Is a portable hard drive the best way to backup a laptop?

Short answer: no, it’s the worst way

Portable hard drive

Alright, the worst way would be to not back it up at all.  Sadly that’s the most common way. Other than that, the worst way would be to back it up to a portable hard drive.

Portable hard drives are unreliable

I have used portable hard drives for years, and I can’t tell you how many of them have failed in that time.  Let’s just say it’s in the dozens.  It could be the physics of putting a hard drive in such a small container.  That would explain how they fail much more often than the same drives in a laptop.  Maybe it gets too hot in those enclosures; maybe just being small like that allows them to get roughed up more than they do in a laptop.  All I know is they fail much more often than any hard drive I’ve ever had.  When the hard drive itself doesn’t fail, the electronics around it fail.

It’s with your laptop or PC

Laptop on fire

Using a portable hard drive as your backup means you’re probably storing it next to your PC or putting it into your laptop bag when you travel.  That means it’s right next to the thing it’s protecting.  So when the thing you’re protecting catches fire or gets stolen, your protection goes right along with it.  Remember, you’re just as likely (if not more likely) to have your laptop stolen as you are to have a hard drive failure.

What about DVD backup?

DVDs are more reliable than hard drives, but they have their own problems.  The biggest challenge is that the capacity and throughput are way off from what most people need. Hard drives can easily hold many hundreds of gigabytes of data — even terabytes.  Backing that up to even BluRay DVDs is going to take a lot of CDs and a lot of time.  The transfer rate of burning something in with a laser is pretty slow.

So what do you do, then?

I don’t see any other sensible method than to back it up automatically to a system designed to back up laptops and desktops over the Internet.  This could be a piece of software you purchase and install on systems in your datacenter.  If you go that route, however, you’re going to need to make sure the system works for people who aren’t on the corporate network.

What makes the most sense for this data is a cloud-based data protection system. It would support everyone no matter where they reside.  There are no hard drives to manage, no backup hardware to purchase and manage, and everyone everywhere can backup their computers and access their backups.

What do you think?  Is there a better way to back up laptops and desktops than the cloud?



----- Signature and Disclaimer -----

Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Evangelist at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.