Online Cloud Backup FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about Online Cloud Backup

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What is online file backup?

Online file backup is the process of storing the contents of your computer's hard drive, such as your photos, digital music and important documents, through the Internet using a third party online backup service.

Why do I need an online backup service?

Online backup services provide a simple, secure and economical way to protect all the files on your computer's hard drive, including photos, digital music and other important documents. If your hard drive crashes, your computer is stolen, you accidently erase important information from your computer or you otherwise lose access to important files, online backup services give you the ability to quickly restore any lost information.

What is a GB or gigabyte?

A gigabyte, often abbreviated as GB, is a unit of measurement used to show the amount of data that a particular storage device, such as a computer hard drive, can hold. For example, 1GB of storage could hold about 250 digital music files.

Online file backup services use GB as a measure to track the amount of data you are storing on their servers. Most of the top-rated online backup services allow for unlimited storage of all your files for a low monthly or annual fee. This means that you don't need to be concerned about the number of GBs of storage your files will require.

Will my hard drive really fail?

It is a fact of life that all computer hard drives will eventually fail or crash. A recent study by Google found that 8% of computer hard drives will fail within the first two years of operation. That means one in every twelve computer hard drives will crash within the first twenty four months of operation.

When your hard drive does eventually fail you risk losing all the information that was stored on your computer. Restoration of a crashed hard drive that has not been properly backed up can be very expensive without guaranteed results of restoring your photos, digital music and other important documents.

In addition to hardware failure, you may also lose files if your computer is stolen or you accidentally permanently erase important files. In those cases you have no way to restore your files unless you have been consistently backing them up.

Is online file backup secure?

Yes. Online backup services utilize the same security measures that financial institutions use to protect sensitive data. This means that the data you store with an online backup service is as secure as your bank account or credit card account information.

How do online backup services work?

Most online backup services allow you to download a small computer program on your laptop or desktop computer. This application will allow you to select which files you would like to backup and set up automated scheduled backups of your files.

The first time you use an online backup service it can take several hours or even days to scan and backup all of the files on your computer's hard drive. However, once that initial set up is complete the online backup service will only need to backup new files or those that have changed. This will typically only take minutes if you schedule your automated backups to occur relatively frequently. We recommend that consumers backup their files every day to ensure that they are protected in the unfortunate event of file loss.

Does my computer need to be on and connected to the Internet in order for online backup services to work?

Yes. Online backup services use the Internet to transmit files from your computer to an online backup service provider. Most top-rated online backup services can process automated file backups while you are completing other tasks on your computer, such as surfing the Internet or checking your email.

Keep in mind that it typically only takes a few minutes to process a daily file backup, so you can also run your backup right before you shut down your computer for the day if you prefer.

What is the difference between online backup and backing up my files to an external hard drive?

External hard drives allow users to save files from their computer on another separate hard drive. Online backup is a better solution for most consumers for several reasons.

First, external hard drives have the same hardware failure issues that the internal hard drive in your computer has. They will eventually fail or crash and put the stored information at risk, whereas online backup services are not dependent on a single hard drive to store your information, which makes them infinitely more reliable.

Second, external hard drives are only as secure as you make them. If your external hard drive is misplaced or stolen you immediately lose all the backup information that you have stored there. Online backup services, on the other hand, allow you to store your information remotely and securely on computer servers that are maintained by professionals. In fact, many major corporations use the same online file backup services that are available to consumers to store important business information because these services are so secure and professionally managed.

Third, external hard drives have storage limitations. For example, if you purchase a 100 GB external hard drive it will be able to store 100 gigabytes of information before you need to either purchase an additional drive or delete some information of your existing one. The top-rated online backup services offer unlimited storage capacity for all your important files. You will never need to buy additional storage capacity or hardware and you will never need to choose which files you will keep and which you will delete based off of how much storage space is available.

Finally, external hard drives are more expensive per gigabyte of storage than most online backup services. We recently analyzed the costs of both options and found that online backup services are about 50% cheaper per gigabyte than using external hard drives.

What is meant by "the cloud" or "cloud storage"?

Traditionally your computer's files have resided in a local, physical space: hard drive, CD, Zip disk. With online backup, we often refer to documents being stored in "the cloud". Of course they're still physically stored somewhere (probably a server farm in Texas), but for the user it's as if the data is floating between all the devices used to access it.

How much storage space do I need for my files?

That depends on the types of files that you plan on backing up with an online backup service. Most digital music files range from about 3 to 4 MBs, while video files and high resolution digital photos can range from 5 to hundreds of MBs in file size.

However, with most online backup services you will receive an unlimited amount of file storage for one monthly or annual price. That means you never have to estimate how much file space you need, since these services will store as few or as many files as you need to backup.

Are there any limits on how much data I can store using an online backup service?

The top-rated online backup services that we have reviewed offer unlimited storage of all of your files for one monthly or annual fee. This means you can store as many or few files as you want without any additional fees or limitations.

I don't have very many files on my computer. Do I still need to backup my computer's hard drive?

Yes. No matter how many files you have on your computer they should be backed up, since hard drive failures or other file loss can impact any computer file.

Do I need to purchase any special hardware or equipment to use an online backup service?

No. Online backup services use the Internet to securely backup your files and don't require you to purchase any additional equipment.

How do I restore my files using an online backup service?

The process of restoring lost files differs depending on the service provider. In most cases, it is as simple as accessing your online account and downloading the files you have backed up.

The amount of time it takes to download your backed-up files varies based on the amount of data you have stored with your online backup service. It can take anywhere from a few hours if you have a small number of files backed up to several days if you have many large files to recover.

Will my computer work with online backup services?

Most PC's are automatically compatible with the online backup services we have reviewed. Mac users now have many of the same options available. We put together a separate comparison chart of them.

Will an online backup service back up my music?

Yes. Many online backup services will back up your Documents and Settings folder by default, but you can always manually customize which files are backed up, including select music files or your entire music library. If you do intend to back up your entire music library, you may wish to consider an online backup service that offers unlimited backup, such as Carbonite or Mozy.

Can I back up programs and applications?

Your programs and applications will not be backed up by default, but most online backup programs will allow you to add them manually. However, even if you have an unlimited amount of storage space, backing up your programs will slow down your daily backup drastically. It is also unlikely to be particularly helpful to you. Assuming that you are backing up your Documents and Settings folder, your application settings will all be saved. And if something happens to your existing system, causing you to lose your programs, you will still have to reinstall each one manually.

Can I back up data from an external hard drive?

Some online backup services will allow you to back up data from an external hard drive, while others may not. Mozy, for example, guarantees that it can back up any drive that Windows recognizes as "fixed." Operating systems consider hard drives "fixed," regardless of whether they are internal or external. DVD/CD-ROMs, media cards and some thumb or flash drives are not considered "fixed," and cannot be backed up. Carbonite, on the other hand, does not guarantee support for external hard drives, although we have heard conflicting reports from users as to whether or not it is actually possible. If backing up an external hard drive is important to you, Mozy is probably your best online backup option.

If I back up my entire system, and my computer crashes, will my online backup service restore everything to the way it was?

If you have backed up all of your files, your online backup service can restore all of your documents and program settings to their original locations if necessary. However, whether or not you choose to back up your program files, in the event of a complete system crash, you will still need to manually reinstall your operating system and each application individually. This means that backing up each application would probably not be particularly useful for you, and would most likely cause your daily backup to take significantly longer.

Can I back up multiple PCs with one subscription?

Those that offer unlimited space are limited to a single computer license, since otherwise they would be opening themselves up to huge dumps of data. Generally those that have specific space limitations allow you to backup multiple computers; they don't care how many computers fill up a set amount of space. So there are advantages to having a storage cap, just as there are advantages to unlimited storage. It's a good thing to keep in mind as you select an online backup service provider.

Can I backup my company's servers?

Yes, many of the business online backup services we review can backup your servers. Check out the business online backup comparison chart to see which ones do it.

How did NextAdvisor review these online backup services?

We signed up for the services and put them to the test. We ran online backup routines, made file changes to judge file update times, used online file access options, and tried out mobile apps where applicable. It was important to us that the backups ran often, yet with a minimum of interference or system interruption. We were also curious how enjoyable each service is to use. Believe it or not, it can make a difference.

We only include online backup providers that we believe offer a good value proposition. If there is a provider you know of that is not here, you can be fairly certain we did not rate that provider highly enough to include in our comparison. If you think we are missing a quality online backup provider or have any other suggestions or comments, please visit our contact us page.

Are online backup services HIPAA compliant?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) not only protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families, but is also meant to address the security and privacy of health data. Because the electronic transfer of health data is much more efficient and effective, HIPAA requirements strive to create safe standards for these practices.

Most online backup providers follow specific security regulations that are in accordance with HIPAA compliancy. These services contain all of the security features that protect data that is transmitted to and from its servers.

Top Online Cloud Backup


Bottom line: Excellent and comprehensive online backup with easy remote file access, exclusive discount

Bottom line: Best combination of online backup, cloud storage and multi-device sync; free 30-day trial

Bottom line: Most secure, customizable, streamlined file backup for advanced users

Bottom line: File syncing across computers, cloud storage and external drive backup with the option for unlimited backup

Bottom line: Packed with new features, includes 5 computers and local backup; nice interface, savvy mobile apps, and social media backup

Bottom line: Simple and cheap backup that lets you use unlimited storage space for one computer; nice service for backing things up on the go

Bottom line: Great low-cost online backup with exclusive discount; can back up external drives

Bottom line: Solid backup with a lot of configurability; no mobile app access or file sharing

Bottom line: Solid online backup with file sharing and the ability to back up to 3 computers, though the interface is not the best

Bottom line: Fast and transparent browser-based backup with file sharing; infrequent backup schedule

Bottom line: Geared towards businesses; Exchange and SQL backups; compliance for financial, medical companies

Bottom line: Well-priced solution for file sharing and collaborative work; not true automated backup solution

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