Backing up data is essential but until recently, file backup solutions were limited to local storage on physical devices, such as CDs, thumb drives and external hard drives. Now, as cloud storage becomes more popular, individuals and businesses have a choice: Do you back up everything through an online storage system, or keep your local systems in place? Each type of storage has advantages and drawbacks.

Should you choose cloud or local backup? The answer depends on a lot of different factors.

Cloud Backup Pros and Cons

Cloud storage may be the hot new thing in data backup but like any other technology, it comes with advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Cloud Storage
  • Cost Effectiveness
    This is the driving force behind the surge in the popularity of cloud storage. When you use a cloud storage service provider, you don’t have to own or maintain any of the hardware or software associated with backup storage. You simply pay a monthly fee (with no upfront investment) to store your data. The savings are substantial, right down to the power you don’t use to run hardware storage equipment.
  • Accessibility
    Cloud platforms run on the Internet. When you use cloud storage, you can access your data from any connected device, such as a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Just log into your cloud account, and all your stored data is there.
  • Flexibility
    Cloud storage systems are highly scalable. You can have as much or as little space as you need, and most providers allow you to add storage capacity on demand, so there’s no upgrade or rollout wait for increased storage.
  • Disaster recovery
    Because cloud storage is a remote backup solution, your data is safe in the event of an on-site catastrophe. Disaster recovery is also a much faster process, since there’s no physical equipment involved in getting the files back.
Disadvantages of Cloud Storage
  • Speed
    Depending on the amount of data you have, creating a full backup to a cloud storage platform can take a long time because transfer is limited to your bandwidth and connection speed. Most local backup solutions are much faster.
  • Security
    While this has become less of an issue as cloud service providers have made the shift from brand-new technology to an established and competitive industry, there are still security risks associated with remote storage solutions. No data that traverses the Internet is 100 percent safe from hackers and malware.
  • Control
    For individuals or businesses with highly sensitive data, an inability to retain complete control over the storage process can be a drawback with cloud platforms.

Local Backup Pros and Cons

If cloud storage is the new kid on the block, then local or on-site backup is Old Reliable. However, like cloud storage, it’s not a 100 percent guaranteed solution.

Advantages of Local Storage
  • Security
    It may be more appropriate to call this advantage peace of mind. With local backup, which is usually in the form of external hard drives, the data is just as protected as your network. Plus, once it’s stored and the drive is disconnected, it’s safe from any malicious attacks that affect your infrastructure.
  • Speed
    With on-site backups, speed is not limited by connectivity. Backing up all of your data to an external hard drive usually takes a fraction of the time required by cloud storage. After that initial backup, daily updating can be done in a few minutes.
  • Control
    With a local backup solution, you know exactly where your data is, and you retain control over who can and cannot access your files. Keeping an offline backup locally is a good way to ensure that your information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Disadvantages of Local Storage
  • Cost
    The investment in a local hardware backup system is typically hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, or more if there's enough data to require a private data center with servers. In addition, the owner of that data will be responsible for all maintenance, upgrades, and power consumption costs for those servers. As a result, on-site backups can be prohibitively expensive.
  • Flexibility
    With a local storage solution, the storage space you have on hand is all you’ve got. If you need to increase your storage capacity, you’ll have to invest in more hardware.
  • Accessibility and Disaster Recovery
    Local backups are only accessible from the physical storage device. In addition, if a disaster affects your home or business, your on-site backups could be destroyed as well. Some local storage users work around this by creating additional sets of data to keep in an off-site location, but this involves more work because the off-site backups have to be brought in for updating when data changes.

Making the Choice

The decision about whether to use cloud storage or local storage depends on your backup needs. For most personal users, cloud storage is an ideal solution: It’s inexpensive, easy to set up, and doesn’t require a lot of attention once the system is in place. Plus, most cloud platforms can be set to back up automatically at certain times. Small businesses that lack the resources for elaborate hardware systems also find cloud solutions effective.

While a few companies choose to remain on a closed local system - especially those who have already invested in private data centers - many are settling on hybrid solutions. A combination of automated cloud storage platforms and local hardware backups for essential data can insure against most data loss disasters, which is the primary goal for any backup and recovery solution. (Learn more about cloud computing solutions in Public, Private and Hybrid Cloud: What's the Difference?)