This website is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Online backup services
Do you struggle to take regular backup copies of your important files? Maybe you should try an online backup service. They are one of the easiest ways to take safe copies of your data, keeping you protected if files get corrupted or deleted, or your computer fails.
Online backup services comparison chart for 2024
Elephant Drive Home
Acronis Online Backup
Ease of use
Help & support
Drag & drop interface
Individual files & folders
Personal encryption key
Multi-location storage - Your data is stored in multiple data centers, usually located in different countries. This means that if any data center was to fail due to hardware failure, electrical outage, damage or even natural disasters such as flooding a copy of your most current data would always remain.
|Help & support
Online backup services explained
The principle behind online backups is the same as any other backup method; you keep a second copy of your data in a safe place, in case anything happens to your master copy.
The main difference with online backups is that your backups aren’t stored on a disk that you have to manage and handle yourself. Online backup services send copies of your files across the internet, storing them safely on a server that’s owned or run by the online backup company.
Most online backup services require you to install a small piece of software on your computer. This runs constantly, performing backups automatically. The only other thing you need is a fast broadband connection, to transfer your data across the internet.
Getting started with online backup services
Basic online backup services are free. They may be adequate for backing up a small amount of data, but higher-capacity services will charge a monthly fee. It’s very important your online backup service offers enough space for all your files.
Pricier services usually offer greater capacity, plus other useful features. These may include the ability to share data with others, back up files from more than one computer, or to ‘synchronize’ files on two or more computers (or even other gadgets like mobile phones), so you always have access to your data.
After taking an initial backup of the files you choose, an online backup service should be able to monitor for any changes and take backup copies automatically, without you having to do anything. This ensures new files are backed up almost as soon as you create them. If you do run into a problem, you should suffer minimal data loss.
What to look for in online backup services
To find the right online backup service, consider these key areas.
Online backup capacity
It’s important that your online backup service has enough space for your files. When evaluating how much space you’ll need, think about how you expect your files to grow.
For instance, if you want to back up photos that you take regularly, the space you require will soon increase. Ensure your chosen service has enough extra room – or that it’s easy to add extra capacity when you need it.
Online backup services give you different options for actually creating backups. Some run backups at regular times of the day, which you can set. But it’s a good idea to choose a service which backs up new or changed files whenever your system is idle, and you’re not using it for anything.
Check which locations on your computer’s hard drive the backup service is able to take backups from. For instance, some services only allow you to back up one particular folder. That makes for a foolproof, simple backup system – but only if you can group all your files together in one folder.
Security and reliability
Your online backup service is where you’ll turn if you have a problem with the data stored on your own computer. It’s therefore essential that you can rely on the service you choose. Look for good customer ratings and a proven track record. Make sure they keep your data safe too – most online backup services should encrypt it before it’s transferred over the internet.
Access on the move
For extra versatility, choose an online backup service which allows you to log in and view files from any computer, without having to install software. You can even access some services on your mobile phone. With all your key data in your pocket, you’ll never be struggling for an important document again.
File sharing and synchronization
Online backup service can be a good way to share files with others. Many services allow you to designate a one or more files as ‘shared’, so people who know the username and password can log in and view or download them.
Similarly, look for software that lets you synchronize or mirror the files onto more than one computer. For instance, you can have all your files to hand, on both your home and work computers.
Ease of use
It’s important your online backup service is easy to use. You don’t want any confusion as to whether you’ve chosen to back up the right files, or uncertainty about whether automatic backups are actually being performed. Check screenshots and try a demo version, if you can.
Help and support
The cheapest online backup services tend to offer minimal support. If something goes wrong, you’ll be required to email for assistance or consult advice on a support website.
If you’ve never used online backup services before, or will be backing up data that’s really important, look for telephone support (so you can actually speak to someone) and a guaranteed level of service.
Here are our answers to the most common questions about online backup services.
Q. What is an online backup service?
An online backup service gives you an easy way to back up important files stored on your computer. With an online backup service, copies of the files you want to back up are sent over the internet and stored on a server owned or operated by the online backup service company.
Q. Do I need an online backup service?
If you don’t currently back up your files at all, then an online backup service will enable you to start backing up very easily. All you need to do is sign up and install a small piece of software. The online backup service should do the rest.
If you already take backups in another way (perhaps you regularly copy files to CDs or DVDs), an online backup service can provide you with offsite backups. This means the data is stored away from your computer, so if there’s some kind of disaster (like a fire), your backup copies are safe.
As well as giving you a safety net, online backup services can synchronize or mirror files on all your computers (so you can access them no matter which machine you’re using). They’re good for sharing files with other people too.
Q. Is it easy to get started with an online backup service?
Usually, yes. You generally have to install a small piece of software and choose which files you want to back up. The software should do the rest for you.
Q. How much data can I back up?
It depends on the capacity of the online backup service you choose. Make sure there’s enough space for all your files – and that you have a bit of spare room too.
Q. Once I’ve set up my online backup service, do I need to do anything else to keep my files safe?
It’s a good idea to have two different backup systems in place. If one is your online backup service, you could also take regular backups by copying important files onto CDs or an external hard drive.
Also, remember that online backup services don’t protect you from threats in the first place – they simply give you a way to recover if you have a problem. Always make sure your computer is running up-to-date security software.
Q. How do I know if my online backup service is secure?
Make sure your online backup service scrambles your data with encryption. This will ensure nobody else can read it. The data should be encrypted before it is sent over the internet, and should be stored on the server in an encrypted format too.
Q. How does file synchronization work?
File synchronization mirrors your files across different computers that you own. For instance, you could set up your online backup service to synchronize the ‘My Documents’ folder on your computer.
This would copy all the files in that folder to your other computers. Whenever you change a file, it would be updated on all the other computers too.
If you have more than one computer, file synchronization enables you to always have access to all your files.
Q. Is it safe to share files with other people through my online backup service?
Yes, as long as the service is protected by a strong password, and you don’t share the password with anybody else.
Q. What sort of internet connection do I need to use an online backup service?
The faster the better. All the files you want to back up have to be sent over your internet connection. Although this can be a lot of data, most home broadband connections are more than up to the job.
Although online backup services are generally easy to set up and use, they come with more than their fair share of jargon. Here’s what the key terms mean.
The process of enabling other people to access selected files stored by your online backup service. Most online backup services allow you to designate certain files or folder as shared – and to set up usernames and passwords to control who they are shared with.
When your computer is switched on but you’re not actually using it for anything, your computer is ‘idle’. Many online backup services take advantage of idle time to scan for new or changed files and take backup copies over the internet.
Using idle backups ensures that the online backup service doesn’t slow your computer down while you’re trying to use it.
Mobile phone access
Because online backup services store your data on the internet, you may be able to log in and access it from any internet-connected device. That includes mobile phones.
Some services offer apps which you can install onto your phone, making it easier to view files when you’re out and about. Mobile phone access can be useful for checking documents and other files when you can’t easily get to a computer.
Rather than backing up all your data every time it runs a backup, most online backup services use selective backups. This means they check to see which files have changed, then only back those up.
Selective backups run faster and don’t need to send as much information across the internet. That’s particularly useful if you have a broadband package with a data transfer limit, or you share your connection with other people.
Encryption scrambles your files so nobody can read them, keeping them safe. Many online backup services use storage encryption to keep your files in an encrypted state on their servers.
A type of encryption used to protect data when it’s sent over the internet. If your online backup service uses SSL, it means it scrambles all your data before it gets on the internet – keeping it safe from anyone who tries to intercept it.
Keeping the same files automatically updated on two or more computers. Synchronization is really handy if you have several computers and want to be able to access all your files from any of them.
Tracking changes to files and keeping old versions, so you can look back and see what changed and when. Versioning helps you roll back to an old version of a document or keep track of when things changed.
Allows you to log in to your online backup service from any internet-connected computer. You simply visit a particular website and enter your username and password. A web interface means you can get at files from pretty much any computer, anywhere in the world.