What Is The Best Backup Solution? [Geeks Weigh In]

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data backup solutionTen years ago an external hard drive – or even a physical disc such as a CD-ROM – was the only practical way to back up files. Consumer-grade network storage solutions were primitive, expensive and hard to use. Cloud storage? What’s cloud storage?

More choice is great, but it also brings a dilemma. What should you choose to handle your backups? Is there one solution that’s clearly the best? Let’s apply some thought to this problem and see what comes out ahead.

Criteria

Before we can gauge backup solutions we first have to decide the metrics we’re judging them by. I think there are four details that are important.

Price

This one is obvious. An inexpensive solution is better than an expensive one if everything else is equal.

Capacity

How much can you realistically store? A backup solution that can’t contain all your files is ineffective and annoying.

Speed

How quickly can you create a backup and restore from it?  This is an ease-of-use issue and also a functionality concern when backing up large amounts of data.

Security

What’s the chance that your backup will be destroyed or lost? Can it be stolen, erased, or lost in a disaster?

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This article is looking at backup solutions from a satellite view. It’s not meant to help you find a specific product but instead decide what category of backup solution is best for you. Now, on to the contenders.

External Hard Drive

data backup solution

The undisputed champion of backups of years, external hard drives are still popular but now have serious competition. Is this still you best bet?

Price

External hard drive prices change over time but are currently sitting at around $100 for 1TB of storage. This is by far the cheapest solution in terms of capacity-per-dollar.

Capacity

This is another high point of the external hard drive. Though the 1TB drive is currently the volume leader, there are drives in 2TB, 3TB and even 4TB capacities. Only one other option can offer more.

Speed

Today’s external hard drives have mostly transferred over to USB 3.0, which is extremely quick. Even at USB 2.0 speeds are fine – a typical example with a typical drive will net you around almost a gigabyte per minute, which is faster than most any other choice.

Security

External hard drives are vulnerable to theft, physical destruction and hacking. They aren’t particularly secure unless encrypted.

Network Attached Storage

backup solution

NAS is the cousin of the hard drive, but it connects to a network directly. Some options can handle everything over Wi-FI while others have to plug in to a router.

Price

A decent NAS unit can easily run over $200 before any hard drives are installed in it. Some hard drive manufacturers are now selling external hard drives with network adapters as a poor man’s NAS, but reviews of such product aren’t great.

Capacity

NAS can meet or exceed the capacity of an external hard drive. The largest units, which are designed with enterprise solutions in mind, can 8TB, 16TB, 32TB or even more.

Speed

Network hardware is usually the limitation on speed. Data can be transferred quickly with the best Gigabit adapters or a strong 802.11n. A weak network, on the other hand, can slow transfer speeds to far less than a gigabyte per minute.

Security

Like an external hard drive, this solution is vulnerable to theft, physical destruction and hacking.

Cloud Storage

backup solution

The new kid on the block, cloud storage offers traits that are opposite of the physical storage options. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Price

Cloud storage services charge by the month. A small account with around 10 gigabytes will cost about $10. Storage in the hundreds of gigabytes can cost $50 or more per month. Capacity-per-dollar is clearly not the strong point of cloud storage.

Capacity

It’s possible to purchase cloud storage in almost any capacity, as different services offer different plans. Pricing is the limitation.

Speed

Your Internet connection is the bottleneck. Many users will find that cloud storage is relatively slow as a result. Also, because most Internet service providers offer lower upload speeds than download speeds, backing up data will usually take longer than restoring it.

Security

Hacking is the main threat to cloud storage. Theft and physical destruction, though possible, are extremely unlikely – and most services claim to implement redundant file storage that protects against disaster. Most issues with hacked accounts occur because of a breach in the user’s security rather than a breach in the service.

Physical Media

data backup solution

Backing up to a physical CD, DVD or Blu-Ray disc seems archaic, but it can still be done, and is an option some users might want to consider.

Price

Individual discs may cost only a few cents or dollars (depending on the format) but the need to constantly buy discs can make this an expensive option over time.

Capacity

Theoretically there is no limit, but time and money are factors. Most people won’t be able to practically back up more than one hundred gigabytes of data.

Speed

The speed at which data is burned varies significantly from one burner to the next. Data transfer rates typically lag USB connections, and even if they did not, the need to switch out discs while backing up data instantly puts this option near the back of the pack.

Security

Physical discs aren’t vulnerable to hacking even when inserted because they can be made read-only. Theft and destruction are potential threats, but discs are small enough to easily secure in a safe or even an off-site lock box. Discs are fairly resistant to impact damage and invulnerable to both water damage and power surges.

Verdict

These four backup solutions are not the only options, but they’re the only ones I can seriously recommend.

I think the external hard drive remains the overall champion. It is inexpensive, offers plenty of capacity and can quickly handle large backup and/or restore jobs. Most users faced with the question of backing up data should buy an external drive and be done with it.

With that said, both cloud storage and physical media are good choices for backing up important data. Despite fears of hacking, cloud storage is secure overall because it is nearly invulnerable to other threats. Physical media is even more secure but a pain in the butt to use.

Now, geeks, it’s your turn. Based on the criteria listed in this article, what do you think of this verdict? What do you use as your data backup solution? Do you know of an amazing alternative that isn’t listed here? Let us know in the comments.

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Comments (57)
  • Chris Himes

    Well I think hard drives are still fine to some extent, I dont think anyone can truly rely on one form of backup so best to have 2 or 3 different sources. For something cheap I use Backup Everything on http://www.backupeverything.co.uk, they have good reviews and all UK based support.

  • Patrick Jackson

    A nice review and assessment, by the way. I also like you thinks that a portable hard drive is the best option in these four, but Ryan recently in his article (/tag/guys-files-happened/) referred that one should backup in more than one place. Then what should be used amongst these for a secondary backup option?

  • The Flash

    I personally proceed as follows :

    1) Critical data (finances, IDs, photos…) : 1*32GB flashcard at home + 1 at work (in a drawer) ; redundant data, updated once every 3 months (data is pretty static)

    2) Less sensitive data :
    – Cloud (Dropbox) : for ebooks, health records, diplomas, univ. courses
    – 2*1TB HDD (Samsung) : for music & videos (redundant data)

    What’s next : encrypting the files

    Final note : I try to keep the data I backup to the bare minimal. Even if I lose my videos/music, I would be able to download them again since I keep track of them using a directory lister.

  • Félix S. De Jesús

    For me, External Hard Drive is the perfect solution by now. B/C Clouding is more worth, if you have a Speedy internet. But in many reasons, including recovery of documents, when your computer can’t boot, External Hd is the solution.

  • Lee

    It is great to hear all the different ways people are doing their backups. For me, I had so much data and so many external drives of various sizes that backing up the current seemed to be impossible. I decided to go with a cloud service with unlimited data. I had a lot of trust in them so I started deleting my clients files off of my externals and then started deleting other personal files as well, thinking that I could get all of my external drives freed up so I can organize them later and bring things back from the cloud. Twice since I started the project, they lost my files and I had to fight like hell to get them to restore and finally a month ago, they lost all of my files and now a majority of them are back and the others are still processing. I probably have about 4-5tb of data.

    How did I know my files were missing? Because every week, I use filezilla and go through and random check folders to make sure my files are still there. After all, they didn’t know of the problem until I let them know. It took nearly 28 days to get them to restore. Believe me, none of the cloud services that other people are suggesting are in this forum and I didn’t come here to tell everyone how horrible they are. It is their fault that they lost the files, but it is my fault that I allowed them to have the only copy. Believe me, when the restore is complete, I will be downloading everything onto external drives and making sure this doesn’t happen, and I will be going with another service and just simply use them as a temporary over-sized cloud for when I need it.

    Based on all the suggestions, I am going to sign up with a monthly cloud storage that backs up the files that are on my computer. I will make sure to get another 4tb internal drive so that I don’t have to worry about making sure my external is always plugged in. Next, I will take one of my spare externals and use that to off-load my tv shows to. This external will only be for tv shows and nothing else.

    The other external drives that I have will be used for encrypted backups from a true backup software.

    For the OS, I will back up to a dedicated external drive that I can do once every three months.

    The only thing is, I would love to have a software tell me where my files are backed up to. It would be nice to know where a file that was moved from my internal drive to an external drive or the cloud (keyword moved!).

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.