To use hard drives or the cloud to protect your memories, that's the data question

Mike Snider, USA TODAY

Own a computer? Of course you do.

So, you’ve probably wrestled with how to best protect your important files: Should you pick up an external hard drive or rely on one of the many cloud services available today?

The best answer? Both.

Consider an online and offline solution – to back up all the documents, irreplaceable photos, videos, and other files – as each has distinct benefits and drawbacks. Call it “hedging your bets,” to ensure your data remains safe and accessible. 

Here's five reasons to get and use an external hard drive, and five reasons to invest in cloud storage, too.

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Hard drives: Safe, simple storage

It’s offline. Cloud services are online-only, therefore if you don’t have an Internet connection (or if it goes down), you could be without your data. This isn’t the case with an external hard drive, of course. Cloud services require a lot of faith in the fact that you’ll have an “always on” connection, anywhere and anytime – even while flying the friendly skies.

Ample storage. Rather than only getting a few gigabytes of free storage, per account, external hard drives are measured in terabytes (TB) – more than 1,000 gigabytes. Some portable drives, like the My Passport from WD (from $79), hold up to 5 terabytes of data. If you’re a digital packrat who downloads and stores a ton of music, movies, TV shows and photos, you’ll need more capacity than what free cloud storage solutions offer.

Safety. While cloud storage protects your data from local threats, like fire or flood, it doesn’t mean you’re home free. It’s not impossible for someone to guess your password to gain entry. And it doesn't mean your data can’t be hacked either. Plus, how well do you trust the company you’re handing your data over to? Do you know what country is housing your files? 

Microsoft, for example, has an online chart showing you where its OneDrive cloud servers are based, so you can see which country your data is stored is in (which might be important for whose who work in fields with strict regulatory compliance).

Easy data backup. While most cloud services offer an auto-backup feature, many hard drives today also have this feature. SanDisk's ibi ($179) smart photo manager, for example, wirelessly backs up and organizes photos and videos stored on computers, smartphones and tablets (via an app), social media accounts, and cloud services, too. Transferring files to a hard drive is also faster than uploading to the cloud.

Bang for the buck. Paying as low as $50 for a brand-name 1TB external drive is less expensive than a cloud service over time (and once you stop paying, you’re without your files). Remember, you only need to buy the hard drive once, too. It’s recommended to have a couple of hard drives, in different locations, in case something happens to one of them.

Cloud storage: Safe but not at home

Offsite protection. Cloud services – such as OneDrive, iCloud, Google Drive, and Dropbox – can protect your data from local threats, such as theft, fire, flood, nasty virus, power surge and hard drive failure. If someone steals your laptop, they might take your hard drive, too, unless you store it elsewhere; a flood or fire could destroy both your computer and hard drive if kept in the same place.

Anywhere access. With cloud services, you can access your backed-up stuff – such as documents or media – from virtually any Internet-connected computer, tablet or smartphone in the world. Most cloud services have free apps that make it easy to download or upload files from your mobile device. So long as you can get online, you can access your stuff anywhere and on virtually any device.

Sharing is super easy. Cloud computing can also reduce congestion in someone’s inbox. Rather than trying to email several large photos or videos to a colleague, friend or family member, which can clog up their inbox, you can simply store them in the cloud and send a link to download the goods. This is incredibly convenient, and easy to do.

Real-time collaboration. Especially ideal for students and coworkers, cloud computing lets people work together on projects in real-time, even though they’re in different geographic locations. For example, two or more employees can collaborate on a project together, instead of sending revisions back and forth to each other (sound familiar?).

Price is right. Consumer-based cloud computing services typically give you between 10 and 15 gigabytes of storage for free (Dropbox gives you less, 2 GB free). This is ample for most users. In fact, you can create and use multiple accounts, if you like, each with a few gigabytes, making it easy to triple or quadruple your allotted storage.

Should you need more space, iCloud, which gives you 5 GB for free, offers 50 GB for 99 cents monthly (and increased capacity such 2 terabytes for $9.99/month). Once you stop paying, that’s it. And there are pricier corporate solutions, too, if you need them.

Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at www.marcsaltzman.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hard drives or cloud storage: What's best for your digital memories?