Is there a Cloud Storage for Dummies?
June 4, 2012 5:09 PM   Subscribe

I have about 8,000 photos on my home computer and I'd be bummed to lose them. It's time for me to learn about cloud storage. Halp?

I'm using a Mac Mini, running 10.6.8 and my photos are, of course, in iPhoto. I do have everything backed up to an external drive, but I'm thinking about cloud storage for the additional level of safety. The issues:

-- I really need this explained in the simplest possible way, as if I were mentally handicapped.
-- I would like this not to be expensive. Not sure if the large amount of photos makes that possible.
-- If there are companies offering similar services, but one has a simpler interface, I'd gravitate towards that. I am not particularly computer savvy.
-- Because I know so little about the topic I'm not even sure about what sorts of questions I should be asking when considering this, so lay 'em on me, please.

(I have looked at previous questions; the most recent similar ones are from about six months ago and I'm guessing things might have changed since then.)

Thank you.
posted by BlahLaLa to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Cloud storage is available in a couple of forms.

Some are "buckets" that you can copy your photos manually to. (For example, DropBox, SkyDrive)

Others are "buckets" with the added feature that they have tools that will automatically look for changed files and new files and copy those to the bucket. (For example, CrashPlan, Carbonite.)

For your needs, if you're not doing it already, get an external hard drive and enable Mac OS X's backup feature called Time Machine. It's like the second kind above, but without any monthly fees, and it will make a second copy of all of your data automatically.

If, after setting up Time Machine, you want to add a second backup that is "off-site" (and you should) Then you have to determine which of the available solutions makes sense for you in terms of automation and pricing.

That's the short version.
posted by Wild_Eep at 5:46 PM on June 4, 2012

Personally I like Backblaze for my cloud storage: it has unlimited capacity for a reasonable price and somebody appears to have thought about how to make the process easy. It will cost you about $4 to $5 per month - but will back up not just your photos but anything else you have on your computer (or its attached drives). If things go wrong with your PC then you can retrieve the files via a web interface (or have Backblaze ship you a disk with your data on it).
posted by rongorongo at 5:46 PM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Backblaze, linked above, and CrashPlan + will automatically backup all your data in the background, safely encrypted, for about $60/yr, unlimited.
I have Backblaze for Windows and it's great. The initial upload will take quite a while, but after that it's maintenance free.
posted by QryHavoq at 5:50 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I searched for "backup" in AskMe a few weeks ago, foudnd a few like this one and ended up using Backblaze.

It's still uploading my photos but it does the job for $60 a year.
posted by bru at 5:55 PM on June 4, 2012

Response by poster: Well let me ask this secondary question -- Why shouldn't I upgrade my OS and then use Apple's iCloud? Speaking from a "dummies" perspective -- wouldn't that be the easiest thing for a non-savvy computer user with a MacMini?
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:59 PM on June 4, 2012

iCloud isn't free for the amount of storage that you'll need for 8k photos. Time Machine is (for the price of an external drive).

There aren't any (as far as I'm aware) tools that will automate your backups to iCloud.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:04 PM on June 4, 2012

Response by poster: Just to add one more thing -- I do use Time Machine regularly. But I'm interested in cloud storage in case the house burns down or something like that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:09 PM on June 4, 2012

Thirding Backblaze. Easy to use, backs up your entire drive for a decent price, doesn't take up too many resources running in the background, and getting your data from them is pretty easy.
posted by gemmy at 6:11 PM on June 4, 2012

Fourthing backblaze! I set it up recently, and it was lovely and easy. I bought a two year subscription to avoid monthly fees, and then it was just a matter of enduring the initial upload. After that, it takes care of itself.
posted by Joh at 6:21 PM on June 4, 2012

iCloud isn't really made for bulk backing up photos/documents. Its photo functionality is limited to Photo Stream, which only saves photos for 30 days.

I'll nth Backblaze. I use them myself, and haven't had any issues. I've heard good things about Crashplan too.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 6:22 PM on June 4, 2012

I use Crashplan and when my laptop died last summer it was painless to download and set up new machine with no loss of data.
posted by leslies at 6:25 PM on June 4, 2012

I suggest for your existing 8,000, a 2nd backup hard drive and store it offsite with a friend or relative. Put anything new in the cloud, and update the 2nd backup every so often, like when you fill up your free cloud account(s). Keep the first hard drive backup always current too. All of this will be cheaper and faster, even if it doesn't seem so at first.
posted by caclwmr4 at 6:27 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm on my phone so unfortunately can't post links, but I recently started using Picasa Web Albums to backup all my photos. It's free for as many photos as you want to upload as long as you let it resize them down. As long as they're keepsakes and not intended for 8x10 glossy that shouldn't matter. It's easy enough to google 'picasa', download the app to your Mac, and find the settings to allow it to sync to the web. The photos are private by default, and it automatically grabs all the photos from iPhoto.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:35 PM on June 4, 2012

Another approach would be Flickr. With a pro account (minimal cost/year) you can upload unlimited photos. Once it's there you can share some or all of your photos if you like. You can tag, geotag and search your collection. You can set your photos to remain full size on their site (Facebook and others will shrink your photos to take up less space, so you lose detail). Uploading is very simple.

For photos I keep a local copy and a copy on Flickr.

For non-photos I use idrive for backups as well as an external hard drive, which works pretty well. You just tell it what files/folders to backup and how often and it will keep copies of everything for you.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 6:38 PM on June 4, 2012

Response by poster: Wait -- iCloud only backs up the last 30 days of your photos? (Which is what deansfurniture5 said) Is that true?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:46 PM on June 4, 2012

Take a look at Arq, a cloud backup tool that stores data on Amazon S3. It's pretty painless and relatively inexpensive for what you get.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:53 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Flickr -- my pro account is only $25/year and I can upload unlimited photos. The privacy settings and set management options (making different folders for your pictures) are easy to use.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:16 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use the free option in CrashPlan+ to back up my photos to my work computer. It works much better than Backblaze, which really slowed down my Mac mini.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:24 PM on June 4, 2012

I should've been clearer: Photo Stream only holds photos for 30 days. If you have photos on an iPhone or iPad and you use iCloud backups, those are backed up until you delete them from the device. iCloud does not backup photos stored on your computer. Also, if you want to restore an iCloud backup for one of your devices, you can't just choose to restore one photo—you have to restore the entire device.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 7:37 PM on June 4, 2012

Get a 2nd external drive, and have you (or your spouse) keep it locked in your desk at work, like this somewhat rude Jamie Zawinski post explains: Backups.
posted by fings at 7:41 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a backup beside my computer, and another at my SO's place, with about 350gb of photos. As well as the best/most important/most shareable are on a photosharing site.
posted by GeeEmm at 8:56 PM on June 4, 2012

If you end up going with cloud backup and have trouble deciding between Backblaze and Crashplan, I'd recommend Crashplan. Backblaze has a fairly obnoxious policy where they "mirror" your computer, so if you delete a file locally, it disappears on the cloud. And if you backup from an external drive, you have to plug it in frequently to prove to them that you still have that data. ugh.

With Crashplan you can just set it to backup and store all files even if you were to delete them (accidentally or intentionally) on your local machine. This has come in handy several times already.
Also, both services cost roughly the same so there is no added cost to this feature.
posted by special-k at 9:45 PM on June 4, 2012

But if you don't care to backup your entire hard drive (just these pictures), I will second Blazecock's suggestion of using Arq + Amazon S3. It'll take you about the same time to set up. The storage is way more reliable than any of the other services mentioned above (backblaze, crashplan, flickr) and will cost very little especially if you don't read/write often after the images have been backed up.
posted by special-k at 9:50 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just go with Google Drive and be done with it. It will cost you about $100/year and you know they are legitimate and they will be around next year. I wouldn't bother with some random places like Backblaze that I've never heard of.

And if $100 is too much, then clearly these 8000 do not mean that much to you so just forget cloud storage and just keep things as they are.
posted by Witold at 11:41 PM on June 4, 2012

PhotoStream is not intended as a back-up solution. Apple meant it more as a service for syncing photos across different devices. Don't rely on Apple to backup your photos.
posted by applesurf at 5:14 AM on June 5, 2012

Automatically syncing remote storage solutions are *not* repeat *not* backups.

If you accidentally delete the files locally, an automatic sync will then delete the files remotely.

Non-synchronous is a backup -- but you have to remember to back the files up. Versioning systems are backups. Copying your existing backup disk to another disk and taking that offsite is also a backup.
posted by eriko at 6:49 AM on June 5, 2012

eriko: Backblaze *does* version your files, up to 4 weeks back. Check the right side of this page.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 10:20 AM on June 5, 2012

Though, to add, a cloud service should be in addition to Time Machine, not a replacement. For me, I only have Backblaze around in case my local backups are corrupted, and I also like that it's always backing up, even if I brought my laptop somewhere else, without my backup drive.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 10:22 AM on June 5, 2012

Crashplan+. I haven't had to recover data, but a coworker did shortly after getting her machine backed up to the cloud and she was pleased at how painless it was.

As for iCloud, I suspect that Mountain Lion will add the option to do photo and other file backup to iCloud. Even so, for backup, Crashplan is likely to be cheaper for that volume of media.

Also, in general, products that store data on S3 are probably overkill for backup, particulary if you already have a local backup. S3 is basically built to never loose data, and to keep it accessible at all times and it is priced accordingly. The pricing is probably not an issue if you are backing up some documents, but it really adds up when dealing with media files.
posted by Good Brain at 6:44 PM on June 5, 2012

Google Drive has been great.

If I go to, I can see my files, and search through them. If they're a document, I can open them easily, and if they're a picture, I can type in something like "Everest" and have all pictures of Mount Everest show up without me having to do any extra work (or even name the file!)

It works like this:
- I download and install the client to my local machine.
- It asks me which directories I should link to Google Drive.
- Everything in those directories is uploaded for me.
- Any change I make to those directories is uploaded for me.
- Any change I make to the online copies are copied back to my local machine.

I can run the client on multiple machines, and it keeps the same stuff everywhere.

Dropbox is the more established service that works like this. They cost 4x more, though. Google's been $4.99/month for 100 gigs of space. @eriko, above; Google Drive both versions files (I can view older versions if I changed the file!), and has a "Trash" folder where things I accidentally deleted get moved to.

On Google Drive, $2.49/month ($30/year) gets you 25 gigs of space, which should hold your photos without a problem. Double that gets four times the storage: $4.99/month == 100 gigs.

External hard drives die a lot more often than cloud storage providers. I'd spend the $30 a year and either go with Flickr or Google Drive.
posted by talldean at 8:25 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really try to avoid self-linking, but I wrote an article just on this subject very recently.
NedWolf’s Dog-Simple Guide to Cloud Storage - Part 1: The 800 Pound Gorillas
posted by nedpwolf at 9:15 AM on June 6, 2012

Witold, Backblaze is an extremely reputable and innovative company. They take backups and storage so seriously, they built and open sourced the design of their servers. I've been a happy customer for a few years and highly recommend them. I've tried Mozy and Crashplan but didn't like me as much.

One question is, what's your goal? If it's just to back up the files, use Backblaze. If it's to be able to easily share them, then Flickr or Google Drive would be more suitable.
posted by reddot at 6:57 PM on June 23, 2012

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