Online backup FAQ's

Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and other services like these are considered cloud storage, not cloud backup. That means they are not automated and not designed for recovery of lost files like paid backup programs. Here’s a rough metaphor: Google Drive and the like are similar to self storage units, where you put things that can’t fit or don’t belong in your home. Cloud backup, in contrast, is like building an exact copy of your home so that if your current one burns down, you’ll have another one ready for you. Obviously, the replica home is going to cost more, but at least you’ll have more than a garage full of random stuff should the worst happen.

Read more about the difference between cloud storage, cloud backup, and synchronization here.

This varies from user to user, but once a week at minimum is generally considered good practice. Bandwidth-pending, daily or even hourly is acceptable. If you’re frequenly creating and modifying files, you’ll want to run backups more often.

Many backup providers these days default to “continuous” backup, which is constantly monitoring for newly created, modified, moved, and deleted files. Continuous backup happens instantaneously as soon as any change is detected on the hard drive. It runs in the background and takes the hassle of out scheduling.

Businesses require more robust backup solutions than individuals. Security, first and foremost, is usually more critical for businesses not just to protect themselves and customers, but also to comply with the standards their customers (and regulators) expect. Should a data breach occur, a business should be able to confidently state in a court of law that it took the necessary precautions to protect user data.

Business-facing cloud backup solutions also often offer features for managing an entire team and its fleet of mobile workstations. This assures all employees are properly and habitually backing up their workstations.

Not necessarily. For many people, just backing up your personal user files – documents, photos, downloads, videos, music, etc – will suffice just fine. If you want to restore those files to a new computer, for instance, this option is acceptable. Full system backups are preferable in cases of disaster, in which you might otherwise lose applications or system settings.

Think of it this way: if you were suddenly forced to either reset your computer back to factory settings or buy a new one altogether, what would you want backed up from your current computer? It might be easier to just re-install applications and fine tune the settings again rather than performing a full restore.

This is a complex question with many factors. Ideally, the answer should be no. But not all providers are as vigilant and concerned about privacy as they should be.

To protect data from prying eyes, encryption is required. Encryption happens in two forms: during transfer from a computer to the cloud and encryption of the actual data stored on the cloud. Some cloud backup providers advertise encryption but really only provide the first form, leaving your data un-encrypted and accessible on the cloud servers.

One must also ask who can decrypt the data. Most providers will store the encryption key on behalf of the user, but that means the provider technically has access to users’ files. If hackers or government authorities somehow obtain the key, they also have access. Those who don’t trust the provider can opt to create their own private encryption key. That means only the user and those he or she gives the key to can decrypt the data. If the key is stolen, however, it cannot be changed and the provider is not responsible. If it’s lost, access to the backup is gone forever.

Finally, the location of the provider’s data centers also alters who can access user data. Not all countries have good privacy laws. Datacenters in the US and European Union are generally more trusted. Providers that own their own data centers are preferable as well. Others buy virtual space from a third party like Amazon, Google, and Rackspace, further complicating where data is stored and who has access.

It depends on the provider and which service plan you choose. As a general rule, “unlimited” storage services allow for only one device. Providers that cap cloud storage space typically allow you to back up as many computers, smartphones, and other devices as you can fit in what you’re allotted. Be sure to check the fine print when signing up for a plan. Some providers, for instance, charge extra for external hard drives. Others will back up photos on your smartphone, but not videos.

When you need a file or files from your backup, you simply connect through the backup provider’s app, navigate to the desired file or folder, and download it. The exact process differs based on the app and provider.

Backup providers offer a couple different methods to do this. The first is restoration. Usually the original file structure is preserved, so you can restore the files to their original location on your local hard drive. For instance, if you have PDF scans of receipts saved in C:/Users/Paul/Documents/Receipts, then restoring those scans will place the PDFs in the exact same folder that they came from. If this is a different computer than the original, any folders that don’t exist yet will be created in the process.

The other method is to simply download files and folders to a location different from where they were originally located on the local drive. In this case, you’ll probably download a zip file containing the data to a directory of your choice. Using the same example above, you can download a zipped folder called containing the PDFs to your Downloads folder, for instance.

Depending on your internet speed and amount of data, an initial backup can take anywhere from an hour to a week. Some providers claim to back up computers faster than other using more advanced compression technology, but it ultimately comes down to your bandwidth and the size of your hard drive.

After the initial backup, consecutive backups are much faster as they only upload new or modified files.

Backing up a PC to the cloud will use up some upload bandwidth, especially during the initial backup. If this is a concern, look for providers that offer bandwidth throttling to control upload speeds. Incremental backup is another feature that only updates parts of files that have been modified to avoid re-uploading entire large files.

Download bandwidth, which is used for most internet activity, should remain relatively unaffected.

Local backups are usually saved to either a partition on the original computer’s hard drive or to an external hard drive. Cloud backups are saved to secure, remote servers, often with multiple copies in several geographically diverse locations (this is known as “geo-redundancy”). The latter is considered a safer bet because local drives are equally susceptible to hardware/software failure, theft, and loss as the computers they back up. Cloud servers, assuming the company running them is responsible, are much less likely to fail and can’t really be stolen. The data stored on them, however, can be a target of hackers or government authorities. Read more about cloud backup security here.

Local drives need to be physically connected to the computer and the backup is usually run manually. Most cloud backup services are automated and run in the background daily, hourly, or continuously. The intial backup will take longer than a local backup, sometimes up to a week depending on internet speed and amount of data.

“Backup,” in the simplest terms, means copying files and folders from one location to another. Online backup means the data is transmitted from location A to location B (and in many cases, locations C, D, and E) through the internet. The files and folders stored online are an exact replica of what is stored on your local computer.

Most online backup services, after an initial setup where the user selects what files and folders to back up, are automated. That means you don’t have to manually run the backup program or upload files as you create them. The backup app runs in the background, updating your online stored files weekly, daily, or even continuously as you work.

Cloud backup, the most popular type of online backup, copies files to a remote cloud server or servers. Typically, several copies of a user’s files are stored in several locations, so even if one server fails, another is ready and waiting with the up-to-date data. The files can be accessed via either a native app or web app provided by the service from anywhere in the world on any compatible computer, smartphone, or tablet with internet access.