “free” online storage…

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on January 12, 2012 - 2:02 pm

      Patsy – memory sticks are so easy to misplace, aren’t they?
      Bev – I too am becoming a convert to the external hard drive where large amounts of data are involved (photos, music) and a memory stickplus Dropbox online storage for documents that I’m working on. Emailing yourself is also a great way of saving stuff.

  5. #7 by wightrabbit on January 14, 2012 - 10:22 am

    I was given a wisp of Cloud free with my new iPad. It has become entirely filled up with all the emails I have received since 2007 – over 17,000 of them! Every time I delete a batch, more automatically download and it’s driving me mad! So I will not be buying more Cloud space (as regular pop-ups suggest) but will back up regularly to external hard drive.

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2012 - 1:52 pm

      Hi Wightrabbit – glad it’s not just me that did battle with the cloud. I use a ‘hotmail’ type email account so all my emails are on the mail provider’s server & I don’t need to worry about backing them or my email address book up.

  6. #9 by John-David Ingram on May 1, 2012 - 8:31 pm

    I absolutely love cloud storage, I started out with dropbox and quickly hit the 2GB limit so I looked around for alternatives. ZipCloud is where its at, I have over 400 G’s backed up and accessible everywhere. It took a while to get it all there, but it was totally worth it.

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on May 2, 2012 - 12:07 pm

      Hi John, I’ve never heard of ZipCloud but will certainly go and investigate it.

  7. #11 by Removable hard drive on June 11, 2012 - 7:03 am

    I have a western digital external hard drive and to be honest it does everything that i need. It is simple and quick to back up stuff, so i have never even looked at cloud storage. Having said that i might look into a free version, just to see what its all about.

  8. #12 by Sandeep on June 26, 2012 - 8:29 pm

    I have a spare internal hard drive that I back up all my documents, photographs, home movies etc. to. I am toying with having my important documents backed up to the Cloud so that in case of a disaster I have them ‘offsite’ and can access them from anywhere.
    We use dropbox to keep files in sync between different pc’s at home (a form of backup 🙂 and to share files with friends and family far far away (and it also enables us to review our kids homework on our pc’s / phones if required). Looking at spideroak for backing up my critical and confidential documents as they seem to be very secure.
    Enjoyed the discussion.

    • #13 by Sally Jenkins on June 27, 2012 - 12:02 pm

      Sandeep – you seem to have got all bases covered. I like Dropbox too for synching between Pcs. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  9. #14 by David on July 16, 2012 - 12:10 am

    Hello, just happened to find this blog ………You might also want to consider an Ext RAID, (Random array of independent discs) It is basically an EXT HD with various settings, I have a Lacie one that uses USB 3,0, it is set to “safe” , the issue with Ext HD’s is that one invariably forgets to back up and they can still crash themselves.

    This device has 2 separate 1TB HD’s that writes the information at the SAME time to both discs (you can also set it to be a standard 2TB ext Drive) this way if there is a crash I just replace the failed drive knowing that the data is perfectly safe and it will rebuild from the undamaged drive.
    This serves 2 purposes, it frees up space on my desktop and It doesn’t matter if I “forget” to back up.

    Regards David

    • #15 by Sally Jenkins on July 16, 2012 - 12:17 pm

      Thanks, David. Sounds like a good belt & braces approach.

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