A friend wrote to me about the agony she was suffering trying to transfer all the files from her almost-dead computer to her new one. She was using flash drives and it was taking days.

I wrote back to her with this:

“I urge you to throw down those flash drives and do this instead: Set up a backup and storage account with a cloud-based service. It’s an elegant and almost painless solution. Backup up from the almost-dead computer; then restore to the new computer. Literally just a couple of clicks.” I gave her some links and my good wishes.

Honestly, I beg my friends all the time to back up to the cloud. It’s definitely not just for transferring files from an old to a new computer. In fact, it’s for backing up your files every day to the cloud. I’ve been using cloud storage for years and frankly, it’s the only reason I was able to manage Women At Woodstock last October because my computer died at 6 pm on the night before my early-morning flight to New York for the event. I had to rush out in the dark and buy a new laptop (I gnash my teeth thinking about it; no chance to search for deals or wait for delivery of a custom-ordered machine. I got less than I wanted for twice the price. But that’s another story.) Anyway, there was no way for me to pull files from the dead computer. No problem. I fired up the new laptop, logged into my cloud service, and clicked restore. Then I packed for my trip. Other than re-linking into my online software programs, that’s all I had to do.

My cloud backup saved my ass. I can’t say enough about how important – and stress-reducing – it is to have an automatic, off-site backup to the cloud.

How Does Backing Up to The Cloud Work?

Backing up to the cloud works just like any backup software that saves copies of your files to an external hard drive sitting on your desk, except, the files are copied and stored to an external drive that’s far, far away. When the copies of your files are placed “in the cloud,” they’re sent to and stored on a server (aka a big super computer) owned by the company that you’re using.

How Is Cloud Storage Better Than External Hard Drive Storage?

Think of these scenarios: You spill water on your desk. Or something falls on your desk. Or your desk – or your house – catches on fire. Or you have a break-in and your stuff gets stolen.

In all of these situations, if you’re using an external hard drive to store your backups, what is going to happen?  Chances are very good that the external drive that’s sitting on the desk right behind your laptop will suffer the same fate as your beloved computer. And your backups will be kaput.

When you back up “to the cloud,” on the other hand, your backup drive is somewhere else, away from your spilled water, your flames, or your burglar. In other words, it’s a much safer place to store your backups than a piece of equipment sitting right on your desk.

Why Should I Trust These Cloud Services? I Want to Keep My Files Private!

True, the online storage services could be operated by madmen seeking to steal your identity. But that doesn’t make for a very good business plan, does it? They make plenty of good money performing the service that they promised to do, and without fear of scandal or arrest. Just as with using banks, using online cloud storage is a matter of trust, oversight, business reputation, and the pros outweighing the cons (better to trust a bank than sew your cash into your mattress). Sure, with cloud storage, as with any online transaction, you do run the slim chance that your information could be stolen. But statistically, your chances of loss or theft are greater when you use an external hard drive at home rather than cloud storage.

“But I Like Having a Backup In My Possession!”

There’s no reason you can’t use both types of backup simultaneously. You can use one program to back up to your external drive and add a cloud service as a second backup. Some cloud services, by the way, will back up to their servers and also your external hard drive simultaneously.

So Who Are These Cloud Storage Services and How Do I Set Up An Account?

Here are the top five cloud storage services, according to PC Magazine:

  1. IDrive
  2. Acronis True Image
  3. SpiderOak ONE
  4. SOS Online Backup
  5. Backblaze

Some of these services offer free cloud storage, from 2GB to 5GB (not much space, frankly). After that, prices range all over the place. IDrive offers 2TB for $52/year.  When I looked into the latest ratings, I was chagrined to find that the cloud backup service I’ve been using, MozyHome, while rated in the top 9, didn’t make it to the top 5. Click here for PC Mag’s very helpful cloud services comparison chart, together with links to full reviews, Hm. I may be switching services.

(This article was originally published on Sixty and Me.)

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