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Is a USB Stick a Suitable Backup Device?

There are many different methods that can be used for backing up data. The data could be stored on a hard drive, on tape, on a solid state drive, and more. Deciding on the format to use can be a difficult one when determining your backup plan – each offer their own advantages and disadvantages. As such, it’s always best to use a number of different formats. For example, one backup could be on a hard disk drive while another could be on a solid state drive.

Depending on how much data you have to back up, it might be tempting to use a USB stick as your backup device. USB sticks are highly portable, cheap and nowadays come with quite a lot of storage space. However, it is never really best to use them as a backup device.

First of all, USB sticks are small by design. Quite often the casing isn’t very strong, since it’s designed to be light, and that can mean that the delicate internal components inside could get damaged easily if the stick is dropped, for example. Compared to an external hard drive, which will have a more solid external structure, USB sticks are often produced cheaply and not designed to prevent much damage.

Secondly, if the enclosure of an external hard drive is damaged then it is possible to move the internals into a new enclosure as protection. That isn’t usually possible with a USB stick though, again due to how they’re designed.

That isn’t to discount the value of USB sticks, mind. They’re great for storing unimportant data on to transfer between devices (although many have now adopted cloud storage, like Dropbox or OneDrive, for this purpose). Many people opt for USB sticks because they offer enough storage for everyday files, while also being cost effective – and essentially with each passing month, storage gets cheaper. But using them as long term, backup storage is inadvisable for a number of reasons.

Also, USB sticks use flash storage (like a solid state drive). This means that it’s made up of parts that don’t physically move, unlike a hard disk drive. This reduces wear on the device and theoretically should make the device last longer.

If you’re using your USB stick for a quick file transfer between computers, that’s great. But if you’re using them as a regular backup system then you need to reassess your backup plan and analyse the alternatives on offer.

It’s most advisable to employ a combination of multiple formats following the 3-2-1 backup rule. This means you have three copies of your data in two different formats, with one of those copies being off-site. That’s the minimum that you should have. So, for example, instead of using a USB stick you could store one backup on a solid state drive and another on tape. These formats will offer more flexibility and stability, which is incredibly important when it comes to backup.

If you’ve been using USB sticks as backup devices, don’t panic. However, it’s important that you now reassess your backup needs and determine whether it really is the most ideal storage solution for you.


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