Should you store all your documents in the cloud?

Hey, everyone? Remember the days when “cloud” meant one of those white puffy things in the sky? Not so much anymore, at least not when you’re talking about technology. We all know that when we talk about “the cloud” we’re really talking about storing something somewhere else. It’s hard to remember on a daily basis, but the internet isn’t some imaginary fairy realm. It’s really a collection of giant data centers filled with servers.

Safety and security… it’s a set of choices.

Cloud storage is insanely cheap. If you have a Google account (who doesn’t?) you get 15GB free storage. If you use Microsoft 365 (the program formerly known as Microsoft Office 365) that gives you a terabyte of free storage as long as you keep paying for the whole package. Adobe’s Creative Cloud gives you plenty of space too. It seems there’s no shortage of places to upload your data.

But is it the right choice? Cloud storage is convenient, to be sure. Your stuff is available from anywhere, and it’s always backed up. Let’s take a look at the benefits of keeping your documents local as opposed to keeping them on some server somewhere.

Cloud storage: The good…

The best thing about cloud storage is that it isn’t device-dependent. Not only can you access it from anywhere with an internet connection, it’s also going to stay accessible when your computer crashes. And let’s be honest, it will crash if you have it long enough.

With cloud storage, you don’t have to worry about malware scans, backups, or any of the other routine tasks that people tended to ignore in the past. They’re covered for you. Your stuff is always there.

…and the bad

With cloud storage, you hope that no one is able to see your private stuff. There’s always a possibility of hacking. You may not be a celebrity so your private stuff probably doesn’t appeal to anyone else. But, with cloud storage there’s that possibility that someone will find something in your photos that they want to exploit. That’s not a comforting thought.

Cloud storage is also slower than local storage. While you probably wouldn’t notice this difference with a single photo or document, it’s true. If you edit video or work with large files in any other way, you’ll definitely notice the difference.

Local storage: the good…

The biggest benefit of local storage is speed. Depending on your computer, retrieving a file from your hard drive could be over 250 times faster. You won’t notice the difference with tiny little files, but as I said once you start working with big ones it gets super obvious.

The other benefit is privacy. No one can get to files that you store offline. I mean totally offline, as in on flash drives or other physical media. Even your local computer is fairly safe in this regard.

…and the bad

If you’re storing everything locally, you’ll need a good backup strategy. Data loss won’t be a matter of if, but of when. In order to have some sort of secure backup, you’ll need to create a physical copy of your stuff and store it somewhere else. For example, at a friend’s house or in a bank vault. If your home is destroyed by a natural disaster, your stuff will be, too.

You’ll also need a strong anti-malware strategy. You don’t want to lose access to all your data because you clicked on the wrong link. The stuff bundled into Windows is pretty good but you’ll probably want to consider a paid solution.

The best option is probably “both”

Because cloud storage is so cheap, you can probably do both. If you have a Windows PC with Windows 10, you can set it up so OneDrive automatically backs up your files. The system keeps local copies of things you use frequently. If you change computers, all your documents, pictures, and media are there for you. Plus, you don’t have to worry about making frequent backups.

If you already pay for Microsoft 365 then you have enough OneDrive storage so that it won’t be a problem. If you don’t, you can buy extra storage from Microsoft.

You can consider keeping private things on a flash drive or other physical media outside of your regular Documents or Pictures folder. That way there’s no chance the whole internet will get to see it.

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About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.