5 Important Differences between Online Data Storage and Online Backup

Think your files are all safely tucked away online because you’re using online data storage? Think again. Or perhaps you’re laboring under the misimpression that your online backup solution will let you undo mistakes and recover previous file versions – when what it’s really doing is overwriting all of yesterday’s versions with today’s. To avoid disappointment, here’s our handy guide to which does what.

  1. Continual Data Transfer. Imagine you’re working away on your PC (or mobile computing device). You have painstakingly and lovingly created a large file, and you are putting the finishing touches to it when your PC hard disk crashes (or your tablet falls down a sewer).
    Online data storage: if you didn’t think about transferring a copy of your file to your online storage beforehand, you will now have nothing left.
    Online backup: depending on the solution you use, an online backup may continually transfer copies or parts of your file to your online backup disk space. You should be able to recover some, possibly all of your masterpiece.
  2. Incremental Data Transfer. Same PC, same file. You’ve learnt that you should at least transfer a copy for safekeeping. It’s a large file all the same, with several voluminous embedded graphics.
    Online data storage: you transfer the whole file every time. If your Internet connection starts to fade, better hope the transfer goes through before any disk crash/sewer accident happens!
    Online backup: smart solutions only transfer the bits that changed since the last time. The first time you back up a file, it may take longer. Thereafter, each backup and transfer can be faster.
  3. Past and Present Versions. You fat fingered a command, accidentally deleted your file locally, or made a bold edit that turned out to be… a little too bold. Can you get your original file back?
    Online data storage: only if you kept a previous version. Some online data storage providers now offer versioning as part of the package, allowing you to automatically store ‘N’ previous versions. This is also a form of data backup.
    Online backup: only if you kept a previous version. As with online data storage, versioning may be part of the deal, but check with your provider. Watch out if your online backup is part of an online disaster recovery procedure. You may need to specify that you want previous file versions to be made available on a standby machine, not just the latest versions that were backed up.
  4. Encryption. ‘I see you’, as they said in the movie Avatar. That may have been cool for the Na’vi tribe, but perhaps you’d prefer a little more privacy for your data files.
    Online data storage: if you don’t manually encrypt your own files, you may have to rely on your cloud provider doing it. But it could then (theoretically) undo it and share your files with others.
    Online backup: may have encryption built in and applied before your local files are transferred to your cloud repository. You then unencrypt your files by restoring them via your backup app.
  5. File Syncing and Sharing. You’re proud of that file you made. You’d like to look at it on your PC in the office, on your tablet in the train, and on your smartphone before you go to sleep. You’d also like to make it available to others.
    Online data storage. Enough of online data storage bashing! This is where it scores compared with online backups. Depending on the service you use, you can sync between devices and share between friends or colleagues.
    Online backup. Wasn’t made for syncing or sharing. Sorry, wrong number.

If you want all the advantages that each solution – online data storage and online backup – have to offer, you may need to use or subscribe to two services. Alternatively, some cloud providers package up both sets of functions in one offering so that you don’t have to spend time and energy putting them together yourself.