Let’s Discuss: Backup vs. Cloud Storage – What’s the Difference?

​”I store all my documents and pictures in the Cloud, so I don’t back up my computer.”  

We hear statements like this all the time.  Is this a dangerous approach?  As with many questions posed to consultants, the answer to this one is “It Depends.”  It depends on what risks you are looking to minimize.  Let’s discuss.

First, some background:


In this article and in today’s technology conversations, “Cloud” refers to services available on-demand over the Internet.

  • Examples of Cloud Backup Services:  Carbonite, Mozy, SugarSync, etc.
  • Examples of Cloud Storage Services:  Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, etc.  Most Cloud Storage solutions also offer file sharing and collaboration as well.


The purpose of a backup is to allow you to recover data that has been deleted or destroyed through acts of nature, hardware/software failure, human error, or even malicious intent (getting hacked).

A backup should take periodic snapshots or copies of your active files.  Ideally, a backup copy is stored in a different physical location than your working files; this minimizes the risk of a single act of nature destroying not only your computer, but your backup as well.

Traditional (non-Cloud-based) backup methods include Windows Backup, TimeMachine (Mac), and simply manually copying your Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. libraries to an external drive.  Today’s Cloud-based backup options (e.g., Mozy, Carbonite), typically sold by subscription, automatically back up your files to the provider’s large computers over the Internet.

Cloud Storage:

Cloud storage services offer file storage and sharing over the Internet, rather than locally on your computer’s hard drive.  Many of us are driven to use one or more of these services by the need to share files with others, or the need to access our files on-the-go via our mobile devices.   Most cloud storage providers (e.g., Google Drive, Dropbox) provide a software application (“app”) to install, which creates a folder on your computer through which you can save, update, share and delete files.

Because these services keep your working files on their big computers rather than locally on your hard drive, many people consider their files “backed up” when they use these services.   This is where the debate gets interesting.  While storing your files outside of your hard drive does lessen the risk of your files being affected by acts of nature or hardware/software failure on your end, cloud storage services do not always protect you from the risks of accidental or malicious deletion (though some will keep deleted files for 30 days or so).  For example, what if the person with whom you shared that Dropbox folder accidentally deleted all of its contents?  Or what if your Google account were to get hacked and all your files from Google Drive were deleted?

Bottom line: 

Storage (local or cloud-based) is for using and STORING your working files.

Backups are for RESTORING them. 

Not everyone needs to use cloud storage,  but if your working files are important to you or your business, back them up, regardless of whether they are stored on your hard drive or in the Cloud.

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