What Is Offline Backup?

What does it mean when a cloud backup service offers offline backup?

Photo of an external hard drive and a laptop
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Offline backup is an optional feature where files you want to back up to an online backup service are first backed up offline by you and then shipped from you to the backup service company's offices.

Offline backup is usually an added cost and you'll only be charged for it if you utilize the feature.

Why Should I Use Offline Backup?

Some initial backups made to an online backup service can take days, or even weeks, to complete, depending on lots of things like the number of files you're backing up, the speed of your internet connection, and the size of the files.

Considering the added cost, offline backup is usually only a good idea if you know that backing up everything you have via the internet will take longer than you're willing to wait.

It's a little funny to think about, especially in a world where the internet is used to transmit everything, but when you have a really large set of files to back up, it's actually quicker to snail-mail all of it than to use the internet. That's the basic idea behind offline backup.

How Does Offline Backup Work?

Assuming, of course, that the backup plan you're on supports offline backup as an option, the process usually begins by choosing offline backup as the method you'd like to make your initial backup with. This usually happens when paying for the service or when installing the cloud backup service's software on your computer.

Next, you'll use their backup software to back up everything you want to an ​external hard drive. If you don't already have one, or don't want to buy one, some cloud backup services include the use of one as part of their offline backup add-on (meaning that if you pay for that, you'll get one in the mail to use).

After backing everything up offline, you'll ship the drive to the online backup service's offices. Once they get the drive, they'll attach it to their servers and copy all the data into your account in a matter of seconds.

Once that process is complete, you'll get a notification or email from the online backup service, letting you know that your account is ready to be used normally.

From this point forward, the online backup process will work for you like everyone else—every change to data, and every new piece of data will be backed up online. The only difference is that you got up and going very quickly.

Is It Really Faster Than Online Backup?

Like mentioned above, it really depends on how much data you're backing up and how fast your internet connection is.

Consider this: is it faster to copy a video from your hard drive to a flash drive or to upload that same video to YouTube? Anyone who has uploaded content to YouTube can tell you that it isn't a quick process, especially if you're not paying for super fast internet speeds.

Because internet bandwidth is usually very limited, especially when uploading data (vs downloading), you can upload a file only as fast as your ISP will let you, which is determined by how fast of a connection you're paying for.

On the flip side, you can copy data to and from local hard drives really quickly, often times gigabytes worth in just a couple minutes. It might take weeks to upload all of your data using the internet, but it could take just 30 minutes to an hour to copy all of your data to an external hard drive, a few more days to wait for the drive to arrive at the backup service's building, and then another day or so (or possibly much less) for them to finalize the data copy and get your account running.

Another downside to online backup, at least during the initial backup phase, is that while you're uploading data and using up most (or even all) of your upload bandwidth, everything else you want to use the internet for will suffer.

For example, during the days or weeks that it takes to back up your files online, you might want to use your network for other things like Netflix, YouTube, email, internet browsing, etc. However, if the majority of your bandwidth is being used for the backup, it leaves little available for everything else on the network.

The same goes for anyone else behind your router that wants to use the internet. If most of the bandwidth is reserved for backup data, video game consoles, tablets, phones, and other computers in your house will definitely experience less-than-ideal speeds.

In a limited bandwidth state like this, everything still tries to function normally but just at lower speeds, but it doesn't normally work out very well. It results in web pages that don't load, videos that start and stop every few minutes, online games that pause randomly, etc.

Tips

If you want to avoid paying anything extra for an offline backup option, but you have tons and tons of data that you know will negatively affect your network during the backup process (because of bandwidth limitations), there might be one solution for you.

If the backup software supports bandwidth control, you can force it to upload data at a very slow rate so that more bandwidth can still be available for the rest of your network needs. For example, instead of the backup using 80% or 90% of your total bandwidth, leaving only 10% or so for everything else, you can tell the backup software to restrict its usage to only 20% (or less) of the total bandwidth so that you can still use your computer, phone, etc. normally.

However, remember that if you set up your online backup in this way it will take much longer to complete. If time isn't a problem, though, this is the best way to control your network so that you can still use everything else regularly and still back up your files online, while also avoiding an offline backup fee (if there is one).