Online Backup vs. External Hard Drives – Pros & Cons to Each

The convenience and simplicity of cloud-based backup can look very attractive to organizations grappling with data redundancy challenges. That said, there are instances where external hard drives can make more sense. To cultivate a safe, effective backup strategy, consider the pros and cons of each storage option.

Online Backup

Cloud-based backup can be a convenient, cost-effective solution for organizations in search of automatic redundancies.


  • Online backup can be set to consistently occur without the need for much – if any – intervention.
  • When files are stored on a remote cloud-based storage service, they are available anywhere, anytime via the Internet.
  • Most providers copy data across multiple locations, providing effective redundancies in case one data center goes up in flames.
  • A great solution for budget-strapped organizations, cloud storage is both scalable and affordable.


  • Some cloud-based storage services utilize bandwidth throttling, which can drastically slow data upload speeds.
  • Not all cloud storage providers offer adequate security for sensitive files.
  • Some providers implement storage and bandwidth caps, complete with hefty overage charges.
  • Without Internet service, you cannot access any data.

External Hard Drives

While not always as convenient as online backup, external drives do have some advantages that make them especially valuable.


  • External drives are relatively cost-effective, depending on an organization’s needs.
  • Data upload speeds are generally much faster than those of cloud storage.
  • External drives offer good portability and can be taken off-site when appropriate.
  • Since you maintain control over security, external hard drives are less vulnerable to hackers and inadvertent file sharing.


  • Like any physical device, external drives can be lost, stolen or damaged.
  • It can be impractical to consistently update and store external drives off-site.
  • Although they can be made especially secure, you are responsible for taking the lead in this department.
  • Data cannot be accessed from anywhere outside of your organization’s local network

Making a Complete Choice

Every individual organization has unique needs that can make online backup more appropriate than external hard drives, and vice versa. In the vast majority of cases, however, a combination of the two provides a more complete backup strategy, especially for organizations that deal with sensitive information.