Cloud Storage vs Cloud Backup: What’s the difference?

If you’ve ever searched for a cloud service provider, you must have inevitably come across the terms “cloud storage” and “cloud backup”. Many people, unaware of the differences between them, use these two terms interchangeably. The two systems do have some similarities that mostly stem from their nature of being “remote keepers” of your files that have been uploaded to another location than that of your computer. But the finality of a cloud storage service is different from that of a cloud backup service; they operate differently and they come with different features. Some of their features, however, do overlap.

The focus of this article is to explain what exactly do these two type of cloud services entail and how do these services differ from one another.

What is Online Backup?

A cloud backup or online backup is designed to make a copy of the files you store on your computer and save this copy on a secure online server. In the event that your laptop is stolen, destroyed, crashes or gets damaged in any other way that leads to the loss or corruption of your original data, you’ll only need to download the software client of the online backup service to your computer, and restore your backed up data to your new computer. These restored files will be the same as your original computer-stored files.

An online backup allows you to access your files from anywhere and from any device. Another defining feature of cloud backup services is that they work automatically and for all your files. This means that you don’t have to manually upload your photos, Word documents or videos, the online backup client will do that for you either automatically or at times scheduled by you. While some cloud backups automatically backup all your files without your say-so (e.g. Backblaze), other services like Carbonite, JustCloud or SugarSync allow you to choose what’s being backed up.

Apart from this backup automation feature, these services also offer what’s called a continuous backup, that is, every edit or change you make to your files gets automatically backed up as well. Online backup services will offer file restoring and file versioning too. If you edit a file that you shouldn’t have, you can go back a number of previous versions of the file. Similarly, if you accidentally delete a file from your computer, you can restore this file within a certain period. Other features may include mirror image backup offered by Carbonite or remote wipe feature offered by SugarSync that lets you wipe out data synced to a computer that is subsequently lost or stolen.

Good cloud backups will also offer enhanced security to your files by offering storage redundancy (files are kept at more than a single server location in case one location is compromised somehow) and security by encrypting your data both at upload and while they are stored. So not only that your files are kept safe from computer malfunctions or server damages, but they are also protected through encryption so no-one can take a peek at your data.

What is Online Storage?

As opposed to cloud backup services, which are designed to automatically protect all your files, a cloud storage service like Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive is primarily designed for facilitating access to and sharing of select files. The easiest way to understand the nature of an online storage is to think of it as an online flash drive – you can take it with you anywhere (that is access it online from anywhere), share it with multiple users and allow them to view or edit the files stored on them, and have access only to the exact files that you’ve chosen to store on it. In fact, this was the whole idea behind Dropbox as well – to create something like a flash drive, but one that doesn’t get lost or damaged.

With cloud storage services you have to manually select the files you want to upload to the cloud and synced to all of your other devices. If you delete a file or somehow the file gets corrupted, this file can no longer be retrieved (again, the flash drive analogy is quite illustrative!).

With an online storage you can access your files directly in your sync folder a feature typical for Dropbox and OneDrive, or you can access them online through the host site.

What are the differences?

As you may have already concluded from reading all of the above, the main difference between a cloud storage and a cloud backup is their purpose or finality – cloud backups are meant for automatically and continuously keeping all of your files safe, while cloud storage solutions are primarily used for storing a number of files always defined by the user, and as a collaborative tool via their excellent sharing capabilities.

Apart from this main and crucial distinction, the following differences also apply:

  • Automatic vs manual saving of data – cloud backup services like JustCloud work automatically, that is, they automatically save and sync all your files that are stored on your computer. Cloud storage services like Dropbox only save and sync the files that you’ve manually added to your sync folder;
  • Security – cloud backup services are very serious about security, thus, they encrypt files both on transfer and on storage with the latest in encryption technologies (256-bit AES encryption, TSL), and some services like Carbonite will even allow you to manage your own encryption key. This level of security makes sharing and collaboration features much more limited and file preview features much more tedious (files have to be decrypted before you can view them) than in the case of cloud storage services that usually only encrypt files on their servers without locally encrypting them on your computer;
  • Redundancy – online storage services don’t offer the same file redundancy offered by online backups. If a file is deleted or overwritten, the change will appear on all synced devices usually without the possibility to restore previous versions of a file or restore the backup of a file. An online backup service will retain several versions of a file and allow you to recover even deleted files. This file versioning and deleted file recovery feature may be available at some cloud storage providers as well (e.g. Dropbox), but only in higher tier plans or only as an add-on service, while online backups contain these feature as a core element of their service.

Is one better than the other?

You may be wondering which type of cloud-based service should you choose, or perhaps you’ve already made up your mind about the option that suits your needs better, because essentially, it all really depends on what your needs are. If you only need to store and share files, and you don’t need real-time backup of your files, then a cloud storage service will suit you fine, in all other cases, you’re better off with an online backup service.


David Cross

David is the chief editor at WebHostingMedia right from the beginning. He has a great passion for building and managing websites and creating helpful content. He is also interested in programming - currently learning python.