How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: Backing Your Files Up – Local Storage versus the Cloud

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Backing up important files is something that all of us should do on a regular basis, but may not have given as much thought to as we should. This week we would like to know if you use local storage, cloud storage, or a combination of both to back your files up.


Photo by camknows.

For some people local storage media may be the most convenient and/or affordable way to back up their files. Having those files stored on media under your control can also provide a sense of security and peace of mind. But storing your files locally may also have drawbacks if something happens to your storage media. So how do you know whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages or not? Here are some possible pros and cons that may affect your decision to use local storage to back up your files:

Local Storage


  • You are in control of your data
  • Your files are portable and can go with you when needed if using external or flash drives
  • Files are accessible without an internet connection
  • You can easily add more storage capacity as needed (additional drives, etc.)


  • You need to arrange room for your storage media (if you have multiple externals drives, etc.)
  • Possible hardware failure
  • No access to your files if you forget to bring your storage media with you or it is too bulky to bring along
  • Theft and/or loss of home with all contents due to circumstances like fire

If you are someone who is always on the go and needs to travel as lightly as possible, cloud storage may be the perfect way for you to back up and access your files. Perhaps your laptop has a hard-drive failure or gets stolen…unhappy events to be sure, but you will still have a copy of your files available. Perhaps a company wants to make sure their records, files, and other information are backed up off site in case of a major hardware or system failure…expensive and/or frustrating to fix if it happens, but once again there is a nice backup ready to go once things are fixed. As with local storage, here are some possible pros and cons that may influence your choice of cloud storage to back up your files:

Cloud Storage


  • No need to carry around flash or bulky external drives
  • All of your files are accessible wherever there is an internet connection
  • No need to deal with local storage media (or its’ upkeep)
  • Your files are still safe if your home is broken into or other unfortunate circumstances occur


  • Your files and data are not 100% under your control
  • Possible hardware failure or loss of files on the part of your cloud storage provider (this could include a disgruntled employee wreaking havoc)
  • No access to your files if you do not have an internet connection
  • The cloud storage provider may eventually shutdown due to financial hardship or other unforeseen circumstances
  • The possibility of your files and data being stolen by hackers due to a security breach on the part of your cloud storage provider

You may also prefer to try and cover all of the possibilities by using both local and cloud storage to back up your files. If something happens to one, you always have the other to fall back on. Need access to those files at or away from home? As long as you have access to either your storage media or an internet connection, you are good to go.

Maybe you are getting ready to choose a backup solution but are not sure which one would work better for you. Here is your chance to ask your fellow HTG readers which one they would recommend. Got a great backup solution already in place? Then be sure to share it with your fellow readers!

[polldaddy poll=”4311723″]

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .

  • Published 12/29/10

Comments (41)

  1. RonV

    I am using Windows Home Server, it manages the backup of all our PC’S

  2. DrSheldonCooper

    i prefer a 16gb SD card, always in my laptop. With a 7-zip Backup Script.
    Cheaper/smaller footprint as dropbox but also unsecure if stolen etc.

    I will give WL Mesh a try.. but cant find a perfect solution.

  3. indianacarnie

    This is a pretty big topic on a couple of forums I follow/post to, and the comments on them seem to follow pretty close to what the poll here finds.
    Personally ……… I still have major “trust” issues with the cloud and will not in the , near term at least, future use the cloud for storage or anything else for that matter.
    I know, I know, “its the wave of the future” and I am anything but a technophobe (as I’ve been called) but I still think “the cloud” is/will be for specialized uses only. It frightens me in that it has the capacity for making the net much more …… restricted, for want of a better phrase, and much less secure for ordinary people.

  4. cgtdk

    Furthermore, you also need to UPLOAD your data to the cloud storage service, and since most ISPs doesn’t want to give users proper upload speed, it is going to take a while to upload it.

  5. 01NB

    Do both. Cloud backup is cheap insurance for all of your crap. Local ext HDDs are also cheap insurance for that crap.

    How many of those here know someone who had a large ext hdd frag on them? My guess is everyone. How much of a PITA was it to get that data back? Likely huge.

    So doing both is the only way to have nearly 100% certainty that your files will be there in the event you need them.

  6. Will

    I follow Leo Laporte’s addage: 3-2-1. 3 copies, 2 different types of media, 1 offsite. I use hard drive + carbonite + dual layer dvds in a fireproof safe. My only problem with carbonite is that the download and upload speeds are so slow.

  7. Smith

    I use local. OS image on two backup HDD’s, Storage I backup on a HDD, Important files like Pictures, Firefox & Thunderbird Profiles not only gets backed up on a HDD but a RW disc as well every few days.

    Also I don’t want any cloud knowing what Pronz I has let alone any of my very much more important stuff like PW’s, email account’s, Pictures etc. :D. Another words No Cloud For Me. Ever.

    Comes down to a fire at home, whats stopping there cloud server having a melt down or a fire too, at least I can grab my RW disc and run for it. :D.

  8. dave

    I suffer a large dose of paranoia, I will not let anyone else store my data. Given the price drop for 1 and 2 TB HD’s I’d rather buy a bunch of them.

  9. KB Prez

    I’m more than a little paranoid, so I run all kinds of backups. I use Acronis True Image to back up my hard drive, I use WinZip and Clickfree to back up files. I use Carbonite for Cloud backups just in case my external drives fail.

    I agree with Will – Carbonite is VERY SLOW particularly when uploading, but I like having it as insurance.

  10. Ross Patterson

    Do both. Locally, I run a home-made tar-based thing and keep several generations on both the machine where the backup was run and on a home server. The tarballs are AES-encrypted with GPG. I wish I could keep the keyfile off the machine, but I don’t want the backups to depend on me being present to supply the encryption key. I suppose I really have to look into how to replace AES with a public/private keypair system.

    Cloud-ally, I run Mozy. They’ll never run out of disk space (they’re an EMC company, after all), their incremental backups run relatively swiftly, and I can choose whether to let them have the private key or not. For myself, I don’t (I am geek, hear me roar). For the family members I’ve set up, I do (I don’t trust users to retain critical things like private keys).

  11. Lady Fitzgerald

    I use a vintage WD 160GB external drive to back up important files locally (I’ve outgrown it; I’ll eventually upgrade my box so I can directly back up to internal type drives using an external drive bay). I back all my files in the cloud using Carbonite.

    When I’m on the road, what few files I generate, I email to myself and download it when I get home. I don’t download files while on the road. I email the URL to myself and download them when I get home. I keep pictures on my camera but also download them to my netbook and to a thumbdrive (those files are too large to be emailing).

  12. Mastermind

    Uhm dont forget that for some people it is very frustrating if you need to back up folders OVER THE INTERNET with hundreds of thousands of files! (Or maybe tens of thousands)

  13. Lady Fitzgerald

    “Uhm dont forget that for some people it is very frustrating if you need to back up folders OVER THE INTERNET with hundreds of thousands of files! (Or maybe tens of thousands)”

    Not near as frustrating as losing all local backups (fire, flood, theft, etc. will do it) and NOT having the cloud backup.

  14. Alan Ralph

    I currently back up to an external hard disk, but I also have all my e-mail in the cloud on GMail. I’m considering moving to something like a Drobo for local backup, so I have some added redundancy there, and also having my most important data either backed up to the cloud or archived off-site in the new year.

  15. Lady Fitzgerald

    Forgot to mention (actually, I have an itchy enter finger), local backups are best since retrieving the info is faster when restoration is needed but having a backup in the cloud will ensure you are covered if the worst should happen. Also, cloud backup usually happen shortly after a file is made or changed while local backups usually happen once daily or weekly. Any file created or changed between backups could be irretrieveably lost.

    The downsides of cloud backups is a fair broadband connection is needed (dial-ups are just too slow and often have caps) and the initial backup can take several days. Doing a complete restoration from the cloud is also slow (which is why locals are also a good idea) but not as slow as the initial upload.

  16. Anonymous

    I would be all for using the cloud to free up hard drive space, but I am slightly paranoid about being hacked into.

  17. Dave

    Back up to Cloud ? sure, and here’s the keys to my house and car !

    Are you nuts ?


  18. Andrew

    not to say that cloud services are perfect… but I think the majority of data security is a mute point if you are smart about the way you store your data on clouds. always store your stuff encrypted with strong passwords, and redundant backups of data both at home and on the cloud are always the best move if you are serious about your data.

  19. Lady Fitzgerald

    No, Dave, I’m not nuits. If you back up to reliable cloud service, such as Mozy or Carbonite, your info is probably safer than it is on your home computer. Even if someone hacked into the service, the data was encrypted before it left the computer. The chances of your data being hacked is less than your bank accounts, credit card info, etc. being hacked.

  20. Keith

    I use dropbox and Truecrypt. I created a 50GB file in truecrypt and synced it with my dropbox account. then I mount the file on any computers I run it on and presto – instant secure access to dropbox. After you’re done, unmount and let it sync back up.

  21. geeknik

    All of my Windows machines @ home are backed up nightly to a Windows Home Server machine, plus I use Dropbox for sharing to my Android phone and SugarSync to backup important stuff off site just in case. =)

  22. emik

    buckup on cloud?…no thanks, my personal data into an external hdd
    extremly faster and safe then the cloud

  23. Cambo

    Yes, your house is much better than a secured fireproof, waterproof, hardened data centre.

    I use both, as my house is no where near built to data centre standards. I upload the pictures/home video to an offsite provider, and keep everything else local. I don’t back up OS’s- no point.

    I am fortunate that my offsite provider can provide a temporary external USB drive that you can load your files on, and ship back to them. They’ll then load it directly rather than using my measly upload speed. It’s encrypted end-to-end and on their drives. If they want to hack to look at my pictures, be my guest.

  24. Ross Patterson

    @Mastermind: “Uhm dont forget that for some people it is very frustrating if you need to back up folders OVER THE INTERNET with hundreds of thousands of files! (Or maybe tens of thousands)”

    My server machine’s Mozy backup currently has 18,520 files, including my Subversion repository. It updates twice a day, just fine. I have Verizon’s bottom-tier FIOS service (5Mb/s upload) and the inside-the-home connection is 802.11g (fast enough to make the FIOS the slow link). And if I need to restore too many files, they’ll burn them to DVDs and overnight them to me. And it keeps back-copies of files for 30 days.

    @Alan Ralph: I back up my GMail account via IMAP to my home server, because I believe in having copies of my own stuff. And like everything else, it works its way into my Mozy and tar backups.

  25. DataCentric

    The cloud is not necessarily your enemy. Backup in the cloud can be done sucessfully with the right partner. Most cloud backup services have the ability to encrypt your data and you hold the encryption key to without it the data is unaccessable. There are also different methods of backup. Whole system backup, down to the bit level. This will allow you to do BMR (Bare Metal Restore) back to any piece of hardware. You can also backup just the files you want. If your data is important to you, dont discount the cloud.

  26. Jack

    We use local backup, but I would use cloud also, but our internet connection is slow and flaky.

    Since we have multiple computers in our house, I set up one as a ‘backup server’ with a TB drive.

    I think the most important thing is to have automatic backups so we don’t have to remember. Secondary, monitoring backups, especially ‘failures’ is important.

    Our current backup solution is CrashPlan, the free version. They also have a cloud service available, but our internet connection is so slow it basically saturates our little pipe with backups, so it isn’t possible for us. (It works well, including the cloud portion, and I have no affiliation with them other than as a free software user).

    In the past I have used Dirvish and BackupPC as open source solutions. Both work well, but take a local geek to set up. Professionally I have managed and used Veritas NetBackup and IBMs Tivoli Storage Manager, and both are great commercial (spelled big $$) solutions also.

    I think lots of folks try to backup to much. You need to backup all your critical, personal, and business data. Don’t backup your operating system, temporary files, caches, etc. Do backup any place you store a particular ‘database’ or set of files any of your special applications use. If you have somewhere you keep things like software license keys especially for downloadable software, you need to make sure it is backed up.

    Also test your backups. … Do something like, make a file ‘restore-me.txt’ on your desk top. Edit the file and put a phrase or something you would recognize, including the current date. … leave it there through several backup cycles. Possibly add some information to it, including the date when you add stuff. A few weeks later, rename it or delete it (if you can afford to loose it!). Now restore the file from your backups. If you have several versions (because you modified it a few times), try to restore it from a different date, to make sure the data is there too.

    Even professionally I did this kind of testing. I learned to do it after finding backups were not working and I didn’t know. (I didn’t lose my job, but I might have felt better about it if I had!)

    Backups aren’t rocket science, but they are not a ‘set it and forget it’ technology either, whether it is local or to ‘the cloud’.

    I hope this helps someone….

  27. Jack

    Oh yes, if you backup locally only, get an extra firewire or USB drive or two, and copy your backups to it regularly (weekly, monthly, more often is better). Then take the drive to work or a friends across town, or mail it to ‘grandma’, for offsite storage. Bring back the ‘old offsite’ drive to reuse at home. Adding more drives (or tapes or DVDs if you do that), is never bad, but to many could get expensive.

    If you use tapes or hard drives, figure you need to replace one a year, and replace it before it fails. I like to write the date it goes into service on the drive, and about the time it goes off warranty, I like to replace it. Somehow drives seem to fail for me about the time the warranty runs out if I don’t replace them.

    Sorry for being so wordy, but you can see it is a passion of mine…

  28. asdf-chan

    Private server, with full disc encryption, never would consider cloud as a solution. Overhyped bullcrap

  29. Guillermo

    For those people citing trust issues: Would you find that trust factor mitigated if you encrypted all of your data yourself before backing it up / syncing it to the cloud? Or is there a concern regarding the efficacy of the encryption as well?

  30. Cambo

    Until someone breaks into your home and steals your stuff.

    I’d much rather pay the 50$ a year to have the pictures stored somewhere else. The rest, I don’t really care about. All my financial stuff is stored with their respective banks. I keep no financial info at home.

  31. Bob

    I live in the boondocks and use Hughesnet, therefore I am given a limit on downloads so I try not to store
    more than a couple hundred Mbs. in the cloud.

  32. ROBERT

    One important aspect for the cloud method is SPEED. The local storage backs up your file 100 times faster. So may be speed should be added either as a pro to the local solution or a con for the cloud solution?

  33. ROBERT

    Another aspect to consider depending on your ISP and the amount of data you want to backup to the cloud. That is the amount of data going through the internet. My ISP has a cap of 25G data a month. They charge $2 per 1G if it exceeds 25G. I watch movies, download music and view friends video albums. I have to pay extra almost every month. I know it’s a rip off, I am thinking of switching to a no-limit ISP.

  34. asdf-chan

    Encryption makes sense if you don’t leave your data encrypted somewhere “public”, where eventually everybody can access them. Nothing is safe, everything can be broken, by-passed, etc but letting it out of your personal control is the first step of making yourself and/or data vulnerable.

    Private server doesn’t need to be at home, can be a rented root-server in Russia or somewhere else. The best thing is to rent some place with little physical storage on someone else name and put your stuff there. Just store harddisks, without remote connection or anything. If you would put them into a computer/server and somehow someone found out etc ( worst paranoia level ), there is still a chance for cold boot attack.

  35. Brodiemac

    I sync all my data between my desktop and laptop and also subscribe to Carbonite. I figure this way I have the best of both worlds.

  36. Chaos

    Both. Currently running XP pro as a file server and syncback to backup the computers to it. And for my laptop i point the folders to the dropbox folders since i don’t store much on it. I think i will make the move to the cloud for pictures etc, not bank info or password list. I have researched many solutions such as a readynas with replication to another readynas to my parents. Crashplans, vpn but all rely on my management of it which i don’t want to do and always the power factor to consider if your using someones house as your “off-site” so i would feel the need to pay for electricity it uses. So if you do selective files to send to the cloud i think it would be ok. Sure i don’t want people to have my data but anyone who uses facebook or other sharing services, and those who use P2P services should not have a problem with using a legit cloud backup provider.

  37. Dan

    I have three external hard drives, one for video, one for audio and music, and the last for photos and other personal files. They’re all AES encrypted and I back up about once a month. I don’t like cloud storage because of trust issues, and I am not always connected online. But I have also tried dabbling with Windows Live Skydrive. I may use it eventually for non-sensitive data files.

  38. DineshU

    For those saying Windows Home Server – just know that MS decided to remove Drive Extender, the super easy to use replacement for data duplication.

    There are two petitions one that I created, and one that is on MS connect. Both are linked through a site I put up. not sure if i’m allowed to link to it here. just google for Vail Fail Agita and it’s the first one that comes up.

  39. Edisongs

    I have long thought about using Carbonite, but I am not running a business any longer, so my files would just be music, vids, photos, etc. Still not sure I would entrust my passworded files even though a fire could destroy it all. External HDD’s flash drives and discs are still my best backup solutions. I do have a reasonably secure off-site location for a data storage HDD. And when it comes down to a home based loss, that would save my personal stuff. For those who need further assurance, the post office and banks still rent storage. Just make sure you shield your data devices with tin foil before storage, and maybe even run alligator clips from your shield to a metal frame inside your storage compartment. Sound to underground tech for you? Sorry for your loss.

  40. J.Knecht

    We use external removable HDD to backup to on a regular weekly basis, more frequently if the occassion presents itself.

    Paranoia on my part perhaps, but the idea of entrusting all our passwords, banking information, tax info, etc. to an offsite service somewhere in “the cloud” creeps me out.

    As to Leo LaPorte’s 3-2-1 philosophy, I will never forget a saying I heard once a long time ago from a senior staff engineer/director/Phd at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, CA:

    “A man who wears a watch always knows what time it is. A man who wears two is never quite sure…”

  41. Chamba

    I dont think think it is wise to use cloud, am a bit skeptical about entrusting my private data with some other people.
    Firstly, partition the local storage into two or more drives and use one of them or both but not the one where you install the Operating System for storing your data on them. I call this the bread crum principal.
    Should any thing happen with any of the stores, you easily revert to the other.

    Furthermore, whether at home or work, it is always wise to have a LAN and server where you can store the other crums of your files which you take keen interest and time to update and you will never go wrong.

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