How to Use Free Cloud Storage and Unlimited Online Backup Together

By | August 18th, 2015

The 4 Layers of Data Backup

Where do you store your files? This has become a modern dilemma, thanks to the proliferation of online storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive and online backup services like Backblaze. Using multiple services offers additional protection for your precious data, but you don’t want your files scattered everywhere either. Here’s my layered approach for keeping my files in sync and backed up.

As someone who used to manage the backups at a small company, I can tell you that the most important word when it comes to backups is redundancy. So if it seems like I go a little overkill with my backup and file storage plan, it’s because I know that hard drives can fail at any time, files get accidentally overwritten, and houses (with computers in them) get flooded or burned down. Having a system in place gives me peace of mind that if and when things go wrong, I’ll be able to recover quickly. The more layers to the system, the better.

Layer 1: Unlimited Online Backup

With unlimited online backup services as low as $5 a month (or even less, if you sign up for a yearly or multi-year plan), using one of these services is a no-brainer. If you’re only going to do one thing to protect your data, this is what I’d recommend as the minimum, for a few reasons. The first is the ease of use. Manually backing up your files is a chore, but with an online backup service, it’s done quietly, regularly, and automatically for you. It’s literally set and forget. The second reason is you don’t have to think about what to backup or worry about how much room you have to store your files, unlike using cloud storage services like Dropbox, which give you a limited amount of space. In addition to the files on your computer, external drives get backed up too. Also, your files are encrypted first so no one else can read them–a critical backup feature when you’ve got files with sensitive information, like your tax returns or that embarrassing photo of you after you got the world’s worst haircut.

The biggest reason why I think this should be your first layer, though: Unlike local backups (say, to an external hard drive), your data is saved off-site and protected from things like computer theft or natural disasters. Back when I was doing backups as my job, unlimited backup services didn’t exist. To get the security of off-site backups, we had to alternate backup drives and take ones we swapped out to another location, which was a pain. But now you can get that protection without moving from your living room.

What to store here
All of your important data (automatically).
Layer 2: An External Drive

Whether you’re backing up Windows or a Mac, it’s important to have an additional copy of your important files saved elsewhere besides just your computer. Both operating systems have built-in tools to automatically save multiple versions of your documents and other files, as well as create a system image (snapshot of your computer) in case of emergency.

You can also use a network drive for this, such as a NAS (network attached storage), but I like external drives because they’re inexpensive and you can quickly grab it if you need to (e.g., the fire alarm goes off or you’re heading to your vacation home for a few months). Because my laptop’s SSD drive is miserably small, I also store my largest files here–irreplaceable photos and videos. Again, these are also automatically backed up with the online backup service.

What to store here

System image backup, file version backups (e.g., Mac’s Time Machine or Windows’ File History), large files that can’t fit on your computer hard drive. If you store important files on here that have sensitive information, make sure you encrypt them first, with a tool like
7-Zip, in case the drive gets lost or stolen.

Layer 3: Dropbox, OneDrive, and/or Google Drive

Online storage and file syncing services aren’t the same as backup, but they come in handy when sharing files with others or if you need to access the files from another computer or mobile device.

Each service has its merits and disadvantages. You could choose just one to use, which would make organizing your files simple (just store the files you want synced in the dedicated folder) or use a combination of these services. If you do use multiple cloud storage services, it helps to have clear rules for what you’re going to store on each, so it’s easier to find your files. For example, I use:

    • Dropbox for work in progress files. I find that Dropbox is fastest at syncing files over my local network and it integrates well with other apps.
    • OneDrive for Microsoft Office files, because of the unlimited space for Office documents.
    • Google Drive for backups of photos (see below) and shared Google Docs. It seems most people have a Google account, so it’s easier to share a spreadsheet or document with them from Google Drive.

What to store here:

Files you need to access instantly from anywhere or share and collaborate on with others. Don’t store files with sensitive information here unless you encrypt them first.

Layer 4: Flickr and/or Google Photos

Finally, there’s an additional layer I use for photos and videos, because these are my most valuable files and also the kind I regularly share. Although they’re backed up with the online backup service, I also use Flickr’s and Google Photos’ automatic upload tools to save copies of my photos from my external hard drive to their online storage. Flickr gives you 1TB of free space and Google Photos offers unlimited storage if you keep the photos at standard resolution. Also, these services automatically back up photos from smartphones, which is a great benefit.

So that’s my system so far. You can compare the various online backup and cloud backup services here. What do you use?


Melanie Pinola

Melanie Pinola

[Guest Blogger] Melanie Pinola is a freelance writer and author covering all things tech-related. When she's not writing about backups, she enjoys traveling, reading, and continuing her quest to find the perfect fried chicken.
Follow Melanie: @melaniepinola | LinkedIn | Facebook
Category:  Backing Up
  • Sam George

    With the use of backup and restore dropbox plugin, you can get access to your data at anytime when needed. Am hereby recommend for anyone because it is easy, safe and more convenient to use..Here is a link below you can try it out..

  • betty

    if you need to backup your Dropbox files, you can use Backup & Restore Dropbox. i have been using it and its quite helpful.

  • GoofyGuy12

    For cloud services you should also mention Cubby (by Logmein). It has some useful advantages: synced folders can be anywhere (not just under some master folder) and it keeps all old versions of files so that you can go back in time. That’s nice if you somehow mangled or deleted a file and need to get a good version back. JungleDisk has similar features and gives you a choice of which online storage provider to use to store the files (with different price structures).

  • Ilona Kalistaya

    Hi there! It’s really interesting topic of discussion. Hard drive is a
    very important and useful thing, it’s so cool to keep great amount of
    information in one little gadget. So that I’m going to buy it too. But I
    cant decide what brand would be better. Could anybody recommend me
    something? I saw a lot of positive posts about Hitachi. I have found
    good one here But what kind of hard ware do
    you use? Do you like it? Thanks for any answers!!

  • wmbb

    I do a monthly physical backup with an external hard drive (about 4to) that I keep in a different location. I use backblaze for backing up my pc constantly (about 3To). Then I use spanning (about 4To) for saving my gmail and google drive (about 4To). Then I use Cloudhq+’Amazon drive unlimited everything’ (about 4To) for again saving gmail + google drive. A cheaper alternative would be to use cloudally (they do both companies : google apps – and individuals : saving gmail +google drive ! ). ;)

  • Falcon89

    My bandwidth can’t handle online backup, so I use a combination of backup to a 24TB NAS with RAID5 (WD EX4 doesn’t allow RAID6) that is backed up to my old NAS devices (2 1TB Lacie NS2, 2 2TB Lacie CloudBox, 1 8TB WD MyCloud Mirror), plus various USB drives and a homemade server that is a small version of what they use at BackBlaze.

    I also use Flickr, Google Drive, Google Photos, YouTube for video files, and OneDrive.

    I also back everything up to drives at my dad’s house and father-in-law’s houses using Sneakernet, and longrange WiFi.

    Comcast only gives me 5Mbps/1Mbps (I’d never finish backing up myfiles to an online service)

  • karl

    All data back-up to NAS (files duplicated by month too making twelve

    Additional separate back-up to NAS for documents (File History)

    Important data such as Pictures, Documents and Music saved separately onto mounted USB drives on the NAS.

    Every month, data is duplicated onto another external hard drive attached
    to NAS. Three-monthly data is copied to a HDD in cupboard.

    Data is encrypted onto further HDD (archive and live data) and taken off
    site, with two high capacity USB drives used for ‘live’ data. Devices
    are swapped separately on different occasions.

    Dropbox is used for some documents, account data and pictures taken from my

    Google Cloud is used for encrypted photos taken from my mobile.

    I have bought a Windows phone, so will be using OneDrive
    from notes and pictures.

    Obviously I have not been keen on
    ‘the cloud’, preferring to protect my data myself. Mainly because I
    have full control and back-up is a passion of mine.

    I plan to purchase another 2.5” HDD to have two off-site back-up drives.

    that’s it.

  • My Backup- and Cloud strategy: local Time Machine, two portable encrypted Time Machines (one stored in another office, one for traveling), Backblaze, Dropbox for Apps using it, Google Drive for work in progress, flickr and Google Photos (love them both for their extended functionality), Google Music Player for audio streaming (reads iTunes library), Mankayia (with Pydio) for Video streaming, t-online Mediencenter and StreamNation (fallback for Video Streaming), YouTube. I don’t use Apple’s cloud services: too expensive, not reliable and less functionality than free competitors.

  • arkossyzsolt

    1. RAID 0+1 MacPro, 2. Backblaze, 3. NAS, 4. Offline HDDs, 5. LTO-5 Tape Drive

  • Stefan

    1. Backblaze. 2. Time Machine. 3. Sugarsync. 4. Flickr. I have two Macs, Sugarsync syncs all documents/pictures between those two computers, which are both backup’d with Time Machine. So all documents exists in 6 places and pictures in 7 places. So no, I don’t think you’re going overkill with your backups! :-)

  • I use on-site RAID drives, off-site RAID drives as well as Backblaze, Amazon Photos and Google Photos