Granted, USB devices like memory sticks, external hard drives or DVD writers have their place. As short term or emergency solutions, you can store files on them and get at least some protection from a computer breakdown. However, you’ll rapidly find that if you want a reliable solution, they all have their limits, especially compared to online backup. Here’s why.
The space available for online backup services may vary from one to another, but a number of them offer unlimited backup space. That puts them way ahead of memory sticks which still require that large files be split between separate devices. And while there are terabyte external disk drives available now, you’ll want to compare initial outlay for such media compared with what may be a very reasonable monthly subscription. Time to get busy with that calculator!
When your files can be backed up and are available online wherever you have a network connection, you don’t have to worry about taking your sticks or drives with you wherever you go. You don’t have to worry about forgetting them either. This is handy whether you’re spending an impromptu weekend at your parents who want to see your vacation photos, or you have an unexpected marketing presentation to do in ten minutes time while you’re out visiting a client.
Online backup services can be extraordinarily reliable (just make sure you choose a good provider). They store your data in data centers that are protected from flood, fire, earthquakes – and, of course, computer failures. By comparison, USB drives and sticks may only last until you drop them, sit on them or leave them in your shirt pocket for a ride in the washing machine. But don’t data centers use hard disk drives too? Yes, but lots of them, with data duplicated over different drives in case one has a problem.
Whenever you copy data from one storage medium to another, you potentially expose yourself to security risks. By using an online backup service that encrypts your data, you give yourself an additional layer of protection against unauthorized access. In a business environment for instance, this allows you to have a policy whereby detachable storage media such as USB memory sticks and drives are not used, because data is only transmitted securely between computers and servers over the network, and uploaded over the network for online backup.
It may be important for some organizations to be able to demonstrate to clients or investors that they are taking adequate data backup measures, both in terms of reliability and confidentiality. While a robust IT infrastructure may help to show this, storing files on USB devices does not. An online backup service that encrypts data and stores it securely is usually better proof. Some services are even designed so that companies using them can then demonstrate their compliance with data protection standards issued by government agencies, financial watchdogs or health authorities, for instance.
USB Devices Strike Back!
Vendors have understood that there is a market for USB memory sticks that combine automatic file backup to an online service and that can also encrypt data. Products are now available that offer these additional functionalities. While the USB devices themselves are still limited in terms of storage capacity, the approach does however illustrate an important point – even when using an online backup service, continue to make local copies of your data (onto another server or into a secure tape archive, for instance) to make absolutely sure you’re covered, no matter what happens.