November 14, 2013, 12:40 PM — The need to back up your data is indisputable, but how you do it is a matter of choice. Cloud backup services are the most hassle-free option, but they can be costly, and they require a stable, high-speed broadband connection that isn't available for everyone. And NSA surveillance has certainly made it difficult to trust sensitive data to a third-party provider.
Alternatives exist. With a combination of hardware, apps, and services, you can create secure, easily accessible data backups without relying on the cloud.
Long before cloud backup services sprang up, businesses and individuals made do by using external USB hard drives. Backing up data locally to an external USB hard drive is faster than uploading it to the cloud--especially via a USB 3.0 connection--and external drives are a relatively cheap, one-time investment rather than an ongoing subscription. Still, two potential concerns with backing up to an external hard drive remain.
One concern: What happens when the external drive malfunctions or crashes? Consumer-grade drives are pretty reliable, but they will inevitably fail--usually about the same time your PC crashes, if Murphy has anything to say about it. Second, if a fire or flood destroys your home or office, your external drive will succumb right along with your PC.
You can resolve both of these issues, however, with a couple of simple steps. First, perform backups to two external USB hard drives. Then store one of the drives in a fireproof safe (preferably on a shelf to avoid water damage from a flood) or offsite in a safety deposit box.
One of the biggest benefits of using a cloud backup service is that the data is stored safely offsite.
As an alternative to locking away a hard drive in a fireproof box, you could instead use a peer-to-peer backup system such as the one offered by CrashPlan.
CrashPlan is a cloud backup provider, but it also offers a free service that lets you back up data to the PC of a friend or family member, while they back up their data to yours. Your backup will be stored safely offsite and encrypted, so it can be accessed only by using your personal account information.
You have a few caveats to consider, though. The process takes place over the Internet, so, depending on your broadband speed, it may take a lot longer than a local backup. Your friend or family member's PC must also be turned on, connected to the Internet, and have enough available storage to accommodate your data.
Another advantage of storing data in the cloud is that you can access it from virtually anywhere, anytime, via a mobile app or Web browser. A network-enabled external drive like the Western Digital (WD) My Cloud provides the same convenience.
My Cloud offers 2 terabytes or more of storage, and WD has apps for both Android and iOS that let you access the data stored on the drive from wherever you are. The apps also integrate with cloud services like Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Google Drive, enabling you to transfer files from your My Cloud drive to the cloud, or vice versa. WD also has a four-bay version called My Cloud EX4, which adds the assurance of a RAID array's mirrored copies.
ioSafe offers a networked version of its patented disaster-proof drives. It features two drives set up in a RAID configuration with similar syncing and mobile app access, for use as a private cloud.
With Younity or MiST, the data itself stays in its original location--on your mobile device, or your Windows or Mac computer. The source of the data has to be turned on and connected to the Internet for the data to be accessible from other platforms or devices, but you can use these services along with some other backup alternative to enjoy the same anywhere-access to data that you get from the cloud.
Backing up your data using a mix of these tools isn't as turnkey-simple as using an online service. But once you have have a process in place, you can confidently kiss the cloud goodbye.