Cloud storage vs. external hard drives: Which really offers the best bang for your buck?

“By now, you know the basic arguments in the on-site versus off-site storage debate,” FindTheBest‘s Ben Taylor writes for PCWorld. “External hard drives are fast (everything backed up in minutes!) and safe from hackers (you control the data), but are susceptible to theft, fire, and hard drive failure. Meanwhile, cloud solutions provide ongoing, reliable service, but are slower than on-site solutions, and (theoretically) more vulnerable to hackers.”

“But for today, let’s put aside the usual arguments and focus strictly on cost,” Taylor writes. “Assuming your data will not be hacked, stolen, or burnt to a crisp in a house fire, which solution — cloud storage or an external hard drive — is more cost effective, byte for byte?”

“At FindTheBest, we compiled data on more than 400 external hard drives, including brands like Seagate, LaCie, and Western Digital, as well as more than 80 online backup services, including familiar names like DropBox and Box, as well as smaller companies like BackBlaze and Crashplan,” Taylor writes. “Our first observation: External hard drives have a much more linear pricing structure than cloud services.”

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
Apple’s storage strategy: Clear, not cloudy – June 10, 2014
Apple unveils new versions of OS X and iOS, major iCloud update with iCloud Drive – June 2, 2014

23 Comments

    1. Indeed! In the olden days – when I was more naive – I used to say to clients, “You MUST have a backup.” Note “a”. Now I say, “You MUST have three backups.”

    2. Wow, ‘Tom Maguire’. Three! I think that’s a reasonable goal for most of us around here. For newbies and grannies however, just to get them to do two backup locations (which I consider the dead minimum) is a dire chore.

      My third backup is also in the cloud via free services, specifically DropBox and Box. I have an encrypted sparse bundle backed up and synced to my other Mac via DropBox, so I don’t worry about their lack of encryption. Box only handles general documents I collect since it also does not offer encryption and its all public stuff anyway. Oh and iCloud backed up & synced stuff of course.

  1. Hard drive hands down. Aside from whatever costs are involved with cloud storage.. they are not all free…. there is the additional ongoing cost of internet access… almost never free. So once you commit to the cloud, you have to pay forever to access your files and documents. Not so with an external hard drive. Even with no internet service, you’ll be able to find, use, and access your files for as long as the drive functions. And yes, hard drive do go bad… but that’s why you have back up… and No, cloud storage isn’t infallible… sooner or later, someone will make a mistake.. and your files will be at best inaccessible for a time while they fix the problem… or worse.. gone forever. External Hard Drive… Definitely .

  2. My critical documents: local copy, iCloud copy, time machine copy, backblaze copy. We’re really lucky that backups have become so easy over the last few years, but PEBKAC disasters still happen. I heard a story of a hysterical woman coming into a computer shop asking if they could fix her flash drive. Turns out her doctoral thesis was on it. And nowhere else. And due in just weeks. Needless to say, news wasn’t good.

  3. The articles says ” let’s put aside the usual arguments and focus strictly on cost”, and my argument is you can NOT discount the “usual arguments”, as they do have a cost.

    There is a difference between files you don’t want to lose and those you MUST NOT lose.

    You can’t tell your accountant, attorney or various regulators of your business that files are not available.

    The cost of not producing critical files could be bankruptcy and that is a real cost.

  4. Would you listen to a salesman telling you that you should store your entire house’s contents in an external storage facility because your home is at great risk of burning down? I didn’t think so. It is hilarious that the cloud vendors are successfully selling the paranoia to the public when it comes to their digital data.

    Bottom line, the “cloud” is an expensive way to go. “External hard drives have a much more linear pricing structure than cloud services.” Sure, they all offer you the drug pusher teaser, but the costs mount when you are hooked.

    In addition to being cheaper over the long run, owning your own hard drives (or NAS, or server) cuts out the ISP middle man who can, and does, throttle your access.

    Moreover, many of these server rental companies make money by datamining your stuff. Read the fine print, Apple’s iCloud does this too. That is completely unacceptable to those of us with any professional client data, or those of you who would like to keep your finances, passwords, etc under your strict control. If you think that you encrypting your files is a magic bullet, think again. If you encrypt something on a Mac, do you really think that it takes too long for either Apple or the NSA to decrypt it? Most encryption schemes have been hacked long ago, including several of Apple’s encryption methods. Common “automatically encrypted” consumer flash drives, for example — there is no such thing as a secure one, just ones that take longer to break into than others.

    Finally, despite the scary sound of the thought of losing all your data in a house fire, the reality is that the risk of a house fire is miniscule thanks to modern building codes and safe electrical and HVAC systems. You _don’t_ have to use three backups beyond your working file. You just need to have _one_ real time/daily backup plus _one_ huge old slow cheap external drive that you store in a fireproof safe for a full backup every month or two. Not a big deal, and vastly cheaper than paying someone else to store your stuff for you.

    Subscription computing is EVIL, and I am disgusted that Apple is pushing that model as hard as Gaggle and Microshit.

  5. 1 TB PORTABLE TM backup. $50. Clone it with another and stick it in your bank safety box. Once a month or so grab it and clone your TM and store it back.

    Any really old stuff you want to put away permanently save them on another 1TB portable and store in the safety box. Burn DVD copies and keep in the house for easy access.

    Good for most households.

    1. I got a fast pass-through Firewire 800 (and eSATA/USB 2), 7200 RPM 1 TB (G-Drive from Hitachi) on clearance at OWC for $90. As Jubei pointed out, even better deals are around. I use it for my local backup every day. I use BackBlaze (less than $5 per month) for my off-site backup every day.

      I use DVDs (and soon Blu-ray data discs) to offload stuff I archive for forever, such as application installers and updates, old writing, email, old collected tech news, whatever. I keep my archive discs in a lightproof storage case at room temperature. I have archives of stuff going back to 1993, including disk images of ALL my old floppy discs.

  6. My back up is an external drive in a hole in the backyard (set in a plastic cooler with a brick on top). Fire proof, earthquake proof and quick access. It is also satisfyingly low-tech – and I don’t have to worry about the stability of my internet connection or cloud provider.

  7. Nothing precludes using a combination of both, but the main issue with cloud-based solutions is simply the limitations of home broadband services. Depending on the service, you might have fast download but much slower upload speeds. Also, you have to consider the data caps. If you work with large files or a high volume of files that get updated frequently, then you can bump up against the cap without much effort.

  8. I want to save tons of money so I will just memorize every piece of document I have created. I just have to figure out how to print directly from the gray matter.

  9. Cloud storage vs. external hard drives?

    A second silly headline for today.
    Answer: USE BOTH!

    Q: What is the Number One Rule Of Computing?
    A: Make A Backup!

    Q: What kind of backup?
    A: – One LOCAL. (That could be your external hard drive).
    – One OFF-SITE. (That could be either another external hard drive you take away from your work site for storage, or that could be your cloud backup.

    Q: So both?
    A: BOTH!

    1. Q: Encrypted backups?
      A: YES for all your critical data. Who cares for everything else. IOW: You don’t need a fully encrypted backup unless you consider all your data critical. Use something like an encrypted SparseDisk or Sparse Bundle for your critical data. I especially like encrypted Sparse Bundles (which you can create in Apple’s included Disk Utility) because they aren’t one giant file. They are a bundle of files, allowing only the changed segment of a full sparse disk image to be synced to each new backup. It’s a very nice solution.

  10. The greatest threat to your backups, or in fact any data, is YOU forgetting where you put them.
    Like forgetting about the existence of a seldomly used bank account number (containing your savings).

  11. The biggest advantage of cloud storage for me is being able to access data from different computers in different places. The advantage of having this done on Dropbox is that the files are physically on my mac and therefore backed up by my Superduper clone and Time Machine. It is unclear to me whether this will be possible with iCloud Drive.

    1. The value of having access to your rental server from multiple computers is no greater than the value of setting up your own home server — the difference being the endless monthly fees for the “cloud”.

      I still strongly believe that portables are much more valuable when they can operate OFFLINE.

      Synching your ipad or iphone daily to a master server that you control is painless and much more secure from cloud datamining companies. Besides, most people have to recharge the batteries on their iOS gadgets multiple times per day anyway. Might as well charge & sync at the same time while you do something more rewarding with your life.

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