If you use technology on a daily basis, most likely you have a lot of data stored on your personal devices. Whether it’s pictures on your phone, video games on your computer, or a lot of Word documents; most of those items are not something that you want to lose. So, what can you do to protect your data in case of an emergency? Well, luckily there are a lot of possibilities to back up your data, sometimes the complex part is choosing the option that is best for you. Your main options for backing up your data are going to be either an external storage device or a cloud storage service. But which one is the best for your needs?

Cloud Storage

One question you may be asking yourself is, “what exactly is cloud storage?” A lot of people may not know exactly what the term means, but odds are, you’ve interacted with cloud storage in some way. If you have a Google account, then you’ve interacted with cloud storage! Cloud storage is your own personal data that you can access through the internet, rather than having it saved directly to your device. Typically it is accessible through a secure account like your Google or Apple account, and includes files such as photos, documents, and maybe even complete backups of a personal device.

Cloud storage is an excellent way to save your data without having to worry about keeping track of a flash drive, SD card, or external hard drive. However, it does have some drawbacks of its own. Most importantly, it takes an internet connection to access information in cloud storage and to upload anything new into cloud storage. If you don’t have a stable internet connection, then cloud storage is probably not something you want to use. It also isn’t always free. Most cloud storage services will start with a free option that gives you anywhere between 5GB-15GB of storage space. For some, that may be enough space, for others, it’s not nearly enough. If you plan on using cloud storage to back up almost all of your data, then expect to be adding another subscription to your monthly bills. Typically the service will cost somewhere between $1-$10, depending on how much storage you need.

The other factor to weigh with cloud storage is privacy and overall safety of your files. At the end of the day, cloud storage is essentially entrusting a company with your data, whatever that data may be. When you upload a document to your Google account and delete it off of your personal device, you are entrusting Google to keep that document safe. While you can do a lot to secure your personal account, at no time are you 100% safe from the possibility of a security breach, or a hiccup on Google’s end. So, that means your personal files are not 100% safe either. While your data never should be deleted, everyone using cloud storage should understand that it is a possibility. Whether that be from a security breach or a hiccup from the storage service itself, it can occasionally happen, and if those files aren’t saved anywhere else, then the results can be devastating. In some ways, cloud storage can seem like a miracle in all of its convenience and simple usability. However, it does have risks that must be weighed, and requires a reliance on the internet that is not accessible to everyone.

SD Cards, USB Flash Drives, and External Hard Drives

On the other hand, there is also the option of having a physical storage drive that you store your data on. This can come in a few different forms, but the majority of the time it will be either a USB flash drive or an external hard drive. An SD card also may be used, but are not used as frequently in modern technology. SD cards are typically used to store photos and other files that may be taking up a lot of storage on a smartphone or tablet, however most modern phones and tablets no longer come with the ability to insert an SD card. Most phones and tablets come with enough storage that there is no need to use an SD card, and typically focus on using cloud storage as a backup instead.

If you’re looking to back up larger quantities of data onto a physical drive, then most likely you will be using either a USB drive, or an external hard drive. Both of these storage devices can store a lot of data and are great for saving your files, but as with cloud storage, they do have drawbacks. A USB drive is pretty small and compact, which is why it is also called a thumb drive. Modern flash drives can hold a lot of data, with some capable of holding over a Terabyte of space! These little guys are also pretty cheap for a form of physical storage, so they may be handy if you’re on a budget. However, due to their small size, they have a couple unique drawbacks. USB drives can degrade over time if they are used on a frequent basis, and if used too often, they can get corrupted and possibly lose all of your files. Now, it has to be used a heavy amount on a regular basis for something like this to occur, but if you think that you may use your external drive on a very frequent basis, this is something to consider.

On top of that, there’s a pretty good chance you may lose your USB drive. With something so small, it’s easy to forget it somewhere, whether that is plugged into a machine, or just forgetting where you last set it. If you’re a forgetful person, a USB drive may not be a great option for you — the last thing you want to do is lose all of your precious files.

An external hard drive is another option for a physical backup, and these are a little harder to lose. They are a little bigger than a USB drive, typically measuring about a few inches long, a couple inches wide. Hard drives can hold much more data than a USB drive, typically ranging anywhere from a couple hundred gigabytes, to several terabytes. These are specifically handy if you have lots of large files and programs that you want backups of. However, a hard drive still has the possibility of files degrading over time if it is used frequently, although not quite as quickly as a USB drive. In both cases of USB drives and external hard drives, there is one greatly important step when using them, that is to eject them from the computer once you are done using it. This is done pretty easily in your file browser on your computer, by simply right-clicking on the name of the drive, and then clicking eject on the window of options that pop up. This is a crucial step, for if the drive is not ejected before being unplugged, there is a higher chance that files may be corrupted and lost.

Solid State Drives

There is one more type of external drive that I haven’t mentioned yet, and that is Solid State Drives, also known as SSDs. SSDs are a relatively new creation, and can also be used as an external drive for storing files. The difference between an SSD and a normal hard drive is that there are no physically moving parts in an SSD; it is all electronic. This eliminates some element of failure for the drive since there are no moving parts that could end up causing an issue, however electronics are obviously not without fault either, so SSDs still have a possibility of failure. Since these new drives are still in their infancy, there isn’t long lasting data to tell just how well they hold up, but the current consensus is that they seem to generally last longer than a traditional hard drive. SSDs are more expensive, however, so they aren’t going to be a super affordable way to back up data. It’ll be interesting to see just how effective SSDs can become as more advancement is made and as they get cheaper to produce.

When it comes to backing up your personal data, there really is no perfect option. Cloud storage is convenient and takes little knowledge of technology, but you are entrusting your data into someone else’s hands. Physical storage is in your control, but it may get corrupted if it isn’t handled correctly, and it is susceptible to being lost and stolen if it isn’t being properly taken care of. So, how should you store your data? It really is up to you to decide. You may find you like using multiple storage devices and systems, or you may have a physical copy of all your pictures printed out in a binder. The best option for backing up your data will depend on your specific needs. Whatever you do, make sure you take good care of your data, and do everything you can to keep it safe and protected. Hopefully, you won’t be losing data any time soon.