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Cloud Storage vs. Online Backup: What’s the Difference?

WRITTEN BY
Jao Gavino
UPDATED
April 23, 2024

 

The terms online storage and online backup are often used interchangeably—after all, storing your files is the same as backing them up, right? Wrong!

 

Although both are pretty similar in the sense that they both rely on storing files on the cloud, online backups and online storage differ in how they are used, and there’s often some confusion surrounding what exactly they mean.

 

So, what’s the difference between online storage and online backups? Is one better than the other? In this article, we’ll look at how they differ and how each is used by individuals and businesses alike.

 

 

What Is Online Storage?

 

the inside of a local hard drive

Online storage serves as an extension of your local hard drive, albeit one that exists on the cloud.

 

When you think of online storage, what comes to mind? Is it an image of a hard drive with the word “cloud” stamped on top? What about a browser window with a bunch of random files and folders? If so, then you’re on the right track.

 

Online storage—also known as cloud storage—is essentially any service that allows you to store files in the cloud—a network of remote servers accessed from anywhere via an Internet connection. It lets you easily access, edit, and share these files—provided that you’re connected to the Internet.

 

Online storage is also collaborative in nature, which means that you can effortlessly share files with coworkers or friends, allowing them to make revisions to those files regardless of where they are.

 

What’s more, you can also use online storage as an extension of the hard drive(s) in your computer. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on extra hard drives and fumbling around inside your computer, you can simply pay a monthly fee to have anywhere from hundreds of gigabytes to even terabytes of extra storage.

 

Some online storage providers (which we’ll get into in a bit) even let you set up a virtual hard drive—you won’t have to tinker with browsers and logins here: virtual drives appear directly in Windows Explorer or Mac Finder, effectively acting as an additional hard drive that you can do whatever you want with.

 

Online Storage Providers: Our Recommendations

 

If collaborative environments or storage extensions sound like something right up your alley, then look no further than online storage. But with so many options, where do you start? Don’t worry! Here are two of the best cloud storage services that we’ve found:

 

1. pCloud – Best in versatility

https://www.pcloud.com/

 

pCloud homepage

pCloud is highly versatile and lets you access your cloud storage directly from Windows Explorer or Mac Finder.

 

First up is Switzerland-based pCloud, which lets you set up one of the coolest features that we’ve talked about above—virtual drives!

 

With pCloud Drive, you can easily set up an additional cloud-based drive on Windows, macOS, and even Linux, letting you move, use, and edit your files that are saved on the cloud as if they were saved locally—all without eating up your precious local disk space!

 

pCloud combines these functions with a plethora of versatile features, top-notch security, and a pretty attractive price tag: pCloud gives you 10 GB of storage for free, while its premium offers start at $4.17 a month for 500 GB of storage. Plus, there’s even a lifetime plan option, which gives you 500 GB of permanent cloud storage for a one-time fee of $199.

 

2. Dropbox – Best for collaboration

https://www.dropbox.com/

 

Dropbox homepage

Dropbox is an online storage platform that boasts numerous collaborative features.

 

Next up is Dropbox, which is already one of the major players in the cloud storage market. Having started in 2008, it has steadily expanded its set of features over the years, eventually growing into one of the best collaborative platforms on the cloud.

 

With Dropbox, working with other people is a breeze. It’s easy to set up and use, and you can get real-time updates to track file revisions—which are synced across all team members, so that no edits are missed—as well as set file and folder permissions to guarantee that only the right people have access.

 

If collaborating with teammates is the name of your game, then Dropbox lets you do just that for a pretty low price: you get 2 GB of storage for free, while its premium plans start at $9.99 per month with 2 TB of storage for one user.

 

On the other hand, its “team” plans start at $15/user per month for 5 TB spread across 3+ users. There’s even a “family” plan for $16.99 per month, which lets you share 2 TB of cloud storage with up to 6 users.

 

 

Then, What Is an Online Backup?

 

online backup stores copies

An online backup stores copies of your files across various points in time.

 

Unlike online storage, online backups (also called cloud backups) are geared toward a completely different purpose.

 

Instead of storing your files and letting you freely access and edit them, online backups automatically store a “frozen” copy of your files at a specific point in time, which you can “thaw” later on if needed—such as in the event of a malware infestation or a natural disaster.

 

For example, imagine that you’ve set up your online backup service to automatically make a backup of your files at the end of each day. It’s now Friday, and upon opening a pretty important spreadsheet, you find that—uh oh—it’s now corrupted and unusable!

 

With an online backup, you won’t need to bring your workstation to a shop to recover the file, nor will you need to pay for expensive data recovery programs just to have a chance at getting your file back.

 

You can just restore the “frozen” version of that file from yesterday with a few clicks, and you can get back to work in mere minutes!

 

Online backups also have a feature called file versioning, which lets you have multiple older versions of a file, allowing you to pick which specific older version of a file you want to restore.

 

Online Backup Services: Our Recommendations

 

Online backups serve as highly secure vaults that contain multiple frozen copies of files across numerous dates, and if you work in a job where every version of a file counts, then you’ll be best served by an online backup more than an online storage platform. Here are a couple of our top picks for the best online backup services:

 

1. Backblaze – For unlimited backups

https://www.backblaze.com/

 

Backblaze homepage

Backblaze’s main selling point is simple—unlimited backup space!

 

Backblaze is arguably the best online backup service for one simple reason: it offers unlimited backup space for a mere $7 a month. You can back up as much data as you want, with the only downside being that the previous versions of your files only last up to 30 days.

 

Unfortunately, this means that if you want to revert to a backup of a file from 31 days ago—you’re out of luck. However, you can extend this period to 1 year by adding $2 to Backblaze’s monthly fee.

 

If a year still isn’t enough, Backblaze offers a “forever” option for file versioning, which costs an additional $2 per month in addition to $0.005 per gigabyte per month for files older than a year.

 

Even better? Backblaze is also incredibly easy to set up: you install Backblaze’s app, and it’ll automatically back up all of the files on your computer. This app monitors your computer, and any changes made to your files will be automatically uploaded to your backups on the cloud.

 

Don’t want Backblaze to back up all of your files? No problem! You can simply indicate which files and folders to exclude from Backblaze’s automated backups.

 

Got a massive bunch of files that you want to back up? Want a simple online backup solution with unlimited capacity? The answer is simple—sign up with Backblaze!

 

2. Sync.com – For top security

https://www.sync.com/

 

Sync.com homepage

Sync prioritizes your files’ security and privacy above all else.

 

Finally, Sync.com is an online backup platform for the more security-minded: all of the files that you upload to Sync will be protected with end-to-end 256-bit AES encryption, which ensures that even if hackers were to break into Sync’s servers, they would be unable to use your backups.

 

What’s more, Sync also guarantees its compliance with various privacy laws, such as the US HIPAA, Canadian PIPEDA and PHIPA, and European GDPR—there’ll be no government or corporate snooping here!

 

If that still isn’t enough, Sync also has a zero-knowledge encryption policy, which means that nobody except you will hold the key to decrypting your files. Not even Sync’s employees themselves will know what you’re backing up to their servers!

 

All of these security features come wrapped up in an incredibly user-friendly interface. When you install the Sync desktop app, it creates a special Sync folder on your computer. Any files that you move into this folder are automatically backed up, complete with file versioning—it even lets you recover deleted files!

 

Sync is also no slouch when it comes to pricing: it offers 5 GB of storage for free, and its paid “Solo Basic” plan is priced at $8 per month for a whopping 2 TB of storage.

 

Although it may not offer Backblaze’s unlimited storage capacity, Sync.com is the undisputed champion for users that value their backups’ safety and security above all else.

 

 

Do I Need Cloud Storage or a Cloud Backup?

 

cloud storage vs online backup

Your choice between these two depends entirely on what you want to use them for. (Credit: BOBcloud)

 

Choosing between cloud storage or cloud backups depends entirely on what you want to do:

 

If you just want to expand your computer’s storage space or want a collaborative environment where you can easily work with your friends and coworkers, pick an online storage service—this highly versatile storage solution will be more than enough to meet all of your needs.

 

On the other hand, if you want a highly secure method for storing and recovering your data during an emergency—be it a natural disaster, a broken hard drive, a devastating ransomware attack, or a bothersome case of file corruption—whatever it may be, an online backup will always have your back.

 

 

Storage for Space, Backups for Safety

 

As you can see, although they may seem quite similar, there are a lot of differences between online storage services and online backups—and most of these differences have to do with how they are used.

 

Think of cloud storage as a more “active” choice: it lets you expand your local storage capacity and enables you to easily work with your colleagues regardless of where you are. As for cloud backups, they’re more of a “defensive” choice: they’re there for when times get tough, and they’ll help you get back up on your feet as quickly as possible.

 

Each option has its own merits, and with our tips and suggestions, you’re now more than ready to decide which one works best for you!