A data backup solution is arguably the most cost-effective way of mitigating various risks that result in data loss. For example, you can use it to recover from a disk failure, a serious malware attack, a natural disaster, a stolen laptop/desktop, or just about any incident that renders the files in your laptop or desktop computer inaccessible or unusable. But should you go for an online backup solution or an offline one?
This is easily one of the most common questions that we get from our customers. So, in this post, let’s talk about what offline and online backup solutions are, how they differ, and, more importantly, what advantages each one has over the other.
Offline backup refers to backup solutions that are kept locally. Examples of these types of backup systems include external hard drives (either the spinning Hard Disk Drive or Solid State Drive type), DVDs (yes, some people still use them), NAS (Network Attached Storage), or plain USB sticks. So if you’re backing up your files in any of these devices, then you’re doing offline backup.
Online backup, on the other hand, refers to backups carried out to services hosted in the “cloud”. Examples of these include iDrive, SOS Online Backup, SugarSync, and – to some extent – DropBox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. As its name implies, “online” backup requires an Internet connection.
Now that we’ve briefly defined what offline and online backups are, let’s discuss their advantages and disadvantages.
Whether online backup is more convenient than offline backup is debatable. But here’s why advocates of online backup solutions find them more convenient. As long as you have a decent Internet connection, you can carry out online backups or retrieve files from your backups almost anywhere.
These days, Internet connections are virtually everywhere. They’re available in the office, at home, in WiFi hotspots, or – if you have a mobile data plan subscription with 02, EE, 3, Vodafone, etc. – anywhere there’s a 4G LTE, 3G, or even 2G signal. So, for instance, you can carry out backups in your office computer in Romford and then retrieve those same files from your laptop while sipping an espresso at a coffee shop in London.
One of the biggest drawbacks of offline backups is that, because they’re usually portable, they can easily get lost or stolen. Just a couple of days ago, a friend lost his USB stick on the train from Romford to Chelmsford. Even a NAS, because it’s a relatively lightweight appliance, can be stolen. Cloud-based backups don’t have these issues. You can’t steal (let alone lose) something that’s simply not “there”.
Massive floods like the ones brought by Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank in late 2015 left several homes and establishments inundated. Cataclysmic events like these can be disastrous to offline backup systems. Offline backup systems can be destroyed when submerged, burned, or crushed in major disasters like floods, earthquakes, fire, cyber/terrorist attacks, and hurricanes.
Although the data centers behind online backups can also be affected by these catastrophes, they (at least the reputable ones) usually have provisions to mitigate the risks. For example, they might have multiple copies of your data, some of which may be stored in other geographical locations, e.g. in another city in UK or even overseas.
If your external HDD crashes due to hardware failure, you’ll likely lose most if not all of the backups stored there. Online backups aren’t as vulnerable. Although they can still suffer from disk crashes, online backup providers can always retrieve affected files from other copies.
Online backup services usually follow a pay-as-you-go pricing scheme and charge either monthly or annually. This usually translates to a lower (or zero in the case of trial versions) upfront cost. Just to give you an example, iDrive’s 1 Terabyte Personal Plan only costs somewhere around £27.50 in the first year. For comparison, a 1 TB Seagate Expansion costs around £45. Of course, the Expansion would cost much less in the long run.
Now that you know the advantages of online backup, let’s move on to offline backup.
The number one advantage of offline backup is speed. Online backups are highly dependent on the speed of your Internet connection, which can be as fast as 100 Mbps but also as slow as a few hundred Kbps. Compare that with a USB 3.0 connection that can go up to a whopping 5Gbps. Even the older USB 2.0 can still transfer data at 480 Mbps – way faster than the fastest broadband connection.
Of course, that might not be too much of an issue after the initial backup. After the initial backup, online backup solutions usually only have to do incremental backups, which – in normal situations – don’t require super fast speeds.
Earlier, we said that online backup’s claim to being convenient was debatable. The reason? Offline backups can operate even without an Internet connection. You can go to Timbuktu and still be able to perform backups with an offline backup solution.
In addition, unlike online backups, offline backups don’t hog the network. Unless they’re configured not to, online backups can often consume a lot of bandwidth on your LAN/WLAN whenever they sync.
Because online backups solutions are administered by third parties, they usually raise privacy concerns. You just don’t know what level of access is granted to their technical staff. If their staff have direct access to your files, that’s certainly something to be concerned about.
By contrast, offline backup systems aren’t subjected to these issues. You’re the one solely responsible for your storage devices. So, unless you misplace them or they get stolen, AND they fall into the wrong hands, you will always have full control of data privacy.
Again, because online backups solutions are operated by third parties, they are sometimes impacted by certain misfortunes that fall on these companies. For instance, if the company’s data center suffers a data breach and that data center holds your data, you could likewise suffer from collateral damage. The same thing can happen if the company goes bankrupt. Offline backups are devoid of these problems.
As indicated earlier, the cost of online backup is only more affordable during the first year. As months go by after that, you’ll quickly realise that even a top notch SSD external drive is actually cheaper.
If you choose to go with online cloud backup then we would recommend our partner dropbox. You can Register a Dropbox account now and if signed up through us here at Modxpc Repairs using that link, you’ll get a bonus 500GB of space added onto your free or paid plan!
Now that you know the strengths and weaknesses of offline and online backups, you can now make an informed decision in choosing the right backup system for your files. Sometimes, it’s even better to have both. But if you still can’t make up your mind, feel free to contact us. We’ll help you choose the backup system most suitable for your specific needs.