Where’s the best place to store your personal data? For most users the decision comes down to the PC itself or an external hard drive. The underlying motto: my data belongs here under my own roof. More adventurous souls can also opt for a variety of webhosting providers and online back-up services that allow for files to be stored on external servers. The costs are quite low. But are they safe?The disadvantage to physical storage media is that it can age or be lost, says Strahinja Zuljevic from the online magazine Netzwelt. That doesn’t happen to data stored on the net. Another plus: it’s available at any time.
"Users don’t have to spend their money on expensive hardware," says Sven Rohkamm from the webhosting provider Dogado Internet in Germany. Storing the files is also uncomplicated. There are even automated solutions available to eliminate the need to actively copy the files. The user doesn’t have to constantly worry where a given file is stored.
The choice between manual copying of data to the service or automated synchronization usually comes down to the price and features. On the one side is simple storage space. Files or folders are manually selected and dragged onto the online storage repository. The services providing automated backup make their copies of selected folders at specific, pre-determined times.
The best services provide software for the user to install, Zuljevic says. Rates for the recommended services start at around five dollars per month, with a minimum two year contract often required. Web-based mail services that offer data services as a side feature should be regarded with caution: their upload speeds are frequently too slow.
The big names in the field currently include Mozy, Carbonite, and Dropbox, Zuljevic says. The first two provide unlimited storage space, while Dropbox offers two gigabytes. Availability is a key criterion. "Nothing is worse than the service being down just when the user needs his data," says Zuljevic.
Depending on how much data needs to be uploaded, connection speeds can also play a role. The upload volumes, storage space, and fees are decisive as well, says Andreas Krug from Germany’s Computer Bild magazine.
Security is a central concern, too. Users should lean toward services that enable the encryption of data, Strahinja Zuljevic recommends. AES encryption combined with a complicated password is a good option. The encryption of the files prior to upload and encryption of the connection is a fundamental component of any good solution, Rohkamm adds.
Users can also chose services from their own home country, which tends to provide faster upload and download speeds. In general the services are relatively secure, Krug says: "Whether or not you are comfortable uploading your data on the net and storing it there is a question each user must answer on their own." Ultimately, though, the online variants shouldn’t replace ‘normal’ backups, Zuljevics says, but rather supplement them.