When was the first time you heard about cloud computing? The ideas behind cloud actually go back decades: One of the predecessors of today’s internet, ARPANET, was represented by a distinctive cloud icon in the 1970s. However, cloud terminology didn’t really take off until the 2000s, when platforms such as Amazon Web Services (which supports many popular websites and mobile applications, such as Reddit and Instagram) and Dropbox became public.
While many of the key use cases of cloud are only intended for organizations (e.g., ensuring the 24/7 availability of critical business applications), others are more consumer-facing. For example, have you ever thought about where you might store all your photos? Cloud computing services offer vast storage capacities, far beyond what you could affordably procure on your own. However, they also provide less direct control of your data.
There’s a lot to consider when deciding where to store your data, including:
- How secure the selected storage medium is against cyber attacks and theft.
- How much you’ll pay for using it, both upfront and over the long term.
- How reliable it is when you need to retrieve something or move your data en masse.
Let’s look at the respective pros and cons of cloud options and traditional alternatives such as external hard drives (HDDs).
Advantages and disadvantages of cloud storage
When you put your data into the cloud, it’s not literally disappearing into the ether. Instead, it’s being stored in a data center.
The main advantage of this setup is that you don’t have to worry about managing where and how your photos, videos, documents, etc. are stored and secured, since it’s all managed by a cloud service provider. You’re also mostly free from storage constraints: Some cloud services, such as Google Photos, provide unlimited capacity for certain file types, while others (e.g., Apple iCloud) may offer pricing tiers corresponding to storage allotments.
Apps/clients for accessing your cloud-stored data are available for both desktop and mobile platforms. Cloud-based backup services can reached from virtually any device or location, are automatically upgraded (including crucial security patches) by the service provider and enable easy file sharing.
On a cloud platform, data security is only as good as the defenses the service provider has implemented. Internet connectivity if usually required for data access. You may also have to pay a monthly or annual fee to ensure you keep receiving all features of your plan.
Are HDDs viable alternatives to cloud?
Over the years, HDDs have become gradually more capacious and smaller in physical size:
- In 2011, average HDD capacity was already nearly 600 GB, according to Tom’s Hardware. Some laptops can actually contain multiple disks, with the optical disc drive often swapped out for a second HDD.
- External hard drives available for less than $100 may hold at least 1 TB of data.
With an HDD (or a solid-state drive, which is similar but much faster and usually more expensive per GB), you’re in control. You decide where it’s stored and how it’s secured (e.g., whether it is encrypted). Other than the initial cost of the hardware, there’s usually no ongoing fees. Plus, you’re using the same basic technology as many online backup providers.
HDDs don’t last forever. Most models can survive for approximately four years, but a lot depends on quality, usage and damage, according to a Backblaze assessment. Security issues are highly relevant here: Ransomware that encrypts your disk’s data and withholds the decryption key will greatly shorten the useful life of any HDD.
External HDDs are easy to lose and can be stolen. In contrast, the facilities supporting cloud storage services are highly secure and the data itself is usually backed up redundantly. Cloud service providers also provide an extra layer of protection for your data from common cyber attacks.
Making an informed choice about cyber security and backup
Everyone will have unique requirements for security and storage solutions. It’s common to take advantage of both options in tandem, using local or cloud storage wherever it makes the most sense.
As you make your choice, pay close attention to what security protections you have on your devices as well as what guarantees any cloud service provider puts forth. It is a good idea to protect your PC and its data with a comprehensive platform such as Ultimate Internet Security from Total Defense. Safe cloud online backup services can also reduce the strain on your HDD and ensure you always have the space to store all your information.