May 30, 2011, 11:09 AM — Your PC's hard drive may have half a terabyte of data on its platters, and you might not remember the last time you backed any of it up. In all likelihood, though, you use only a few gigabytes' worth of files on a regular basis. With a combination of cloud-storage services, you can keep that data backed up and synced among all of your computers automatically, and access your most essential files whenever you want.
Cloud-storage services take three distinct approaches: backup, folder syncing, and drop boxes. We've yet to find a single service that offers the perfect blend of all three, but you can easily combine a couple of services, and many great options are free.
Backing up the entire contents of your hard drive to the cloud comes with a trade-off. What you get is peace of mind--the knowledge that your data is safe in the event that your home vanishes into a black hole that somehow leaves the rest of the planet intact.
What you give up is speed: Even with a very fast broadband connection, backing up all of your data can take weeks. Once the initial backup is done, however, regular daily backups of just the newly changed files take almost no time at all, and happen in the background with no effort on your part.
Restoring data can be painless and quick if you just want to recover a recent version of a particular file, but if you ever need to run a total system recovery, it could take days. Fortunately, most cloud-backup services offer the option of mailing you a recovery disc with your backed-up data on it.
My favorite choice for whole-drive backup, mostly for its great pricing, is a service called BackBlaze, which charges $5 monthly or $50 annually for backing up unlimited data on one computer. Competing backup services run as much as $90 a year for a mere 100GB.
If you move between two or three computers on a regular basis, having user folders such as Music or Documents synced between them automatically can be helpful. Sync services such as SugarSync and Microsoft Windows Live SkyDrive can sync any folders you designate, no matter where they are on your system.