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Sooner or Later Your Hard Drive Will Fail

Computer backup is like digital fire insurance

Long Distance

The other kind of backup is off premises, or in the cloud, where you use an Internet connection to send all your files to a remote location owned by a company such as Carbonite, or SugarSync (the service used by Best Buy' s Geek Squad). One advantage of that is you can access your data from almost anywhere using almost any device, in some cases, including your smartphone. Another is that you're protected from a catastrophe at your home or office. But there are a couple of drawbacks. The initial backup can take a while, depending on how much data you want to store. My initial backup with one service took more than 10 days, though I admit I have a lot of data. After that, the process is incremental and automatic. Cloud storage can also be expensive. Carbonite charges $59 a year for unlimited storage. Sugar Sync starts at $50 a year for a paltry 30GB and heads up to a substantial $250 a year for 250 GB. If you keep a lot of pictures and videos you can hit that mark pretty easily.

Storing your data somewhere else is advantageous because it means that no matter what happens to your computer, your data is safe, and you can access it from wherever you are, not just from your home computer. But this cloud may not be nirvana. Despite very strong encryption, there's always a risk that your data could be hacked. You also have to consider what happens if the company that has your data goes out of business.

Cloud Storage Pros and Cons

  • Pro: Safe from theft or damage to your personal computer
  • Pro: You can retrieve your data from anywhere using a variety of devices
  • Con: Significantly more expensive than local storage on an external hard drive
  • Con: The service is only as good or as safe as the company that owns it.

My suggestion is to take a belt and suspenders approach — use both a cloud service and an external hard drive, or even two hard drives, one of which you can keep at another location. It's easy to set up either cloud storage or external drive storage to back up only selected files, and to do it either continuously or at a scheduled time. You wouldn't think of leaving your most valuable belongings or papers unprotected. So why not give your irreplaceable digital photographs and other digital documents the same consideration?

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