How safe are your cloud backups?

These days, we all have gigabytes of data. Usually it’s in the form of photos, but some of us are also holding on to hundreds of important emails (and probably 100,000 unimportant ones.) Our jobs may have us storing documents in the cloud, and our kids’ schoolwork may be there too. But have we ever stopped to think, how safe is all that data? Will it be there when we need it?

There is no cloud

You’ve probably seen this meme at some point. And it’s absolutely right. We tend to think of the internet as this ethereal thing, like the air that surrounds us. But in truth, our files are stored somewhere. They’re out there on somebody’s server, and servers are physical things that sometimes break.

It’s very possible to lose all the data you have stored, even if it’s in the cloud. Some folks routinely hated losing photos because they were all stored on the phone. Now, with Google Photos and iCloud Photos, that’s less of a consideration. But, it’s still a consideration. Companies like Apple and Google do have failures, just like the rest of us. I’m sure they happen all the time. The key is that there are IT professionals managing their systems. They use multiple hard drives to make sure that data backups happen all the time.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll never lose a photo or an important piece of data. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The world is an uncertain place

I’m sad to have to say it, but the data center where your stuff is stored could be a target. I mean, everyone knows where data centers are. Given their size, it’s pretty hard to miss them. I remember seeing one in central Texas that took me 25 minutes to walk past… on one side. I guess everything really is bigger there. Sadly, the world we live in doesn’t afford us complete safety. Someone who wanted to destroy a data center could do it. It’s not impossible.

And let’s, for a moment, forget about that kind of nefarious act. Sometimes your cloud storage just goes away. Who remembers myspace? Who remembers Geocities? These once popular web sites offered users a place to store their data and personalize their portals. Once they became unpopular, they just shut down and a lot of stuff went away. It’s not an uncommon problem. I think we’re quite a ways from worrying about whether Google, Microsoft, or Apple will shut down, but it will happen eventually. And when it does, all that stuff you have stored with them will just go away.

What can you do?

I don’t think you should just give up on cloud storage. It’s incredibly convenient. But you should definitely be thinking about the stuff you’d hate to lose. Those important photos of once-in-a-lifetime events, for example. The image showing your vaccination card, if you have one. That sort of thing. And this stuff should be kept.

For that stuff, I recommend getting a portable hard drive, preferably an SSD, and storing everything on it. If you’re dealing with a fairly small amount of stuff, a garden variety flash drive might do it. Those things come in truly large sizes now. Solid Signal doesn’t sell the drives, but we do sell other accessories you might need. The important thing is that whatever you choose to do… do something. Don’t take a risk that your data isn’t as important to someone else as it is to you.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.