The alternative to local backup is to back up online (in the so-called cloud) and there are pros and cons to this approach. The major benefit is that it’s easy. You don’t have to make any decisions about what type of media to use and you don't have worry about media becoming obsolete. You can also rest assured that your data is safe from fire and flood thanks to multiple redundancies where your data is stored in multiple places.
On the reverse side of the coin, there’s the risk that your backup service provider might go bust. There are no guarantees that even the largest companies will stay in business. Plus, there's also the issue about the security of your data as it's sent over the internet and stored on someone else's servers.
It pays to choose a company with a good track record to look out for companies with ISO 27001 accreditation: the international standard for data security. This not only covers the potential loss of data, but also applies to unauthorised access. The good news is that most reputable companies employ encryption so prying eyes can't see the contents of your files when they leave your PC.
This way there’s no risk to your data as it flows across the internet and even staff at the backup company will be unable to read your files because they are totally impregnable without a secret key which is known only to you.
Of course, the other drawback of the cloud is that making backups can take a long time. Speed is limited by your broadband connection. Don’t forget your quoted broadband speed is the download speed; the upload speed is typically much, much slower to the extent that backing up gigabytes and gigabytes of data becomes totally impractical and may even exceed your allowances for the month.
You'll have to work out whether the volume of files you want to backup is feasible on your particular broadband connection. It's worth checking the small print scheduling backups so they run overnight. Unless you live in a remote area of the UK, it's certainly a good idea to incorporate online services as part of an overall backup strategy. Subscriptions start from around £5 per month but this varies depending on the amount of storage you need and the facilities on offer.
A particularly interesting online backup service is CrashPlan which is unusual in allowing you to backup remotely either to CrashPlan’s servers or to computers belonging to friends, family or business colleagues. If you want to use CrashPlan’s servers you’d pay a subscription, as you would with most online services, but the option of using the “social backup concept”, as CrashPlan calls it, is totally free. See our guide: How to back up and restore with Crashplan.
In fact, the CrashPlan software also allows you to backup to local drives so, in this way, you get the best of both worlds by having your backups geographically distributed for additional security. Of course it’s quite possible that your friends won’t want to use up their valuable disk space for your backup but, in that case, all you need do is loan them an external disk drive to keep plugged into their PC or hand them a NAS drive to connect to their router. You can repay the favour by allowing them to do them same at your house.
Certainly a drive at a friend’s house won’t be as secure as a server at a reputable online backup company but, even so, the likelihood of your PC’s hard disk and your remote backup suffering some catastrophe at the same time is extremely unlikely.
Next page: How to back up data on all your devices