Computer Security 101: Cloud vs. External Hard Drive Storage

One of the hot button issues across the technology industry today is the level of security behind cloud versus external hard drive storage. The crux of the issue lies with one’s chosen method of storing files:  Either on a computer’s hard drive (i.e., “locally) or on virtual servers accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection (i.e., “in the cloud”). 

There is a good amount of debate between the two methods of computer storage because of computer security.

“Some companies still have concerns with putting all their data in the cloud,” stated Sean Magann, vice president of Sims Recycling Solutions. According to a recent infographic, 69 percent of cloud providers do not feel that security is their responsibility.

But Matt Maginley, consultant at Managed Media Services and Marketing, considers cloud storage to be safe and secure. “We expect a secure system, and a fast system. This is what the cloud provides for us as customers.”

So which one is right?

To help you make an informed decision about the usefulness of cloud versus external hard drive storage security, we outlined the differences between the two methods of computer storage below.

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Cloud storage security

Cloud computing dates back to the 1950s when large-scale mainframe computers became available. Companies like Eucalyptus, OpenNebula and Amazon are three examples of early-adopters that jumped on the cloud bandwagon to provide the service to individuals and commercial consumers.

Fast-forward to present day and look at the example of Google. The product offering within Google’s cloud-based services is massive and includes the ability to store, access and manage your data within Google – corporate prices are based off of a per month gigabyte (GB) usage. The division of Google’s cloud service that deals with individual needs is called “Drive.” Within this product you can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more. What’s best about this cloud product is that it’s free.

"Cloud computing is a more secure and resilient way in which to store information, especially in a commercial or educational environment where having access to data is the difference between operating or not,” says Christophe Boudet, managing director at Akita.

But one of the most glaring issues with using the cloud includes trusting the servers that provide the storage.

Customers of any cloud-based service are saving, sharing and transferring their most important documents to a service they may or may not know well. What’s the best advice? Be sure to check reviews and expert opinions before signing up for any service. Knowing who you are working with is a plus when it comes to important data and its security.

External hard drive storage security

External hard drives may seem like a thing of the past to some, but for many, they represent ways to keep important data and documents safe, secure and within close range at all times.

“Hard drive storage works well for large amounts of non-critical data that is unlikely to be
shared,” said Gabriel Mays, owner of Just Add Content. “For example, if someone has a large music or movie collection it makes sense to keep it on a hard drive. This is primarily because it'll likely be used when traveling or when an Internet connection is unavailable.”

So for those who are interested in knowing where their data is at all times, external hard drives are a great way to keep your information secure.

Many businesses typically will use an external device for data storage because they have larger amounts of critical data that they don’t want being shared over an Internet connection. In addition, external hard drives require you to pay a low-cost fee up front and they are simple to install on your existing computer.

“Local storage provides high capacity, fast retrieval, and the security to know where your data actually resides,” says Paul R. Cook, vice president of network services at Custom Systems Corporation.

The disadvantage to external hard drive security is management. Controlling security for your own hard drive can be daunting to some with all the data and with that issue, it exposes security risks such as a fire or a flood that could destroy your data in seconds.

Decision time: cloud vs. external hard drive

The storage method that will work best for you solely depends on what you would like to store and how you prefer to access your data. For consumers and businesses that store proprietary or confidential information, local or external hard drive storage might be the best route for security, but maybe not for around-the-world accessibility. 

But if convenience and flexibility are your top priorities and security is less of an issue, cloud-based data storage allows access to your information over any Internet connection.  This option is particularly handy if you travel a lot.

“If you must access your data when you are not connected to the internet, then make sure you at least have a local copy of your data. If it's in the cloud, and you don't have connectivity, your data is inaccessible,” said Bill Hackenberger, president and CEO at HighCloud Security.

But it’s also important to mention a third option: geographic redundancy. That essentially means using a combination of the cloud and external hard drive storage to spread your data across multiple locations to ensure maximum security. Put simply, if you forget your external hard drive in a taxi cab in New York City or there is a massive system failure in Atlanta where your cloud servers are located, you’re covered either way.

“Any company, large or small, that’s running business-critical applications must have a disaster recovery (DR) strategy that includes geographic redundancy,” said Brent Scotten, product marketing at Rackspace. “You need to have the ability to spin up certain virtual machines (VMs) and restart the important apps in the event of a data center outage or unplanned downtime.”

At the end of the day, risks are present with either method of data storage, so be sure to carefully weigh the pros and cons of the security with both methods. Ultimately, the decision is yours.

If you would like more information about the technology industry, IT security or other topics in the technology field, be sure to take a look at the School of Technology blog.

Kendall Bird

Kendall is a Social Media Strategist at Collegis Education who is focused on bringing awareness and engagement to Rasmussen College's social media properties. She is passionate about helping others, the power of education and building strategies that put the needs of students first. 

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