Sync vs. Backup vs. Storage

June 20th, 2017

Cloud Sync vs. Cloud Backup vs. Cloud Storage

Google Drive recently announced their new Backup and Sync feature for Google Drive, which allows users to select folders on their computer that they want to back up to their Google Drive account (note: these files count against your Google Drive storage limit). Whenever new backup services are announced, we get a lot of questions so I thought we should take a minute to review the differences in cloud based services.

What is the Cloud? Sync Vs Backup Vs Storage

There is still a lot of confusion in the space about what exactly the “cloud” is and how different services interact with it. When folks use a syncing and sharing service like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive or any of the others, they often assume those are acting as a cloud backup solution as well. Adding to the confusion, cloud storage services are often the backend for backup and sync services as well as standalone services. To help sort this out, we’ll define some of the terms below as they apply to a traditional computer set-up with a bunch of apps and data.

Cloud Sync (ex. Dropbox, iCloud Drive, OneDrive, Box, Google Drive) – these services sync folders on your computer to folders on other machines or to the cloud – allowing users to work from a folder or directory across devices. Typically these services have tiered pricing, meaning you pay for the amount of data you store with the service. If there is data loss, sometimes these services even have a rollback feature, of course only files that are in the synced folders are available to be recovered.

Cloud Backup (ex. Backblaze Cloud Backup, Mozy, Carbonite) – these services work in the background automatically. The user does not need to take any action like setting up specific folders. Backup services typically back up any new or changed data on your computer to another location. Before the cloud took off, that location was primarily a CD or an external hard drive – but as cloud storage became more readily available it became the most popular storage medium. Typically these services have fixed pricing, and if there is a system crash or data loss, all backed up data is available for restore. In addition, these services have rollback features in case there is data loss / accidental file deletion.

Cloud Storage (ex. Backblaze B2, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure) – these services are where many online backup and syncing and sharing services store data. Cloud storage providers typically serve as the endpoint for data storage. These services typically provide APIs, CLIs, and access points for individuals and developers to tie in their cloud storage offerings directly. These services are priced “per GB” meaning you pay for the amount of storage that you use. Since these services are designed for high-availability and durability, data can live solely on these services – though we still recommend having multiple copies of your data, just in case.

What Should You Use?

Backblaze strongly believes in a 3-2-1 Backup Strategy. A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least 3 total copies of your data, 2 of which are local but on different mediums (e.g. an external hard drive in addition to your computer’s local drive), and at least 1 copy offsite. The best setup is data on your computer, a copy on a hard drive that lives somewhere not inside your computer, and another copy with a cloud backup provider. Backblaze Cloud Backup is a great complement to other services, like Time Machine, Dropbox, and even the free-tiers of cloud storage services.

What is The Difference Between Cloud Sync and Backup?

Let’s take a look at some sync setups that we see fairly frequently.

Example 1) Users have one folder on their computer that is designated for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or one of the other syncing/sharing services. Users save or place data into those directories when they want them to appear on other devices. Often these users are using the free-tier of those syncing and sharing services and only have a few GB of data uploaded in them.

Example 2) Users are paying for extended storage for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc… and use those folders as the “Documents” folder – essentially working out of those directories. Files in that folder are available across devices, however, files outside of that folder (e.g. living on the computer’s desktop or anywhere else) are not synced or stored by the service.

What both examples are missing however is the backup of photos, movies, videos, and the rest of the data on their computer. That’s where cloud backup providers shine, by automatically backing up user data with little or no set-up, and no need for the dragging-and-dropping of files. Backblaze actually scans your hard drive to find all the data, regardless of where it might be hiding. The results are, all the user’s data is kept in the Backblaze cloud and the portion of the data that is synced is also kept in that provider’s cloud – giving the user another layer of redundancy. Best of all, Backblaze will actually back up your Dropbox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and OneDrive folders.

Data Recovery

The most important feature to think about is how easy it is to get your data back from all of these services. With sync and share services, retrieving a lot of data, especially if you are in a high-data tier, can be cumbersome and take awhile. Generally, the sync and share services only allow customers to download files over the Internet. If you are trying to download more than a couple gigabytes of data, the process can take time and can be fraught with errors.

With cloud storage services, you can usually only retrieve data over the Internet as well, and you pay for both the storage and the egress of the data, so retrieving a large amount of data can be both expensive and time consuming.

Cloud backup services will enable you to download files over the internet too and can also suffer from long download times. At Backblaze we never want our customers to feel like we’re holding their data hostage, which is why we have a lot of restore options, including our Restore Return Refund policy, which allows people to restore their data via a USB Hard Drive, and then return that drive to us for a refund. Cloud sync providers do not provide this capability.

One popular data recovery use case we’ve seen when a person has a lot of data to restore is to download just the files that are needed immediately, and then order a USB Hard Drive restore for the remaining files that are not as time sensitive. The user gets all their files back in a few days, and their network is spared the download charges.

The bottom line is that all of these services have merit for different use-cases. Have questions about which is best for you? Sound off in the comments below!

Yev

Yev

Chief Smiles Officer at Backblaze
Yev enjoys speed-walking on the beach. Speed-dating. Speed-writing blog posts. The film Speed. Speedy technology. Speedy Gonzales. And Speedos. But mostly technology. He also runs social for Backblaze.

Follow Yev on:
Twitter: @YevP | LinkedIn: Yev Pusin | Google+: Yev Pusin
  • R R

    I love Backblaze, my computer crashed and I was able to reinstall all my files. The price can’t be beat. I love the fact that they will send me a external hard drive to upload to my new computer or old computer if needed to reinstall all my data and refund me my money when they receive the device back. I If you do the 3-2-1 method as they suggest, then you will have your taxes from 10 months ago. I have the 3-2-1 method in place since a year or so ago. I have no worries now. I backup monthly and if it is something very important I back it up immediately. If I am worried about losing a document I know I will need in the future, I email it to myself and put it in a folder. This has proved to work for me since I have had email. This article will help me explain to my friends and family members what they need to do for backing up their data. Backblaze, thank you so much for giving me peace of mind, as I know you are working in the background backing up my drive(s). Keep up the great work!

  • zen

    i use backblaze myself, and while its a good service, i think you need an advanced client – sending data you might not want to be sent (regardless of exclusions in the client) cant unjustifiably increase costs to the customer. why cant you have a mode like ‘sync’ where you monitor folders given by the customer? have big flashing signs saying ‘you do this at your own peril!’, but at least its a customer choice. most people use a single folder like ‘$env:userprofileMy Documents’ as the root (analogous to /home in *nix), so as long as that folder is monitor, everything gets backed up. In the windows eco system $env:userprofile has long been the standard location for default file storage – why waste cycles scanning the rest of the computer if you dont really need to?

    as it is, i think i might move to your b2 service and run my own sync scripts

    • Thanks for the feedback Zen – if you want more control, Backblaze B2 is DEFINITELY the right choice for you!

  • Dave Wightman

    Very helpful article except for one sentence:
    “These services typically provide APIs, CLIs, and access points for individuals and developers to tie in their cloud storage offerings directly.”
    I am an experienced Mac user for some 25 years now and I have no idea what that means!

    • For Cloud Storage providers those terms basically just mean a set of tools for developers to tie in directly to the service. They aren’t typically for “end-users” – though what happens often is that a company will integrate with a cloud storage service using those APIs and provide a service for end-users. The integrators for Backblaze B2 (our cloud storage service) can be found here -> https://www.backblaze.com/b2/integrations.html.

      The answers you seek:
      API -> Application Program Interface
      CLI -> Command Line Interface

      • Dave Wightman

        Thanks very much.

  • It would be worth it to me to pay additional for BackBlaze to retain my data for much longer than they do.

    Hey BackBlaze… any enhancements coming?

    • Hi Donald! If you’re looking for an archive service, we do have Backblaze B2! It’s a bit of a different model (https://www.backblaze.com/b2/cloud-storage.html) – but we have a lot of integrators that are wonderful and can help you with your archives!

    • Linda Hall

      This is something I would like to see as well. I was using another online backup service when we had occasion to move. Unfortunately, the logistics of the move meant that my desktop was going to be disconnected from the internet/backup service for nearly 60 days. I spoke with the online service, to figure out some way to extend my time offline (30 days was their time frame), so that I could continue with the service and not have to worry about the online backup being lost. The company refused to work with me on this, so I had to have a hard drive sent to me with my data. I ended the association with the company, not so much because of their “policy”, but because they were nasty and rude about it instead of working with a long time client. Things happen, and sometimes 30 days is just not a reasonable time frame. Would love to see an option for purchasing a longer offline/delay time frame.

  • One large caveat with backing up locally on hard drives. I’ve found through hard and painful experience that spinning hard drives do not do well when sitting unused on a shelf for more than 6 months. If you expect to make a full backup on a hard drive and then let it sit on a shelf unused for a year you might be in for some tears.

    I was delighted to discover BackBlaze, but as they themselves recommend – BackBlaze or any other backup tool serves best as part of a multi-dimensional backup and recovery strategy.

    And don’t forget to store at least one full backup off premises or out of your home. Visit you mum once a week and switch out a backup hard drive. She’ll be happy to see you and you will be dancing with joy if your basement floods out your computer and your backup hard drives!

  • txasslm

    Yev,

    I am not a tech person so forgive, please. All I want (I think) is for all my files on my PC to be backed up to a cloud storage, done initially I assume when I begin the service. Then, after that time, I want new and / or changed files to be backed up to that same cloud storage location. I have only the one PC that would be backed up. Then I want to be able to go to that cloud site from my laptop, smartphone or even my neighbor’s computer and retrieve / download a file or files at any time.

    You can do this, right? Also, I’m curious — am I talking storage, sync or backup?

    I will check back here in a day or two to see if you’ve had a chance to reply. Thanks.

    • txasslm

      It is unclear whether Yev is an employee of Backblaze or what but the fact that this blog is on the Backblaze site gives it some official sanction. Accordingly, if he or someone else at Backblaze cannot respond more promptly to what I believe to be my simple question above, I must wonder if Backblaze also fails to respond timely when someone has a problem or question with their account.

      All that to say, Yev, your non-response tells me everything I need to know about Backblaze.

      • Hi there – yes, I work at Backblaze, sorry for the delay, we were on a break for the 4th of July and I have been out of the office. To answer your question, I think you’re looking for an online backup service – something that will work in the background, back up your computer, and then back up any new or added files – then make those files available to you on the web. If you need more timely responses we are always monitoring Twitter, and have live-chat available on our help site -> https://help.backblaze.com/hc/en-us/requests/new that can get you sorted with any questions that you may have!

        • txasslm

          What about people who do not use Twitter? Or Facebook? Or other “social media?” My observation of people who are “in” high tech, at least in Austin, Texas, are that they seek to be known in a political context as not discriminating against anyone. But if I don’t “twitter” (?) or “Facebook,” my communications are limited, are they not?

          Second, and finally, you answered some of my questions but not all. Last one and I promise to leave you alone: what happens to an existing file on my computer that I changed in any way. Is the changed — but unchanged in name — file backed up automatically? If Backblaze does this, it will get my business, paltry as it is.

          • Hi there. If you don’t use social media – that’s perfectly OK! Our support team has live-chat throughout the day and are very knowledgeable. Above, I linked to our support website. You can reach them directly here -> https://help.backblaze.com/hc/en-us/requests/new or visit our help center (https://www.backblaze.com/help.html).

            If you have a file on your computer and then you change that file, Backblaze will back up the newly changed file, and will keep the previous version of that file for 30 days, during which you can get it back.

            If you have any additional questions, please take a look at our help section, and contact support -> https://www.backblaze.com/help.html.

          • Lawrence Houghton

            YevP… Well done, well said, well played

          • MadMonk67

            Jeez, I stop being such a douche bag! I swear, people who ask for free advice and then whine about how it takes to get an answer are the worst.

      • FredWallace18

        This is an informational blog, not a help desk, tech support forum, or live. I -do not- work at BackBlaze, but I feel the need to defend them as an excellent service, even writing informative posts that often reveal their own data/business practices/setups for free. YevP treating you, a prospective, as-of-yet non-paying customer with respect and is offering answers to your problems.

    • Hi there! That’s exactly what a backup system would do, so you’d be looking for a cloud backup or online backup system.

  • Kristian

    I use a combo.
    My laptop is synced to my server with Syncthing, and the server instance of Syncthing has versioning enabled, so if I accidentally delete a file, I can quickly find it on the server.

    02:00 every night BorgBackup create a backup to a external HDD and lastly I use rclone to sync that backup to B2.

    So in total I have 4 copy of my data.
    1 copy on my laptop.
    2 copy on my server (on 2 different HDD).
    1 copy on B2.

    So if my laptop get stolen, I still have 3 copies, but if the house burn down or some sort of power surge happens I still have the B2 copy.
    My last concern now is bitrot/silentl corruption.

    • That’s pretty thorough!

  • Great article, thanks.
    Cloud sync is the most easiest way, though not the best :)

    • Sync is definitely simple, depending on what you’re trying to get done! We just kept seeing folks thinking that using a sync service was providing the same benefits as a backup service and that is most certainly not the case!

      • I agree, so we need articles, explaining staff :)

    • gavingreenwalt

      Yep, I always like to describe Cloud Sync with the phrase “Easy come, Easy go.”

      Easy to save things. Easy to accidentally delete them. :) (But that’s also true of backups in that if you don’t have a retention policy it’ll simply delete it off of your Tape/Drive/Cloud backup as well. )

      My setup currently that I’m really happy with is to use Cloudberry to backup my Cloud Sync drive to Backblaze twice a week with a full-retention policy so that even when I delete it from the Cloud Sync it retains it indefinitely. I would be terrified if I only had data on OneDrive without a backup anywhere else and accidentally deleted all of my files from OneDrive and it helpfully synced it.

      It would be great though if there was a cloud service which backed up CloudSync services directly without having to run it on a PC over my slow internet.

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  • Tim Clevenger

    If your company works from a Dropbox or similar service, you should be backing that up as well. If somebody deletes a file, you can usually get it back. If somebody deleted something 10 months ago that you need for this year’s taxes, you’re probably hosed.

    • Unfortunately, this is also true of the cloud backup strategy provided by BackBlaze. BackBlaze does not permanently hold onto your data – it only holds onto your deleted data for so long (30 days, I think). So if you deleted your tax data 10 months ago, you’re not going to get it back from BackBlaze.

      • Stachu

        Then BackBlaze is not a backup. Just yet another sync.

      • That’s accurate, at the moment we have a 30-day retention history from the time you remove data. If you’re looking to archive your data forever, we recommend using a Cloud Storage solution (like Backblaze B2) along with a client of your choice, or build your own with APIs and CLIs!