|Image credit: Netgear|
Granted, cloud storage has really began to take off with the rise of smartphones and social networking. Twitter folks in particular love to include links in their tweets of files they've uploaded, be it photos they've taken or a short video. Likewise, home and office users will appreciate the ability of cloud storage to host files they wish to share with relatives or work colleagues. Finally, cloud storage offers the ability to back up your computer, storing your entire hard drive contents, in effect protecting you from a catastrophic hard drive failure. Such features and benefits certainly make cloud storage attractive and useful. Why then, should you consider investing in your own external hard drive and upgrade to a wireless router that has USB connectivity? Two words: it's better!
1. Hide your wallet
It's great when you can get something for free, and many cloud storage services entice first-time users by offering a free account. What do they give you for free? You get a small storage cap, usually only 2GB, and maybe a very limited feature set. When you realize how useful hosting your files online becomes, you need more storage, or become comfortable to try their higher-end options, the service will require a monthly or annual subscription. That price will mostly depend on how much storage you want to have, with the more gigabytes costing the most. Typical charges can start at a few dollars a month to as much as $250 a year. Compare to the price of your average external hard drive, which runs around $80-$120, and you can see cloud storage becomes an expensive proposition, especially in the long term. Add it up over just a three year period, and you can spend over $600 on cloud services versus $80 for a simple hard drive. And since modern hard drives easily last between 3-5 years, that $80 investment will go a long way.
2. Count your gigabytes
Many everyday users are quite happy with the limited quotas cloud services provide, especially with those free accounts. But what if you need more? What if you have a large music collection you want to access that's 20GB in size? Did you just come back from your European dream vacation and have a hundred 12MP photos waiting to be uploaded? Itching to get those many hours of HD video footage up for your friends and relatives to watch? Need to back up 40GB of work data for the company project? Looking to back up your 128GB netbook system drive in case it gets stolen? Cloud services will make you pay big money for their high-end packages that get you past that measly storage limit. Even then, they will still have an upper limit to their services. In some instances, they may not even offer the storage space you need. With today's biggest 2TB drives coming in at just over $120, you have near-unlimited storage space to use with your USB-equipped router. Take it a step further and plug in a 7-port USB hub, and your vision of a 10TB mass storage repository can turn true as well.
3. Who do you trust with your information?
Cloud services promise to keep your information confidential and store it on secure servers. Here's the million dollar question though - do you really know who's looking at your files? Did you ever read the terms and conditions when signing up regarding how your information is handled and how their service works? It's highly not unlikely since your files are physically on their servers, that they retain ultimate legal ownership, allowing them access to what you upload. Likewise, can they be held accountable if your account is hacked and your data is removed? Keeping your files on your own network hard drive eliminates the need to use any outside party, you don't risk important data being leaked, and most importantly, you know exactly where your data is being physically kept.
4. Prepare to get nothing
Cloud storage services employ some of the most sophisticated IT technology, including server mirroring, data redundancy, remote management and uninterrupted power supplies. Nonetheless, factors can happen where your data becomes inaccessible for whatever reason, be it a server failure, power outage, data corruption or system maintenance. What will you do if one day you realize you cannot get to your files when you need to? What happens when you don't get the service that you're paying for? Can you claim a credit if you're not satisfied? Do you know how long it will take before service resumes? While these circumstances are rather unlikely to happen, the nature of cloud storage still makes it an evident risk - you cannot dismiss the possibility of losing access to your files because of somebody else's mistake.
5. Say bye-bye to your web surfing!
Cloud storage requires internet access by nature, and an always-on connection when syncing and doing backups. The speed of your internet connection will play a big part in how fast your cloud service performs. Folks though don't actually realize how bandwidth-intensive backing up files over the internet is until they begin doing it. What happens is that it can take an excruciatingly long time to move the biggest files, while bringing web surfing to a screeching halt. Need to back up your 25GB media library? Prepare to leave your machine on overnight! Even the fastest fiber-optic connections will choke under a 100GB+ full-system backup. Compare to the 40MB/s sustained speeds of USB 2.0 devices and 300Mbps draft-N wireless, your USB-equipped router will get that backup job done within the hour, and keep your internet connection free for surfing.
Cost, speed, capacity, security, functionality - each puts cloud storage at a disadvantage. Unlike cloud storage, USB-attached network storage puts you in total control. The cost of service subscriptions over the long term makes the price to upgrade to a USB router and an external hard drive far more economical. The massive space offered on today's drives along with their 3-5 year lifespan lets you maintain large amounts of data for long periods. You are not sending out your files to an unknown location and there is no risk of somebody looking into your files. Backup speeds are magnitudes faster, web surfing suffers no interruption and you need not keep your computer turned on overnight to finish a job. In short, USB-attached network storage has everything in it's favor, trumping cloud-based storage entirely.