Digital data is essential to almost every area of your life. But most computer and smartphone users only store these documents, photos, and applications on their physical devices. As a result, their data is always at risk of being lost through hardware failures, viruses, or even theft. Regular data backups ensure that your most important files are secured, so they can be retrieved if such incidents occur.
In recent years, cloud services have become the most popular option for data duplication and storage. Here, cloud refers to software hosted on a network of remote servers. These networks store your data and make it accessible across different digital devices and platforms. A variety of cloud service providers deliver this technology to digital users at all scales. While these services are cost-effective and simple to use, they can be quite confusing for new customers unaware of the exact features on offer.
Here is a rundown of the different types of cloud services, and what you can expect from each one.
Popular examples of cloud sync technologies include: Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and iCloud. Each of these services gives you access to a personal folder you can use to store data. All saved files are stored on both your physical hard drive and the cloud servers. This folder is accessible on your cloud service account through any connected device. Any changes made to your cloud-based files show in real-time across every access point.
While real-time synchronization is a handy feature for online projects, it creates problems when files on the cloud folder are changed or deleted inadvertently. As these modifications update immediately across all your devices, it becomes difficult to retrieve intact versions of your data. Although many cloud sync providers now offer rollback capabilities which allow you to restore previous versions of files, these options only cover a specific timeframe so you may be left with several versions of a corrupted file. To get around these limitations, some cloud services provide additional special non-sync folders that do not synchronize data changes unless requested.
While cloud sync services are helpful for remote collaboration, file sharing, and quick backups, they offer limited storage capacity. Although you can extend these limits by paying for higher-tier storage plans, you might still be restricted by file size limits and quotas governing the number of transfers allowed over time. Because of these constraints, cloud sync providers are not recommended for full system backups.
Although cloud backup providers allow you to share your data across different devices, they are not as intuitive as cloud sync services. Instead, their main purpose is to facilitate your disaster recovery efforts in the event of hardware damage, theft, or data corruption. Backup software runs continuously in the background, keeping track of data changes and copying all updated files and folders to the cloud. All backups keep the original file system structure of your data so if you ever need to recover files, they will display how they were before the data loss.
While most cloud sync services offer a free tier for cloud storage up to a certain capacity, you will need to purchase services from a cloud backup provider. Backup providers tend to offer far more storage at more affordable rates than cloud sync providers. In most cases you should be able to keep a full-system backup of your computer or smartphone for $5-$10 a month.
The best part about these services is their ease of use. Once you have installed a cloud backup client, you can continue with your daily computing tasks with no concerns, as photos, documents, emails, and other critical files are duplicated and stored automatically. However, if you prefer to take a more hands-on approach, then you can always configure your client to back up only certain files and folders at specified times.
As an extra measure of security, most backup services provide you with an encryption key that prevents third-parties from monitoring your sensitive data.
Cloud storage providers like Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure own the storage network infrastructure that many cloud backup and sync services use to house their data. These services build applications on top of the existing storage infrastructure to enable data storage and accessibility for end-users. While cloud storage does offer more control, security, and scalability than commercial backup, it is not marketed towards regular consumers because they need specialized applications to use the services on offer.
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