Selecting an Online File Backup Service

I have written several times about the need for genealogists and most everyone else to make frequent backups. I strongly recommend that everyone make at least two backups of every important bit of information: one backup should be kept very near the computer where it is conveniently available when needed plus a second backup should be stored a long distance away for use in case an in-home disaster destroys both your computer and the local backup. Such disasters include fire, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and more. The second backup might be a file storage service in the cloud or simply a CD-ROM backup stored in a desk drawer in some distant location.

Actually, I believe everyone needs MORE THAN TWO BACKUPS to be stored in more than two different places. But I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

I wasn’t planning to write any more articles about backups but a newsletter reader today asked what is probably the most important question of all:

Might Dick or someone have advice on the best on line or cloud back up service

I did answer the question but decided to also copy my answer here in the newsletter in case others are wondering the same thing.

There are dozens of online backup services to choose from and they vary widely in their capabilities. Also, we would need to compare your needs against the capabilities of each such service. Therefore, it is difficult to claim that any one service is “the best for everyone.”

A true backup service will completely reformat and restore a hard drive after a crash. It will restore hidden files, boot records, the operating system, system files, and all applications. Very few services will do that. For that purpose, I use Arq (available for both Windows and Macintosh) although I also hear good things about Cloudberry. I haven’t used Cloudberry as I am quite happy with Arq and haven’t had any reason to experiment with others. However, I know that some others speak highly of Cloudberry.

In addition, there are dozens of simple file storage services. They won’t back up hidden files, boot records, the operating system, system files, or applications. Instead, they are designed to simply save copies of your data files. For many people, that is sufficient. Such services include Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, SugarSync, Carbonite, CrashPlan, OneDrive, SpiderOak, Box, and a bunch of others. To my knowledge, all of them are equally good.

If you are concerned about privacy and security, you will want to use one of the services that encrypts all your data inside your computer BEFORE SENDING IT TO THE ONLINE SERVICE. Only encrypted data is stored on the service. Even the employees of the file storage service cannot read your data. Even if a government agency obtains a court order demanding the file storage service turn over your files to the government (that happens thousands of times every year), the services that only have encrypted files will be unable to do so. I also like services that are located in countries where personal privacy is protected by laws. Even the local governments in those countries are not allowed to see your personal data files. I suggest everyone should use encrypted file storage services, even if you think you have nothing to hide. I use two such services, both are located overseas in countries that have strong privacy laws.

Some of the encrypted file storage services include Arq (mentioned earlier), SpiderOak (also mentioned earlier), pCloud, Tresorit, Mega.co.nz, Azure from Microsoft (encryption is an option in Azure, not automatic), and others.

Even the above list is abbreviated; there are many more online file storage services to choose from. As you can see, they also vary widely in services provided. In many cases, comparing them side-by-side is similar to comparing apples and oranges. You need to first decide what criteria are important TO YOU and then pick from the services that provide those services.

In my case, I care a lot about privacy and security so I only use services that encrypt my data before sending it to the online service. However, encryption is not important to everyone. I think it should be important to everyone but I find many people don’t seem to care.

Your choice.

4 Comments

Great summary! Thank you so much.

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Hi Dick,
I’m not very techie. Can you explain the difference between a bootable backup and “a true backup service that will completely reformat and restore a hard drive after a crash. One that will restore hidden files, boot records, the operating system, system files, and all applications”.(as you describe ARQ)? Arq’s website recommends SuperDuper for creating a bootable backup.
Do we need a bootable backup or just an encrypted backup service?
As I read the description on Arq, one uses Arq to encrypt and schedule selected backups to a cloud storage of your choice. So the cloud storage could be another expense item, yes?
Just trying to get a handle on all this. Thanks!

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    A “a bootable backup and “a true backup service that will completely reformat and restore a hard drive after a crash” are the same thing. The real question is” “Following a hard drive crash or other major loss. can you boot from the backup copy and restore everything? Including boot record, operating system, applications, and hidden files?”

    —> Do we need a bootable backup or just an encrypted backup service?

    “Encrypted is a different topic. If something is encrypted, it means that no one else can see your files.

    —> As I read the description on Arq, one uses Arq to encrypt and schedule selected backups to a cloud storage of your choice. So the cloud storage could be another expense item, yes?

    Yes. Arq is simply piece of software that works with any of a number of file storage vendors. You still need an account on one of those file storage vendors.

    Like

Very nice collection and review. I am personally using Google Drive, and for me it works great. The only problem I had is that it bugged a bit when I added a lot of files, but I took care of that problem when I learned from this guide: http://www.winzip.com/win/en/features/cloud-backup.html about file compression, and I took care of that problem, and got an extra free space. Now it works like a charm 🙂

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