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How to Choose the Right Online File Storage & Data Backup Site

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As technology evolves at an ever increasing pace, more and more of us are replacing our laptops, mobile phones and digital cameras ever more frequently. The trouble with keeping up with technology in this way is that it's easy to leave behind important files or data on a previous device without realising, only to discover six months down the line that the device no longer works and contained the only copy of your wedding photos or old academic work. It's this problem that's prompting more and more savvy technologists to look to the cloud for a solution at an affordable price.


What is the 'Cloud'?

'Cloud' is the new term being bandied around to describe any services that are provided solely inside the internet as far as anyone using them is concerned, and it holds the solution to the lost wedding photos problem. In this category, we are looking at cloud based, or online (to use the old fashioned term), solutions for storing your data and backing up your hard drive. These services allow you to store all your important stuff online (in the cloud) and instantly access it from anywhere in the world. As a bonus your stuff will stay there for as long as you want it to no matter how many laptops you go through by spilling coffee all over the keyboard. These solutions are easier to set up than you might think, but there's still plenty to consider when choosing the right one for you so read on to see what helped us make our decisions.


Online Storage or Online Backup?

Broadly speaking there are two types of service that we looked at in this category. Online storage services generally provide an allocation of space in the cloud to which you can then upload files and usually share them with other people. Online backup services provide a similar type of thing, but also offer extra features to help with scheduling backups and restoring files in the event of a disaster. Many services offer features that would put them firmly in both categories which is great, but generally online storage can work out a bit cheaper than an online backup solution so you should be clear on which suits your requirements best.

Many of the services we looked at also tailor their solutions to home or business users and price them accordingly. As a business user you will probably have some sort of formal set of requirements that the service must fulfil so it makes sense to look for a service that really provides the features an enterprise solution requires. Many companies advertise business plans as just having more space, but anyone from the corporate IT world will point out that there is much more that must be considered, such as security, reliability and ease of deployment. While we have focused mainly on services that home users would want to consider, there are still a few we have looked at which would be well suited to businesses.


Useful Features

It helps to have an idea of the things that are important to you when choosing an online storage or backup solution so here we describe some of the things we were looking at as we reviewed the services.

  • Space: For many people the amount of space on offer will be one of the biggest factors in making the decision on which service to use. This varies quite a lot between the services we looked at, with the more modern ones offering hundreds of Gigabytes or even a few Terrabytes, while those struggling to keep up still only offering a few hundred megabytes of a couple of gigabytes. How much space you need depends on what you plan on doing with the service. If you just want to share a few photos or the odd video with friends then a couple of gigabytes is fine, but if you want to backup your whole hard drive then you will definitely need a bit more. The average laptop hard drive is probably somewhere between 100 GB and 500 GB, but you might not need quite that much backup space if you are selective in what you backup.
  • Compatibility: Compatibility is most important if you are looking at setting up a fully automated backup solution. Different services offer different ways of accessing the storage space they provide so it's important to figure out what it is you want to do exactly. Most home users will just want to install the provided software and get things set up as easily as possible, but even then not everything works with the Mac OS so make sure to check. More advanced home users or business users may want the service to be more configurable and so should be checking to see if the storage space can be accessed using the webDAV protocol (to map as a network drive) or via FTP (for automated file transfers).
  • Access: Most of the services we looked at provide at the very least some sort of web interface for uploading and accessing files in your online storage space. However, the quality of these varies significantly. Furthermore, if you plan on doing a lot of uploads it can often be easier and more reliable to have a desktop tool installed on your computer. Many services do provide some sort of tool, but the quality of these varies even more and many are only available for Windows based PCs. Make sure to check things are going to be compatible with the system you are using and, if there are any free trial periods, make sure to make use of them to see if the user interface is up to scratch and bug free. Additionally, if you think you might want access to your files on the move make sure to look for one of the services in this category that provide some sort of mobile phone app. It's not yet standard on every service, but many are beginning to offer iPhone and Android apps to get at your files, and some at the head of the pack even support Blackberry and Windows Mobile.
  • Backups: If you plan on using your online storage space as a backup solution then there are certain features you will want to make sure the service provides. Most importantly for an average home user is to check that the software provided comes with the features to support automated backups. A well designed application will be able to cope with different styles of backup, such as continuously every time a file is changed or at scheduled times throughout the day or week. You might also want to check if a version history is kept of the files you upload so that you can revert to a previous version if you mess something up It may be a bit of work to get this configured at first, but it will be worthwhile in the end when all your important files are safely stored in the cloud.


Final Word

Setting up an online storage or backup solution really isn't all that difficult and we would recommend it to anyone as an excellent way of making sure important files are kept safe. You should now have some idea of the types of things to look for in these services and, coupled with our reviews, you should be able to make an informed decision on which to go for. Our recommended next stop would be the top ten product reviews in this category to check out some of the best services we found.