A Helpful Guide to Choosing Cloud Backup
Choosing a cloud backup service is a big decision when it comes to protecting your PC and the valuable data stored upon it. This means more than just protecting your documents and photos, it also means making them available from any computer with an internet connection should your original PC be unavailable for any reason. This level of availability might not be then case when using an external hard drive due to damage caused by fire, floods etc. thus giving cloud backup a distinctive edge over the use of a local storage setup.
More and more providers are now offering cloud backup services and as such it is important to evaluate any potential service carefully and make sure it meets your needs. Not all cloud backup is the same and with important differences including how long versions of files are retained for and what storage limits are imposed it is important to consider such options carefully.
This guide aims to highlight the main things to be aware of whilst evaluating such cloud backup services, this includes what to look for regarding file versioning, storage quotas, external hard drive backups, pricing, privacy, security, smartphone support and the costs involved.
Our Top 5 Cloud Backup Providers
What to Look for when Choosing a Cloud Backup Service
With so many providers now offering cloud backups services it is important to choose one that fits your needs first time. Whilst you could (in theory) switch providers at any time you would potentially loose old versions of any files in the process of dong so and with this some level of protection against ransomware attacks and the like.
In the points highlighted below I will be addressing some of the main things to think about whilst evaluating any cloud backup provider, these include:
What gets backed-up and How
One of the primary things to look for when assessing a cloud backup service is to find out exactly what gets backed up as a part of the plan. Some providers are very generous and will backup your entire PC including any external hard drives whereas others might allow only a single external hard drive to be backed up and enforce a policy meaning videos (and other large files) must be selected for backup manually. In other words, especially with some lower cost providers the service on offer might not be as automatic as you think, so please be aware of this!
Having said this, there are some great cloud backup services available today and thanks to the in-depth testing carried out at BestBackupReviews.com this list (below) should help you identify those that are worth your time to investigate further.
The Amount of Storage on Offer
The amount of storage allocated for your backups is an important thing to think about, whilst some providers offer an unlimited amount of cloud storage, others do not. As such when assessing cloud backup services you need to be realistic as to what you need to have backed up and whether it is potentially worth opting for a provider which offers unlimited storage over one which charges based upon a tiered storage basis (albeit sometimes at a relatively high cost for the unlimited option).
This is also a good time to think about how your storage usage might increase over time, generally speaking most people will have an increasing number of files to keep backed up over time. With this increase in mind, be sure to look at the costs involves with potentially upgrading the storage on offer in case it is needed in the future or alternately mitigate this issue by choosing an unlimited plan from the start.
Historic Versioning (File Versioning and Retention)
Another very important (and often overlooked) aspect of online backup is the retention period of old, modified or deleted files, in other words, when changing or deleting a file how long will the old version will be kept available for.
This is important not only for those who might need to go back to old versions of files from time to time (programmers, digital artists etc.) but also critical in helping protect your valuable files from new threats including viruses and ransomware!
In the case of ransomware (which encrypts your files making them useless) there are even reports of such malware lurking in the background for many months before striking and doing any damage. In such cases (albeit rare) providers with short version retention periods (say 30 days) might not offer suitable protection against such an attack. With all of this in mind my personal advice is to look for providers who keep old versions for at least 6 months at a minimum!
Desktop and Smartphone Software
All cloud backup services will offer, at a minimum, some kind of desktop software for controlling the backup of your files to the cloud. Sometimes this software is very simple and to the point, other times such software is built to perform many other functions such as performing local image-based backups, setting-up of synchronisation drives, performing PC maintenance tasks plus much more.
With this being said, neither approach to such desktop software is necessarily right or wrong, but instead, if any service does offer any additional features this should be seen as a bonus and not persuade you to choose a service which is not quite right for you backup needs otherwise.
Something else which some providers offer are smartphone apps to compliment their main backup service. Sometimes these apps allow the smartphone itself (along with its camera) to be backed up alongside the a PC, other times they are simply used for accessing any files backed up from any PCs using the service.
Privacy and Security Measures
Security of your files whilst using cloud backup is very important, as such I would always recommend choosing a provider which offers built-in, zero knowledge encryption as a core part of the service (or at least offers it for those with sensitive information to store). Not all providers offer such strict encryption with many using a shared approach whereby your data is still encrypted albeit with the provider managing the encryption keys on your behalf (meaning they “could” potentially see the contents of your backup!).
Ultimately which route to take here depends a lot on how much you trust the provider, most of the mainstream providers should not pose any threat to most backup customers. Having said this if you do have sensitive data to backup it is worth getting I the habit of ensuring it is always encrypted, even if you do trust the provider who is storing it for you!
With regards to privacy on a more broad level, it is wise to choose a provider which enforces multi-factor authentication on their user accounts and (if necessary) look for providers who are based in certain privacy friendly jurisdictions such as the EU for maximum user privacy.
The Upgrade Path
Something which is often overlooked when assessing cloud backup is the costs of potentially upgrading the service at some point in the future. Whilst you might only have a single PC and a small amount of data to backup today, this might turn into multiple PCs and a high volume of data in the near future as work and life commitments change over time.
With this in mind (as when choosing cloud storage also) I always advise people to always check not only the cheapest plan to meet your current needs but also any plans above it and how fairly they scale up. Some providers offer much better value as you add more PCs and / or storage to your account whereas others operate on a very strict “per PC” pricing model which might not scale up in a cost effective way!
What About Lifetime Backup Plans?
Something which does come up from time to time is the issue of “lifetime plans”, usually when looking at services such as cloud backup or cloud storage. These are usually plans which allow you to use the service “for life” thanks to a single one-off payment, thus removing the need to continually pay for such a service every month and as such can potentially offer very good long-term value!
Such plans are usually offered by newer companies as a way of marketing themselves and getting noticed in a crowded cloud marketplace, often with the intention of selling only a certain number of lifetime plans before retiring them and charging any new customers monthly or yearly.
If you are tempted by one of these plans it is important to realise that (as with most things in life) nothing is certain and your “lifetime plan” is only valid as long as the provider intents to honour it. There could be multiple reasons a lifetime plan is not honoured including, but not limited to, the provider going out of business or simply declaring that the lifetime service is not longer viable for them to continue running and subsequently closed down.
If you would like to learn more on this topic please consider reading our post where we ask Do Lifetime Subscriptions Offer Good Value.
Our Favourite Cloud Backup Service Providers
Below is a list of our favourite cloud backup service providers as per the review process followed at Best Backup Reviews. This review process evaluates each provider on certain qualities with an emphasis on backing up a PC to the cloud alongside other metrics including additional backup features, privacy and security plus any other features associated with the service.
It is important to be aware that the service with the highest score might not be the most suited to your individual needs when assessing cloud backup, as such please feel free to click through and read any associated reviews we have made on each provider as a part of your assessment process.
1. Backblaze Personal Backup (Unlimited Storage from $6 / Month)
Its really hard to fault Backblaze, for as little as $6 / month (or $60 / year) it is without doubt one of the quickest and easiest ways of ensuring your PC is safely backed up to the cloud by a very reputable provider.
As mentioned above, one of the biggest features of Backblaze is the ease of use, this is thanks to the software automatically selecting all necessary user files itself with the emphasis on the user to specify if something shouldn’t be backed up (the opposite to how many other solutions work).
With ease of use aside, Backblaze also provide some solid security features, this begins with allowing users the option to use zero knowledge encryption (setting of your own password) or have the encryption managed by Backblaze themselves, either way all data is encrypted before leaving the PC which is being backed up. This security is backed up by the support for multi-factor authentication (2FA) on the Backblaze account itself making the service even more secure.
Another important point for those considering Backblaze is that, by default, they only offer 30 days of file version history on their default backup plans. Whilst this will be suitable for many users, Backblaze now offer users the ability to increase this to either 1 year or unlimited by means of an additional monthly fee (currently +$2/m for 1 year and +$4/m for unlimited).
An absolutely solid cloud backup solution that seems to keep getting better!
2. Acronis True Image 2021 (Advanced Version with 500GB Cloud)
Acronis has for a long time been a solid piece of backup software, in recent years they have expanded on this position by offering their product on a subscription basis and including an allocation of cloud storage space into the price. Such a subscription not only provides access to all of the local backup facilities already found within True Image but also access to the Acronis cloud allowing certain backups to be stored off-site.
To be clear, at present Acronis True Image 2021 is available both as a piece of local PC backup software and as a subscription service with cloud storage included in the price. For the purposes of this list we will be looking at the subscription version (refereed to as the “Advanced” version by Acronis).
The cloud subscription element of True Image is only available via one of the True Image subscriptions and equally the True Image software itself will only work with the Acronis Cloud (and as such popular cloud services including Dropbox cant be integrated into the software).
With cloud storage aside, Acronis True Image is a great all round backup software allowing both file and image based backups to be taken both on a real-time or scheduled basis. Zero knowledge encryption is supported as is the ability to specify personalised backup plans which can be optimised for faster backups or better use of disk space (should you wish to optimise for either of these).
All in all a solid product which is now available with the Acronis cloud built right into it, a very solid contender.
3. SpiderOak One (Unlimited Devices / Starting at $6 / Month)
SpiderOak is a well established, security focused software company with a good track record for building and supporting security and privacy focused tools. SpiderOak One is their current cloud backup offering which supports Windows, MacOS and Linux devices.
One of the most impressive things about SpiderOak One is that, despite being a very security and privacy focused tool, it also offers a lot of other great functionality as soon as it is installed. This additional functionality includes built-in file sharing, automatic file synchronisation between all connected devices and unlimited historic file versioning (which is turned on by default).
The historic file versioning is a particularly good feature and worthy of special mention given that SpiderOak have made this an “always on” feature from the very first backup, this means you can’t forget to turn it on yourself and previous versions of files will always be there if you might need them.
It is also very impressive to see SpiderOak allow an unlimited number of devices on each account, this is of course limited by the fact they don’t provide unlimited storage instead opting for fixed allocations of storage per account starting at 150GB for $6 / month. This could therefore work out to be a very economical cloud backup solution, especially if you have several devices to backup and will not be limited by whichever storage allocation you plan comprises of.
A great choice for any security and privacy conscious users who are also looking for maximum functionality and good value from their cloud backup service. The ability to add an unlimited number of devices on each account without any additional “per device” fees could make this a real winning choice for many, definitely worth a look at their 21 day free trial!
4. CrashPlan for Small Business (from $10 / month)
CrashPlan has been a solid choice for those seeking a reliable cloud backup solution for a long time, although a little more expensive than Backblaze at a basic level (and offering no annual discount) it does feature unlimited storage and unlimited file version history at no extra cost from the very start.
Crashplan is also more business focused offering users the ability to include an unlimited number of external hard drives into their backup (with no restrictions to keep them plugged in for a certain time) alongside web based restores and the ability to utilise a real-time backup schedule.
Zero knowledge encryption is also available ensuring the highest level of security in addition to a shared mode for those happy for CrashPlan to manage the encryption for them. Multi-factor authentication can also be enabled at an account level to further secure the service.
Whilst at $10 / month per PC this is by no means a cheap solution (especially for those with multiple PCs to backup) CrashPlan is a solid and reliable choice, especially for professional users who can make full use of the generous policy regarding external hard drives.
5. iDrive Cloud backup (5TB from $69.5 / year)
iDrive is without doubt one of the most generous cloud providers on the market today, their basic premium plan provides users with up to 5TB of cloud storage covering both their cloud backup and cloud drive products combined.
With the cloud drive aside, the backup component is a solid competitor in its own right featuring desktop software for Windows, MacOS and Linux systems along with the ability to perform both file and image based backups both locally and to the cloud.
iDrive Express is a great additional service which allows either large backups or large restores to be initiated via an external hard drive which can be shipped to or from iDrive themselves. This is a great additional service and especially useful for those who have slow internet connections and would otherwise struggle with cloud backup normally.
Zero knowledge encryption is also available with iDrive along with some other system maintenance tools and smartphone apps for both iOS and Android. One area which does let the backup service down slightly is the 30 day file versioning period which (despite the massive storage quota) doest appear to be upgradable or changeable.
All in all a great choice for those seeking a massive 5TB of usable cloud storage across both PC backup and cloud drive (cloud synchronisation) services.
6. Carbonite (Unlimited Cloud Backup from $6 / month)
Carbonite is easily one of the most well know and established cloud backup providers on the market today, as such it should be on the shortlists of anyone seeking a cloud backup solution!
Offering an unlimited amount of storage on all of their home plans and starting at just $6 / month (paid annually) per PC, Carbonite is very competitively priced and specified when put alongside cloud backup leaders including Backblaze and CrashPlan.
The Carbonite desktop software is very stable, works well and integrates into Windows very nicely thanks to the comprehensive scheduling options, real-time backups and other features such as the status dots which makes identifying any file’s backup status quick and easy. Zero knowledge encryption is also available with Carbonite allowing users to (optionally) set a user defined password adding an additional level of security to their backups
Carbonite does, however, unfortunately have some weak areas, these include a maximum of 30 days file version history, use of the web interface for smaller restores and the necessity to upgrade to a more expensive plan (currently $9.34 / month) to be able to include external hard drives and video files in the backup set!
Providing these aforementioned limitations wont affect your backup requirements, Carbonite is a good cloud backup service which will appeal to many. The service as we tested it was very good and it is offered at a very reasonable cost given it is backed up by a cloud backup industry leader!
7. Arq Premium (1TB from only $5.99 / month)
Arq Backup is a simple and easy to use cloud backup tool which originally gained popularity thanks to its integration with most major cloud storage providers (including Amazon S3 storage among others). Arq have since advanced on to offering their software alongside their own cloud storage subscription which are bundled together for a very reasonable $5.99 / month for 1TB. This subscription version is what is refered to as Arq Premium.
Whilst the ability to use your own cloud storage will appeal to many, it will also, equally, put off many users as the process of managing cloud storage such as S3 can be complicated even at the best of times. This move to provide the storage together with the Arq software itself on a subscription basis now makes this great piece of cloud backup software available to everyone.
The Arq backup software itself is a solid piece of software, with the great cloud support aside Arq users can easily control file versioning to a level of their choice and easily implement zero knowledge encryption further securing any files which are backed up using the service.
Support for both Windows and MacOS clients and allowing up to 5 computers to be included with each account mean Arq Premium is a great choice, especially for those with multiple PCs seeking a good, basic level of cloud backup protection.