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Cloud storage vs external hard disk drive

cloud storage vs hard disk drive
(Image credit: Western Digital )

For most people, having a safe place to store their data is paramount. It needs to be highly secure, easily accessible, and resistant to corruption or damage. The question of whether to go for cloud storage vs hard disk drive storage is an important one, and it really depends on your usage and needs. 

For the general user, cloud storage is likely to be the better solution: you can pay for the space you use and easily add more; there’s little to no chance of file loss thanks to modern redundancy systems employed by cloud storage providers; and you can access your files from anywhere with an internet connection, including your mobile phone or tablet. 

Features

External hard drives offer little in the way of special features. Simplicity is the main attractor here: simply plug it in, then click and drag your files onto the external hard drive.

External hard drives can also be useful for backing up or moving large files, as a USB is typically faster than Wi-Fi or even a direct internet connection.

Finally, external hard drives can offer much in the way of security. Because the file is stored on a physical drive in your own possession, you can simply place the drive under lock and key and be sure that nobody can access it. However, this also places your files at greater risk of destruction or corruption, as there’s typically only one version of the file, and if the hard drive itself gets damaged, it’s game over.

Cloud storage providers, on the other hand, offer a wide variety of features to make it easy to sync, store, and share files. Continuous backup and file synchronization is one benefit that hard drives can rarely manage. As long as you’re connecting to the internet, all your files will continue to back up and sync on a regular basis. It’s a great convenience not to have to think about backing up.

Cloud storage has also come a long way in terms of security, and in some cases could even be considered safer than physical possession of a hard drive. For example, if somebody manages to get their hands on your hard drive and you haven’t taken the time (or don’t know how) to encrypt your files, they’ll have total access. Cloud storage providers offer robust, end-to-end encryption with two-factor authentication. 

Your files themselves are also much safer from corruption or loss. A single physical drive can become damaged or simply wear out, while cloud storage providers use expensive and highly sophisticated systems of local and geographic redundancy to ensure multiple copies of any given file are available as needed.

Finally, file versioning can be achieved with an external drive, through an application like macOS’s Time Machine, but typical click-and-drag storage on a hard disk won’t enable you to keep multiple versions of a file. Cloud storage providers typically offer at least 30 days of versioning for free, and more with paid plans.

Performance

Internet speeds are getting faster and faster, but it’s true that a hard disk connected directly to your computer will typically offer faster transfer speeds. However, this greatly limits your mobility and means that you can only back up or sync files when physically connected to the drive. Internet speeds may be marginally slower, but your backup will run in the background, 24/7.

Support

Most manufacturers can offer you some amount of support when you purchase a hard drive, but there’s not much they can do if your files are corrupted or lost. There are some good file recovery programs out there, but if you’re looking for top-notch support, a cloud provider is the way to go.

Pricing and plans

Another advantage to an external hard drive is the cost: you need only pay once, when you purchase it. Cloud providers work on a subscription basis, so you pay every year or month. That said, you get the benefits of all the features mentioned above.

Plus, the kinds of top-of-the-line external drives that cloud providers use can be extremely costly, and for many people, it’s preferable to pay $5 per month than $500 all at once for a device that, if it breaks, you simply have to replace out of pocket.

Verdict

There are a few advantages to external hard drives that may appeal to some users in special cases, but for the average user, a cloud storage provider is probably better. Your files are updated regularly and kept securely, and the cost can be negligible. The risk of data corruption or loss is greatly reduced, and you’ll have better support in case something goes wrong.