Cloud Storage vs. External Hard Drive

Paul Niemeyer
By Paul Niemeyer
May 13, 2013

So, you are thinking whether to use an external hard drive or a cloud storage service for your files? Probably, you are already using and external hard drive and are wondering if there are better alternatives. In this article we are going to talk about the pros and cons of cloud storage services versus external hard drives.

At first, it seems that external hard drives have a clear advantage: they are quite cheap and you get to control everything on that device. Yet using only external hard drives for data storage can be dangerous: hard drives fail or might get stolen so you will be without your data.

External hard drives

So first let’s have a look at external hard drives and why you might want to think about using those instead of a cloud storage service. External hard drives have become very cheap so that you can get a 2 TB hard drive for $100 at Amazon.


    1. External hard drives are not extensive
      Storage price is decreasing at a fast pace. That’s why you can get external hard drives really cheaply. If your storage needs increase you can just buy another external hard drive or replace your old one with a model that has more storage. That makes it a very flexible solution.
    2. External hard drives are fast
      Thanks to new technology and USB 2.0 transfer speed has increased dramatically with external hard drives. It doesn’t matter if you want to backup your HD video collection or a huge photo album. Everything can be transferred in a matter of hours.
    3. External hard drives are a one time investment
      Especially when you are on a budget external hard drives are a wise choice because you only have to invest ones to get full potential. There is no need to sign up for a service that builds you monthly for features that you might not need. So you can easily calculate your overall cost.
    4. External hard drives and more security to your files
      If you are very security concerned and external hard drive gives you the flexibility you need to encrypt your files and make them as secure as you want them to be. Also, you are the only person who has access to your files.


  1. External hard drives can be lost or stolen
    Remember how easy it is to forget your sunglasses or your purse. It is as easy to lose your external hard drives somewhere where people are just waiting to get their hands on it. That’s why you should always be careful when carrying all of your important data on one device. Also, external hard drives can fail pretty easily. After all, those are just spinning drives that can be broken just as easily as an internal hard drive in your desktop PC.
  2. You have to take care of security
    If you’re not a very technical person you might feel the need to just transfer your files on an external hard drive without encrypting them. That might be very dangerous if some people would like to see your files and you don’t want them to. They just have to double-click a file and can see it right away. So, you have to take care about encryption.
  3. External hard drives need to be connected all the time
    In order to use external hard drives to their full potential you need to connect them at all times to your computer. That makes it very impractical on long run because sometimes you just need a file quickly and don’t have time to connect your external hard drive.

Cloud storage services

Cloud storage has become very popular these days, one of the reasons being dropbox. Dropbox allows you to sync files across multiple devices and share folders with friends family or colleagues. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of those file synchronization and cloud storage services?


  1. Cloud storage allows you to access your files anywhere
    If you’re using a cloud storage service such as JustCloud, you can use their software to access your files does matter where you are. You can access your photos via a mobile phone or a laptop PC. It can be at the office or at a beach. The beauty of cloud storage services is that you disconnect your files from your computer.
  2. Cloud storage services and encrypt your files securely
    Most cloud storage services have encryption technology which secures your files from third parties. Only the people who should have access to your files will get it. You don’t have to take care about encryption and file security, instead, the cloud storage service does that for you.
  3. Share your files with friends and family
    Cloud storage services such as JustCloud or dropbox or sugar sync allow you to select folders and share them with friends and family. That makes it pretty easy to work on a document or presentation or send photos to your grandma while you’re still on vacation.
  4. Cloud storage is very cheap
    Cloud storage has become very cheap last couple of years. Services reduce their rates consistently giving you more storage for less money. It is not uncommon to get 200 GB for only $10 per month. You might want to use my comparison chart to see which one is the best service for your needs.


  1. Cloud storage transfer speeds can be slow
    Depending on your Internet connection it might take a while until all of your files are transferred to the cloud storage provider. So if you have terabytes of data that you want to back up and stored in the cloud you need to be very patient as this can take weeks.
  2. You need to sign up and pay regularly
    If you want to use the full potential of cloud storage services you need to sign up and pay on a monthly or yearly basis. That means, you will have ongoing storage costs. While those costs may be low you have to take these into consideration.
  3. You need to trust your service provider
    Because you are transferring your most important files to a service you don’t know you need to trust that service to handle your files with care. It is important to check reviews and expert opinions on a particular provider before signing up and sending your files to that service.

What shall you choose?

If you only had one choice I would say you should pick a cloud storage service. The good thing is: we don’t have to decide we can just do both. That way we have the advantages of file sharing and synchronization of a cloud storage service combining it with a backup on an external hard drive. You should always make sure to never rely on one single backup or cloud storage resource because of one fails all of your data may be gone.

If you’re unsure which provided you choose I recommend you have a look at my Top 10 Provider Chart that will help you make the best decision.

3 thoughts on “Cloud Storage vs. External Hard Drive

  1. Good article, thanks for the write up. I’ve never actually bothered to back up my files and fortunately never experienced epic file losses (unlike some of my friends) however I’m beginning to think perhaps I should do it because you just never know when it’ll happen. Since I’ve never experienced HDD failure I find backing up files a very time consuming action and I could be doing something better as life is short (haven’t learnt file sync or RAID yet). With the power of the internet today I think cloud storage will be where I’m headed for important files and docos. Internet is only going to get faster and no HDD means less footprint on my desk. However, photos, music and videos may still have to be on HDD due to size.

  2. informative article it helped alot in a study, also could you compare alternatives to cloud storage for me, I’M having difficulty in finding them

  3. informative article it helped alot in a study, also could you compare alternatives to cloud storage for me, I’M having difficulty in finding them. gracias

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