Is it better to backup to cloud or hard drive?

Having a solid backup strategy is crucial for protecting your important data against loss. The two main options for backup storage are cloud-based storage and external hard drives. But which is better? There are pros and cons to each approach.

Cloud Storage Pros

Backing up to the cloud has become very popular in recent years. Some key advantages of cloud backup include:

  • Accessibility – You can access your backed up files from any device, anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection.
  • Offsite protection – Storing data in the cloud protects against local disasters like fires, floods or theft that could destroy data stored locally.
  • Automatic backups – Many cloud services make it easy to schedule automatic, continuous backups in the background.
  • Collaboration – Cloud-based files can usually be accessed and shared more easily for collaboration.
  • Scalability – Cloud storage can scale to accommodate growing storage needs seamlessly.
  • Managed by provider – The backup provider takes care of managing the data center infrastructure.

Cloud Storage Cons

There are also some downsides to consider with cloud backup:

  • Internet dependency – You must have an active internet connection to access files in the cloud. If you are offline, you won’t be able to get to your backups.
  • Security concerns – Storing data with a third-party online opens up potential security risks, like hacking or data breaches.
  • Limited control – You have less control over backed up data compared to local storage.
  • Slower restores – Restoring large amounts of backup data from the cloud can take much longer than local restores.
  • Cost – Ongoing costs for subscription cloud backup services can add up over time.

External Hard Drive Pros

Backing up locally to an external hard drive also offers advantages:

  • Faster access – You can access your backups faster with a local hard drive compared to cloud storage.
  • Always accessible – External hard drive backups are accessible any time, with or without internet.
  • User control – You have full control over the external drive and backups.
  • Faster restores – Restores are generally much quicker from a directly attached hard drive.
  • No recurring fees – purchasing an external drive is a one-time cost.
  • Extra protection – External drive backups protect against internet outages affecting cloud storage.

External Hard Drive Cons

The limitations of local external drive backup include:

  • Accessibility limits – The backups are limited to the physical location of the external hard drive.
  • Destination risks – Local external storage is vulnerable to theft, natural disaster, power surges, and hardware failure.
  • Requires backups – The external drive itself requires its own periodic backups.
  • Storage limits – Physical drives have a fixed capacity that eventually fills up.
  • Manual processes – Backups must be manually initiated and managed.

Cloud vs External Backup Comparison

Here is a summary comparing key aspects of cloud vs local hard drive backup:

Comparison Cloud Backup External Hard Drive
Accessibility Accessible from anywhere with internet connection Only accessible locally, require physical access to drive
Security Some security risks with 3rd party provider Under direct user control so more secure
Speed Backups and restores typically slower Faster backup and restore from local drive
Scalability Storage easily scalable Limited by physical capacity of external drive
Reliability Dependent on internet connection Drive hardware can fail
Cost Recurring subscription fees One-time purchase cost

The Best Backup Solution

Generally, the best backup strategy is a hybrid approach using both the cloud and external hard drives. This provides both offsite protection and quicker local restore capabilities. A suggested hybrid backup workflow:

  1. Perform regular backups to an external hard drive, such as once per week.
  2. Use cloud storage to backup the external drive, say once per month.
  3. Store the external drive offsite from your computer for protection.
  4. When needed, restore recent files quickly from the external drive.
  5. If the external drive is lost or corrupted, restore from the cloud.

This tiered strategy provides both fast local recovery and offsite protection in case of a disaster destroying the external drive. The cloud backup acts as a last line of defense for the most critical data.

Some tips when implementing a cloud-external hybrid backup plan:

  • Use an encrypted external drive for greater security.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication on the cloud storage account.
  • Store backups from critical systems on both the cloud and external device.
  • Consider using a NAS device instead of a portable hard drive for more storage and redundancy.
  • Place the external drive in a fire/water-proof safe when offsite.

Other Backup Considerations

There are a few other factors to weigh when developing a backup strategy:

  • Backup software – Use dedicated backup software to automate and simplify the backup process.
  • Historical versions – Cloud services can often store prior versions of files, protecting against accidental edits.
  • Backup frequency – Back up more frequently for important data that changes often.
  • Network storage – On premises network attached storage (NAS) can supplement cloud and local backups.
  • Remote office data – Ensure remote/branch office data is backed up to the cloud if no local backup exists.
  • Testing restores – Periodically test restoring backups to verify they are working properly.


Maintaining both cloud and external hard drive backups provides comprehensive data protection and recovery capabilities. Cloud handles offsite protection and widespread accessibility. Local external drives enable quicker restores and total user control. Using both together gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to backup. Just be sure to encrypt and protect the external drive backups while offsite. With a sound hybrid backup process, you can effectively protect your important data from loss.