Cloud Backup and Cloud Storage Guide

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If you’ve ever accidentally deleted or overwritten an important file, spilled a cup of coffee on your computer, or had a laptop that was lost or stolen, you understand the importance of backing up important files. But even backing up files to an external hard drive on your desk isn’t always enough. Another option is to store them in the cloud, which is made up of remote servers you access online.

“The best advice around backup is to have it in three different places,” says Sean Metcalf, founder and chief technical officer of Trimarc Security, a company in Washington, D.C., that helps organizations secure their Microsoft platforms. The three places are typically a computer, an external hard drive, and a cloud service.

That way, if a natural disaster wipes out your computer and external hard drive, you can restore your files using an off-site service. That backup plan also comes in handy if your computer and external drive are both damaged by a power surge or malware.

You have two broad options for maintaining copies of your files online: cloud backup services and cloud storage services. They are similar but not the same.

Cloud Backup vs. Cloud Storage

Cloud backup services are comprehensive, allowing you to completely restore all your files if you lose the data on your computer.

Cloud storage services, on the other hand, allow you to store specific files and are often used for a handful of important documents. Cloud storage services also make it easy to share files with other people. Unlike backup services, cloud storage services typically aren’t "no knowledge." That means that while the files are protected by encryption, the company can decrypt the data on its servers because it holds the encryption keys. That inherently makes your data somewhat less private and secure.

You’ll find a list of cloud backup options below, or, if you think cloud storage would make the most sense for your situation, see our list of cloud storage options.

Cloud Backup

When you’re choosing a cloud backup option, you’ll want to consider what the company will charge if you need to restore all your data, and any limitations there might be on the number of computers you can use. It’s also important to look at the amount of storage offered and make sure it’s appropriate for your needs.

Cloud backup companies might not be able to restore your system immediately. “Make sure that the vendor you’re choosing has a backup recovery time that is appropriate for you,” says Dominique West, technical account manager at the cloud monitoring service Datadog.

If you're storing sensitive data, you may want to choose a service that lets you use your own encryption key so the data isn’t accessible if the cloud provider has a data breach. But if you lose your passphrase for that key, you’ve lost access to all your backup data, and the service won’t be able to help. So make sure to store the passphrase somewhere safe, like a password manager.

There are many options for cloud backup. We’ve listed some of the more popular, easy-to-use, and convenient ones below.

The retention time, listed below for each service, is how long deleted or overwritten files are stored. So if you delete a file from your computer, it won’t instantly disappear from your online backup. An exception would be if you're pushing up against your storage limit. If you have a terabyte of files on a service where 1TB is the storage limit, older files might be deleted more quickly as you add new files. Or you may be charged for additional storage, depending on the service.

Arq Premium

Arq Premium is best for people with speedy internet connections who prioritize ensuring that their backups are always backed up by no-knowledge encryption, which means that even the company can't access the information in your files.

Amount of storage: 1TB.

Cost: $6 per month or $60 per year for up to five computers. Restoring your data, if necessary, is free.

Limitations: Unlike some other services, Arq Premium won’t send you a hard drive with your backup to restore your data, so it’s best for people with fast internet connections.

Retention time: Unlimited, as long as your files are within the storage limit.

Encryption: Arq lets you use a key only you know for no-knowledge encryption. That means your backups are strongly protected; not even the company can decrypt the files.

Support: Provided via email within one business day.

Operating systems supported: Mac and Windows.

Backblaze Personal Backup

Backblaze is best suited for people with only one computer who want an easy-to-use service.

Amount of storage: Unlimited for one computer.

Cost: $6 per month ($60 per year) or $110 for two years. If you need to restore your data, it's free to download a zip file or do a direct download. Backblaze charges $99 for a 256-gigabyte flash drive sent to you by Fed Ex, or $189 for an external drive up to 8TB, refunded if you return the drive.

Limitations: Backblaze doesn't back up network-attached storage (NAS) devices, which can be used to back up files in your home. It also doesn't back up folders on your computer that are being shared from another computer.

Retention time: All file versions and deleted files are kept in the cloud for 30 days. This can be extended to a year for an additional monthly fee of $2. You can also keep files forever for $2 per month, with an additional ½ cent per gigabyte per month for files that you updated, changed, or deleted more than a year earlier.

Encryption: Backblaze lets you use a personal encryption key, so it can’t access your files. (If you lose your password, the company won’t be able to send it to you.) But there’s a wrinkle: Many sites transfer files to you still encrypted, and they get decrypted on your computer. In Backblaze’s case, you enter your passphrase on the site and it gets decrypted there and then transmitted to you. That’s inherently less secure because you have to supply the password to the company. But Backblaze promises that your password is discarded right after you use it.

Support: Free email support is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST Monday through Friday, with a target response time of one business day. Live chat support on this plan is available from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. PST.

Operating systems supported: Mac and Windows.

Carbonite Safe

Carbonite Safe is best for people who want to back up relatively small amounts of data, because it has 4GB file size limits on automatic backups. You can upload bigger files, but you have to do it manually. Similarly, you have to upload video files manually if you have the company's Basic plan.

Amount of storage: Unlimited storage for one internal drive. Plus and Prime plans offer unlimited storage for one external drive as well as automatic video backup. And Prime lowers the cost for receiving a shipped copy of your backed up files on an external hard drive.

Cost: Usually $84 per year for the Basic plan, $120 for the Plus plan, or $150 for Prime. Carbonite is currently offering a sale that brings the cost down to $76 per year for the Basic plan.

It's free to recover your data through the desktop client or web portal. But there are limitations on the type and number of files you can restore that way. If you want to get a hard drive sent to you, the cost is $100 for both Basic and Plus users. Prime subscribers pay $10 (or $20 for expedited shipping) for recovery. Equipment must be returned within three weeks.

Limitations: Files larger than 4GB are not automatically backed up and must be uploaded individually. Videos are backed up automatically only in Plus and Prime plans but can be backed up manually for people on the Basic plan. If you use your own encryption key, you can only restore your files through the company’s desktop client.

Retention time: Up to 12 versions of each file for three months. Files deleted from a user’s computer are stored in the cloud for 30 days.

Encryption: You can use your own key to encrypt your data. But if you choose to do so, that means the company won’t be able to ship you a hard drive to restore your data, which can be much faster, especially if you have a slow internet connection. And you can’t use the web portal, either. You’ll only be able to restore from backup using the desktop client.

Support: Carbonite Safe offers support from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Email support is also available with a 24-hour response time.

Operating systems supported: Mac and Windows.

IDrive Personal

IDrive is best for people with only moderate amounts of data—or who don’t mind cleaning out duplicate files manually.

Amount of storage: 5TB or 10TB for one person using unlimited computers.

Cost: Usually $70 per year for 5TB or $100 per year for 10TB. It’s currently discounted to $52 for 5TB and $75 for 10TB. It also offers a free option for 5GB of data.

Limitations: It doesn't offer deduplication, so if you save two copies of the same file, both will count toward your storage limit. It's not hard to eat through even 5TB if you update files frequently. If you exceed the storage limit, you're charged 25 cents per gigabyte per month.

Restore cost: Online restore is free over your internet connection. It costs $100 per request for a drive to be sent to you.

Retention time: 30 versions kept for an unlimited period of time.

Encryption: You can use the default system-generated encryption key or set your own private encryption key while signing up for the account. If you use your own key, IDrive doesn't have access to it, so you’ll need to keep it somewhere safe. The native app is the most secure way to access your data using a private key.

Support: Technical support is available from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. PST Monday through Friday.

Operating systems supported: Linux, Mac, and Windows.

SpiderOak One

SpiderOak One is best for people with speedy internet connections who prioritize ensuring that their backups are always protected by no-knowledge encryption.

Amount of storage: 150GB to 5TB on unlimited computers.

Cost: $6 per month or $69 per year for 150GB, $11 per month or $115 per year for 400GB, $14 per month or $149 per year for 2TB, or $29 per month or $320 per year for 5TB. It's free to restore your backed-up data through the web interface or a second computer.

Limitations: Doesn't offer restoration via hard drive.

Retention time: Unlimited. Users can clear deleted items individually or in bulk.

Encryption: Users must hold their own encryption key, and your original password is never uploaded to SpiderOak with your stored data.

Support: Live chat and email from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT Monday through Saturday. Response is guaranteed within 12 hours but usually takes about 2 hours.

Operating systems supported: Linux, Mac, and Windows.

Cloud Storage

Sometimes your goal isn’t to store or back up every single document, photograph, or video you own, but just a handful of files you care the most about. You may also want to easily share some of them with another person or group. In that case, it makes more sense to use a cloud storage service than a backup service.

But there are downsides. Cloud storage may be less secure than cloud backup because it’s typically not no-knowledge encrypted, meaning that providers have the ability to access, scan, and read your content—though they all have policies in place to prevent abuse.

Cloud storage typically works with any computer, regardless of which operating system you use. The companies don’t have the kind of customer service that backup companies provide because the services they offer are much simpler—these aren’t meant to help you restore your entire system after a ransomware attack or flood.

Here are some of the more popular options.

Cost: Free personal account for up to 10GB of storage with a 250-megabyte file upload limit and one file version; $14 per month or $120 per year for up to 100GB of storage, 5GB file upload, and 10 file versions.

Cost: Free for one user and up to three devices with 2GB of storage; $12 per month, or $120 per year, for one user, 2TB of storage, unlimited devices.

Google One
15GB free with a Google account; 100GB, $2 per month or $20 per year; 200GB, $3 per month or $30 per year; 2TB, $10 per month or $100 per year; 10TB, $50 per month; 20TB, $100 per month; 30TB, $150 per month.

Cost: 5GB free storage; 50GB, $1 per month; 200GB, $3 per month; 2TB, $10 per month.

Microsoft OneDrive
5GB free (storage only); $2 per month for up to 100GB (storage only); $7 per month or $70 per year for 1TB.

Cost: $96 per year for 2TB of data; $120 per year for 3TB; $180 per year for 4TB.

Cost: Free for 3GB of encrypted storage with a 500MB maximum file size; $13 per month or $125 per year for 500GB of encrypted storage with a 5GB maximum file size; $30 per month or $288 per year for 2500GB of encrypted storage with a 10GB maximum file size.