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Cloud vs external SSD/HDD storage: Which one to choose depending on your needs

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Cloud services have become part of everyone’s life. You might not realise it, but even if you open a PowerPoint presentation which was sent to you via email (or Dropbox), you’ve used the cloud. While the cloud may make external SSD/HDD storage seem obsolete, it still hasn’t managed to replace it completely. Let’s see why, and choose the best option for you.

Go for Cloud storage if you want:

It’s simple – cloud storage is stored “in the cloud”, or in other words on your the respective provider’s server. You can literally access it from anywhere in the world, at anytime, and from pretty much any modern device with an operating system. Your Android phone, your iPhone, tablet, PC, Mac – you name it. This is a convenience that can’t be overlooked.

On the other hand, SSD/HDD storage is physical. You need to remember to take it with you in order to use the files you’ve stored there. The great news is that modern SSD devices are very portable, so we wouldn’t say carrying them is a bother. 

Collaboration

Collaboration is big for some people, and being able to simply send a link to your friend or colleague, who can then download the files with a click, is priceless. That’s where physical storage starts feeling like a thing of the past.  There are a number of collaboration tools. Check out the “Pro workflow” section below.

Durability

Then, durability is also a category where physical drives can’t keep up, because… they are prone to damage. You only know what it means to lose a significant amount of important files, if it’s happened to you. That’s why people often store valuable data on both physical drives, and cloud services – this way there’s a plan “B”.

Yes, cloud storage is always in danger of cyber attacks, but (touch wood), these are very rare. Furthermore, the targets of such attacks are often big corporations, and not the average consumer. In other words – we wouldn’t worry about that.

Consider a physical SSD/HDD if you value:

Speed

Right off the bat, accessing data stored on local storage will always be quicker than uploading and downloading it to and from the cloud. It’s not rocket science. While cloud storage is brilliant for sharing files with people from across the world, it doesn’t stand a chance when it comes to speed and efficiency for actual read and write speeds. Note that an SSD will always be faster than an HDD.

Without getting too technical, what this means for you is that actually working with files and manipulating them in any way is done quicker when they are stored locally on your PC (whether that’s on your built-in SSD or an external one). This brings us to the next point…

A professional workflow

Certain professions require certain workflows, and cloud storage just isn’t an option for people who work with “seriously demanding files”. Of course, we mean programmers, video editors, audio engineers, music producers, or generally anyone who needs to work with big files that need fast read and write speeds.

Editing video directly on the cloud has been made possible thanks to collaborations like the one between Dropbox & Clipchamp. So, technically – you can not only use your cloud-stored files, but you can edit directly on software hosted on the cloud. While this is incredible (and certainly promising for the future), it is only suitable for light use.

While it is perfectly capable of serving someone who needs to complete a school project or a less-demanding business task, it is simply not on par with professional software like Final Cut, or Adobe Premiere. 

There are networking solutions like SNS, which can make it easier for you to edit in collaboration with someone else (even if they are far away), but this is done by the traditional method of duplicating libraries, and sharing files. Nomad (SNS’ platform) only makes this process automated, and easier, but doesn’t let you host your video editing software in the cloud. We are still far from this reality.

Price

This one is a bit hard to judge, because cloud storage is usually sold as a subscription service – just like your Amazon Prime or Netflix account. Some cloud storage providers offer “lifetime” subscriptions, meaning you get to purchase the storage (duh!). Often it’s much cheaper to go for the “lifetime” subscription, since you would pay the same price in a space of 2-3 years, if you were to subscribe. However, usually the “lifetime” prices are higher than their equivalent storage sizes for a physical hard drive.
For example, at the moment, Samsung’s popular 500GB T5 SSD goes for $89 on Amazon.com, while the same size cloud storage costs between $150-200. While, paying for it monthly can be as low as $3-4 per month, don’t forget what we’ve mentioned above – the “lifetime” purchase saves you money in the long-term, and it’s a good investment, if you plan to use cloud storage in the future.
On the other hand, Sync offers some great deals with generous cloud storage capacities at low prices as of right now. For example, you can pay $5 per user, per month (billed annually) for 1TB of storage, $8 for 4TB, and $15 for 10TB. Sync is a collaboration-focused cloud service. It gives you the ability to share files and folders; backup files in realtime, and it’s end-to-end encrypted, meaning only you have access to the files. There are a ton of other productivity and admit tools and features, which you can check out on Sync.com.

Verdict: Which one is for you

It’s all going to depend on a few factors such as:

  • What do you need the storage for:

A) personal/casual use
B) business/pro use

  • The main device you’re going to use the storage with:

A) a smartphone/tablet
B) a computer

A) tend to lose/misplace your gadgets
B) you take care of them

If the “A” category describes you best, then you’re probably a casual user, who looks to find a place for their family photos/videos; you are a student; you run a business that requires a lot, but less demanding admin work; you are creative and like to edit your photos (and you have many of them), videos, or even podcast on the fly.

That’s when you want a cloud-based storage. If your needs don’t exceed 2-10GB of storage, there are a few free cloud services that will serve you well. For example, iCloud gives users 5GB or free storage, while Amazon Prime lets you upload unlimited number of photos/videos on Amazon Photos (only photos and videos though!).

However, if you fall into the “B” bracket, then you’re probably a professional who needs to work with large video, audio, or other media files. As mentioned earlier, these people need fast storage speeds, which can help them get things done. Cloud storage is great if you need to share files, and even video editing libraries, but it won’t let you edit directly on the cloud.

If you are in the “C” category, you’re probably very creative, or… very confused (or both)! Make sure you backup your files, regardless of which option you choose. In fact, this is a good advice for everyone. Don’t forget that you can always get an AirTag, Smart Tag, or Tile tracker for you SSD/HDD, so you wouldn’t panic every time you misplace it.

What else is out there

Micro SD cards are still around! In fact, they are cheaper than ever. It is believed that Apple is bringing back the Micro SD card slot with the next iteration of the MacBook Pro. This will definitely have positive impact, and will help bring Micro SD cards back in fashion. Will they make it to the iPad/iPhone? Unlikely. However, we also weren’t expecting to see them on the new MacBook, so… who knows!

Flash drives are also cheap and portable. Of course, speeds won’t be SSD-like, but they are great for storing files just for the sake of storing them. You probably won’t be doing any “pro” editing work on a flash drive.

Remember that the read/write speeds of your device are also crucial! Even the fastest SSD won’t perform to its best capacity, if it’s plugged into a port that isn’t capable of keeping up with the read/write speeds.

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