The difference between cloud backup, cloud storage, and synchronization

Published by Paul Bischoff on September 23, 2015 in Online backup

photographing clouds

When shopping around for a cloud service provider where you can keep your files and folders, you will probably come across these three terms: cloud backup, cloud storage, and cloud sync a.k.a. synchronization. While all three serve as a remote place to stow data and overlap on many key functions, the use case for each differs.

Most people’s first encounter with cloud tech is probably cloud storage. Essentially, it’s like having an external hard drive online that’s accessible anywhere. Users of most online email services like Gmail use cloud storage as a repository for their archives. Building on that, Google expanded Google Drive to include Gmail as well as Google Docs and other services. Popular services like Dropbox and OneDrive have also grown popular as cloud storage providers.

Users typically store things in the cloud manually. That is, they choose when and what files to upload on the cloud on a one-off basis.

Cloud backup differs in that it’s usually automated. Depending on the service, it can happen continuously or on a set schedule, often hourly or daily. When a file is created or modified, the newest version is uploaded and stored on the cloud. While the user can choose which specific files get uploaded, the more common practice is to simply back up everything. Sometimes that includes user files – documents, pictures, videos music, downloads – and it can even include entire systems, such as applications and settings. Some cloud backup services are limited to one or a few devices. IBackup, Carbonite, and BackBlaze are all examples of cloud backup services.

Another key difference is that cloud storage allows the user to upload files that they don’t intend to keep on their local computer. Cloud backup, on the other hand, is an exact copy of what’s on the original hard drive. If a file is deleted, it will be removed from the backup as well (although some providers offer recovery of deleted files).

Synchronization means keeping the most up-to-date version of a file or files on two or more devices. It’s ideal for collaboration or people who frequently use multiple devices. Many cloud backup and cloud storage providers have incorporated synchronization into their services. Sharing public links or privately adding collaborators is a common feature of sync services.

Google Docs, for instance, instantly makes the latest edits of a document visible to all collaborators. Dropbox also has synchronization, though all synced files have to be placed in the designated sync folder. SugarSync is one of the few services for which the primary function is synchronization. You can set it to sync any existing folder on your computer with other devices, though there’s no option to edit or create files in the app.

Whether you should choose cloud storage, cloud backup, or cloud synchronization largely depends on your specific needs. For users who just need a place to store files someplace other than their local hard drive, cloud storage will suffice. Cloud backup is for people who want the peace of mind that if their device is lost, stolen, or damaged, their files are safe and can be restored. People who want to collaborate or regularly hop between devices should use cloud sync, as it constantly updates to the latest versions of your files.

photographing clouds” by Nancy licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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