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Cloud Storage vs. External Hard Drive: Price, Performance and Security

External hard drives have long been an option on the market for those looking for large amounts of portable storage. This article looks to address the topic of external storage and how it compares to cloud storage in three main categories: price, performance and security.


How does the pricing of external hard drives compare to cloud storage options? Well, for less than 100GB you can expect to find cheaper solutions online. In the range of 100GB-500GB, users can expect external hard drives to be the more cost effective option. The median cost for an online service (per year) is around 42 cents per GB compared to 41 cents for external hard drives. The difference, while small, can add up over the years when in the 100s of GB. It is unlikely however that pricing is the true decider.
Unfortunately, the reliability of external hard drives is where the device falls down. If you just pick an external hard drive up off of Amazon, it will occasionally come with a 2-3 year guarantee. It is not often higher, because even today’s devices still run hot and heat is usually the killer of computer hardware. Your money only pays for the service of the device and as far as the manufacturer is concerned, their business is done there. With cloud storage, you pay for not only the storage service but the insurance as well.

Cloud storage often comes with an automatic backup plan. A cloud company will almost always back up your data so you don’t have to. It reduces the weight of responsibility on the user and is one less stress to be worrying about. You can rest more easily if you know that your data will be available at the click of a button, rather than the click of your device. It’s one less thing to be carrying in your pocket and worry about losing. Of course, if the backing up is down to you and you do decide to opt for an external hard drive, then it could mean purchasing a backup drive and also paying for backup software. These are added costs on top of the hardware.


In terms of portability, cloud storage is the obviou winner: all you need is an internet connection and your data is there. Still, external hard drives are so slim and compact these days that having to toss one in your laptop bag isn’t much of a drawback.
Where performance really matters is transfer speeds. USB 3.0 is incredibly fast, whereas upload speeds on your typical broadband connection remain relatively slow.

Take for example, a 1GB media file. Internet speeds are typically measured in megabits, and a byte is 8 bits. Therefore, 1 gigabyte is 8 gigabits (8192 megabits). To calculate how long upload would take at the average speed of 1.5mbps simply divide 8192 by 1.5 to get 5461 seconds (91 minutes). That's an incredibly long time compared to USB 3.0 speeds of up to 80MB per second (11-12 seconds to transfer).
It is here that the external hard drive truly stands above its competitor, unless of course, the user is willing to pay that little bit extra for a fibre optic connection, which might even the odds a little.


With external hard drives faster than ever before and smaller than before, they are surely becoming a better option. But what about security, and how does this stack up to cloud storage? The lack of requirement of a network connection means that how fast you can backup or extract your data is not based on the speed of your internet connection (or how many people are streaming videos at the same time!). The other obvious bonus is they are safe from hackers and embarrassing data breaches suffered by many large companies today. But what are they at risk of? Mainly theft fire and hard drive failure. The best way to avoid theft is through prevention – keeping your drive close and also encrypted. A simple password can stand between a criminal and all of your data, so make sure it’s a good one!

It is a risk to start uploading your data, because the moment it hits the net it is no longer just your information. It is in the hands of the company and security workers who you entrust it to, so always carefully review the privacy policy and terms of service to ensure the company will be a good steward of your information. Users who are still worried about their information, but prefer cloud storage, should note that they can also encrypt their files before uploading them. This however, can be rather inconvenient and end up over complicating and hindering the otherwise convenient experience of using cloud storage

For those with poorer internet access the external hard drive is the clear winner but particularly with today’s developed world, the external hard drive is set to slowly fade into gradual obscurity. As the years go by, cloud storage will only become cheaper and their lead over their external counterpart will only increase. Of course, many users can get the best of both worlds by literally owning both. However, users with access to better and better network speeds (particularly with the growth of fibre optic broadband) will soon discover that they no longer need to rely on the comparatively sluggish USB. Thanks to AES spreading across many cloud services, users will also have less to worry about from those trying to intercept information. Users will find their data particularly secure if using password protection software such as LastPass because password security is usually the greatest difficulty facing current cloud technology.

While cloud storage is certainly winning the race at the moment, it is important to remember there are still benefits to using external hard drives. External hard drives are more affordable per GB and have faster transfer speeds. But cloud storage is more convenient and less susceptible to data loss (not necessarily less suceptible to theft though!). While an external hard drive is still a great option, it is just not as secure or practical as its chief competitor - the cloud.


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