Everyone should know why it's important to back up their data – to avoid potentially catastrophic data loss, if you weren't aware – but for many people, how to back up their files isn't nearly as clear-cut. There are two primary methods of storing digital data: locally on an external hard drive or remotely with a third-party cloud storage service. Both options have distinct advantages – and disadvantages – so knowing exactly what those are can help you choose the method that is best suited for you and your data.

The Lure of Local Storage

Whether you are a consumer or a business, cost is often king. In the price wars between cloud and local storage, the latter almost always wins. External hard drives are cheaper than ever, and local storage has the benefit of a one-time upfront cost, without the recurring subscription and bandwidth-usage fees that are typical with cloud storage.

Another factor in which local storage reigns supreme is security. Unless someone has physical access to your desktop or portable hard drive, your files aren't susceptible to hacking or theft. With a cloud service, once you upload your files, the provider has complete control over where and how your data is stored. This is one of many reasons why it's crucial to read the terms and privacy policies of any cloud storage provider you considering using.

The Case for Cloud Storage

Most of us have digital data spread across a wide array of devices. While an external hard drive limits you to backing up computers, cloud storage allows you to back up files stored on any internet-connected device. Furthermore, you can access those stored files from any web browser, so cloud storage gives you unmatched accessibility and flexibility.

Many top cloud storage services also offer a limited amount of free storage – anywhere from 2GB to 25GB. This allows you to try the service with no obligation to see if it's a good fit for you, and to store a limited number of files that you can access anywhere.

Which Method is Best?

The storage method that will work best for you largely depends on the type of data you want to store and how you want to access it. For businesses, and perhaps some consumers, who need to store proprietary or sensitive information, local storage is the most secure option. External hard drives are also more cost-effective than cloud services, especially when you store large amounts of data; portable hard drives have a lower cost-per-gigabyte, so you get more bang – in this case, storage capacity – for your buck.

If convenience and flexibility are priorities, cloud storage will give you unfettered access to your data over any internet connection. This is especially important if you routinely use different computers (e.g., a work computer and a personal laptop) or store data on multiple internet-enabled devices.

No matter which method you choose, both cloud storage and external hard drives perform superbly when it comes to effectively backing up and storing your data.

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