The Best Online Backup Services for 2021
Online backup services are one of the best options to protect your data from loss. Your digital media and documents can also be destroyed by natural disasters like floods, fires, or earthquakes. Even if your backups are done regularly, it’s possible to lose important data if backups are not kept off-site.
Online backup services scan and encrypt your hard drive to find files that are worth protecting. They then send them up the company’s servers online. You can access your files from any location. Online backup services shouldn’t be confused with cloud storage and file syncing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. These services can store files in the cloud but are not designed to automatically protect system files or important documents. Their strategy is generally to sync just one folder (and all its subfolders) to the cloud, and in some cases, to offer online collaborative document editing. While some backup services provide folder-syncing, very few services provide full-scale backup capabilities.
What is the cost of online backup services?
Cost is important because you will likely be paying for backup services for many years. All of the services that we reviewed were subscription-based. Most of the pricing tiers are based on how much cloud storage you have or how many devices you can use with your account. Some services offer free permanent accounts. However, these plans have limited storage and limit access to key features. Be aware of file-size upload limitations.
Some services offer bulk upload/restore services. This allows you to quickly back up your files. They send you either a blank drive that you can add your data to and then send it back, or one with your data already stored on it. This service is offered by IDrive, Backblaze, and Carbonite, however, they charge different prices for their disk courier services.
Home backup users have different needs than businesses. If you need a larger-scale cloud solution for your company, check out our roundup of the best online backup services for businesses. These plans typically cover many more devices and include better administration features, but at an increased cost.
Create a backup set and scheduled uploads
Many backup services can be used. Backblaze, for example, automatically encrypts your files and uploads them without you having to do anything. Acronis True Image and IDrive allow you to select the files you need from a file tree. Some services may restrict the types of files you can back up or use specific sources such as an external or network drive. You should ensure that all data sources are supported by the service you choose.
There are several common ways to set up backups. Most people prefer to have backups occur on a set schedule like once per day, week, or month. We prefer the second option, which is to upload files when they are modified and saved. This is also known as a continuous backup setting. This scenario allows services to only transfer the modified portion of the file, which is not a burden on your internet connection and does not take up too much storage. Another option is to upload files manually. This level of control may be appreciated by some users, but it is not as effective as if backups are regularly performed.
What are the security features of online backup services?
Many services allow you to encrypt files using a private encryption key option. This is basically a password that you can choose and use to decrypt backup files. You are responsible for remembering your encryption key if you decide to manage it yourself. If you forget your password, the online backup service will not be able to help. This means that you, and not employees of the online backup service, can access your backups. This is a great privacy and security feature. Use a password manager to keep track of your private encryption key if you think you will forget it.
Some services offer more than file encryption. Acronis True Image bundles many security features including active ransomware protection. A few services let you protect access to your web vault by enabling two-factor authentication. This security option is available on services like IDrive, Backblaze, and Livedrive.
Editor’s Note: Livedrive is owned and operated by J2 Global, parent company Ziff Davis, PCMag’s publisher. (
Clear, simple-to-understand privacy policies are also preferred by us. You might want to avoid an online backup service that sells your data to third parties.
Restoring Folders and Files
Online backup services are useless if they don’t make it easy to restore or recover your data. A service should provide search tools to locate specific files within your backup. A service should be able to replicate an entire folder tree structure to help you recover from larger data loss. If you purchase a plan that only covers one computer, you might have to transfer it to another computer if your main computer is ever switched or you need to restore data from an old computer.
A lot of services offer to the version. This allows you to save incremental changes made to files and create recoverable snapshots. This is useful if you need to retrieve information from an older version or if your current file saves are corrupted. There are many options for how many versions and how long they can be saved by services. SpiderOak One, ElephantDrive, and other services can store unlimited file versions for a lifetime.
Mobile and Web Backup Apps
Online backup services offer the greatest advantage of being able to access your files anywhere you are. Although most online backup services allow you to view and download files through a web browser (not all), it is advisable. Many include file-sharing options. The best ones let you set a password and expiration date to access the shared items.
Many of the online backup services we tested offer Android and iOS apps, but the quality and utility of those apps vary widely. Some just offer simple document and media file downloads from your existing backups, but the most feature-complete let you back up the data on your mobile devices.
The speed of online backup service is determined by how fast it can upload, compress, and encrypt files. This is especially important if you have to back up large amounts of data. High-performance backup services also reduce the impact on network and system resources. In reviewing any service that you are considering using, make sure to review our speed tests results. Although backup speed shouldn’t be the only determinant of which online service you choose, fast upload speeds can make backups more manageable.
Alternatives to Online Backup Services
While we think that online backup services are great for protecting files, they won’t be suitable for everyone. Read our guide on how to choose the best backup plan to determine which backup method works best for your needs. You might choose to backup your files locally rather than using cloud-based backup software. However, you don’t have to purchase more than one service. Many products offer both local and online backup.