The best ways to back up your largest files
Amazon S3 vs Google Cloud vs Backblaze B2, for normal people.
Storage is cheap.
That’s a good thing, when your average RAW photo today weighs in at 40-80MB, when one gigabyte will only store 3 minutes of standard 4K footage or less than a second of RAW 8K footage. At that rate, even 5TB hard drives start sounding small.
What’s still not exactly cheap is cloud storage. Consumer cloud storage, that is. You’ll spend $9.99/month for 2TB of iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox storage. That’s perfect for your writing and standard documents, reasonable enough for your iPhone photos, but both far too small and expensive to back up RAW footage.
Enterprise, developer-focused cloud storage is far more scalable and reasonably priced—and confusing. Amazon’s S3 storage comes in eight tiers ranging from $0.025 to $0.002 per GB of storage—a 12.5x disparity that’s the difference between reasonably priced cloud storage and paying $0.50/month to store a one-hour 4k video.
After a bit of digging, the cheapest options are either Backblaze B2 or Amazon S3's Glacier Deep Archive—with some caveats.
Here’s the full details, with a guide to back up your photos and videos and other large files in the cloud.
The best ways to back up.
The only true backup is a copy of your data stored somewhere else. Keep one copy of your files on your computer or local hard drives, another copy stored somewhere offsite. If your computer blows up or your house burns down, the backup’s ready to save the day.
You could do that manually—and frankly, that’s still the cheapest option today. Buy a couple external hard drives (and any are good enough; the larger, slower, external drives like this one from Seagate will be the best bang-for-your-buck), copy all of your files to both drives, and store one somewhere else—a safety deposit box, your mom’s attic, anywhere other than where you keep your computer and primary drive. With photos, footage, and other files that don’t change, copying the files themselves is easy enough. With documents and other files that have a change history, backing up with an app like Apple’s Time Machine is best to keep a copy of every version of the files as they took shape.
The hard part is keeping your backups up-to-date. You’ll need to retrieve the second hard drive every time you make a new backup—or buy a new secondary hard drive to store the new files then send to your backup location.
The simple cloud
The next best option is the cloud. For $7/month, services like Blackblaze can backup all of your files to the cloud. Everything. Including external drives.
There’s just one catch: You have to connect your external hard drives to your computer once every month to keep them backed up. Or, you can pay an extra $2/month for extended version history, and for a total of $9/month you could backup all of your external drives and keep their files stored in the cloud, as long as you connect them to your computer once a year.
That’s a pretty good deal, the closest thing to iCloud you can get to back up all of your Lightroom libraries. It just requires keeping a local copy of your files around, and hooking your external drives back up to your computer every so often.
The more complicated, pay-as-you-go cloud
But maybe you want to just directly send your files to the cloud and call it a day. You’d rather offload all of your old footage, clear out your local hard drives, and never have to think about it again, trusting that a single copy in Amazon or Google’s clouds is worth two in the back of your house.
You’ll then need two things: An app to send your files to the cloud, and a cloud service to store your files.
The app’s the easy part. Your best bet is a classic FTP app, the kind used to upload files to your website’s server: Transmit (Mac, $45), ForkLift (Mac, $19.95), and CyberDuck (Mac and Windows, free) are all great options, with the paid ones offering more tools to help sync and deduplicate files. Each of them now support Amazon S3, Google Cloud, and other popular cloud storage services. They work much like Finder or Explorer; you login with your cloud service, drag in the files you want to send to the cloud, and wait for them to sync. Another great option is back up app Arq (Mac and Windows, $49.99); think of it as a Time Machine that sends your backups to Amazon or Google's clouds, instead of to an external drive.
If you’re uploading RAW photos, you might also want to use Adobe Lightroom or something similar to index your pictures first. Import your photos to a library, have Lightroom build smart previews of your photos (they average 1MB or so per photo), then upload your RAW files to the Cloud. You can then use the Lightroom library to browse your photos and find which specific files you need to download from the cloud in the future.
Then it’s time to pick your cloud.
Both Amazon S3 and Google Cloud offer a more expensive, set-it-and-forget-it option where you pay a single price to store your files, for as short or long as you want, with no extra fee when you download them. They’re great for files you’ll open all the time, such as pictures on a website.
Then they—along with Backblaze, which sells its storage by the gigabyte too—also offer a number of cheaper plans, each with extra requirements (such as storing your files for a minimum of 30 days to a year) and extra fees to download your files. One other option is Wasabi, a storage company from backup app Carbonite's founders, which costs a bit more than Backblaze's B2 storage, but without download fees. They can be a good option if you’re backing up files that you don’t plan to open or download often.
As a backup, you shouldn’t be downloading the files too often. To download your files once a year or less, Amazon S3’s Glacier Deep Archive is the best choice. It will cost $24/year/terabyte, and another $24/TB whenever you download your data (plus per-file fees that can add up quickly if you're storing smaller files, less important if your files are mostly large videos. Arq estimated it can cost as much as $95 to download 1TB from Glacier within an 3 hours). It also will take up to 12 hours to download your data—not the worst problem for a backup, but it does make it slightly less convenient. Google Cloud Archive is a bit cheaper per month but charges $50/TB to download your files, so you’d need to only download files once every 3 years to actually save.
If you want to download your files once every 3 or more months, Backblaze B2 is the best option. It costs $60/year/terabyte, plus $10/TB to download your files, and lets you download 1GB per day for free, making it great to access some of your files without restoring everything. Google Cloud Coldline and S3 Glacier Instant are the same price for storage, but charge $20 and $30/TB downloaded, respectively.
To download your files once every month or two, Wasabi Pay-Go is the best option. At $83.88/year/terabyte (with the APEC server; $71.88/year/terabyte if store in the US or Europe, as Backblaze's data is), it's more expensive than Backblaze B2, but charges no download fees as long as you don't download all of your data more than once a month.
Then, for files you want to download all the time, Google Cloud Standard Storage is the best option. If you’re treating the cloud like an external drive, and want to open files without thinking about it, you’ll pay Google Cloud around $240/year/terabyte for it (or around $60/year less than you’d pay Amazon S3 for the same service).
Here’s a complete breakdown of pricing in USD per terabyte, based on June 2022 pricing for Singapore servers, for a representative of average global storage price (if you’re using US-based servers, expect to spend a few percent less—or as much as half as much on Glacier Deep Archive—and if you want a deeper comparison, check this Google Sheet):
- Best to download files often: Standard Storage: $25/month with no additional fees to download or access your data.
- Best to download files once a month: Infrequent Access: $13.80/month, plus $10 per terabyte downloaded, and minimum storage of 1 month.
- Best to download files once every 3 months: Glacier Instant Retrieval: $5/month, plus $30 per terabyte downloaded, and a minimum storage of 3 months.
- Best to download files once every 3 months, if you’re ok waiting: Glacier Deep Archive: $2/month, plus a 12-hour delay and $24 per terabyte fee for downloads, and minimum storage of 6 months (plus per-file request fees that can add up quite a bit more than the base download pricing).
- Best to download files often: Standard Storage: $20/month with no additional fees to download or access your data.
- Best to download files once a month: Nearline Storage: $10/month, plus $10 per terabyte downloaded, and minimum storage of 1 month.
- Best to download files once every 3 months: Coldline Storage: $5/month, plus $20 per terabyte downloaded, and minimum storage of 3 months.
- Best to download files once every 9 months: Archive Storage: $1.50/month, plus $50 per terabyte downloaded, and minimum storage of 1 year.
And then, the next-to-simplest option (though, worth noting, Backblaze only has servers in the US and EU):
- B2 Storage: $5/month, plus $10 per terabyte downloaded (first 1GB downloaded per day free), with no minimum storage length.
- Pay-Go storage: $6.99/month, with no download fees as long as you don't download all of your data more than once a month, a minimum storage of 90 days, and a minimum monthly payment of 1TB per month.
So. Grab some large external drives and backup your files. Keep one copy around, put another somewhere else. And if you’d like that somewhere else to not require moving physical drives, Amazon S3 Glacier Deep Archive, Backblaze B2, Wasabi, or Google Cloud Standard Storage are your best options.
Pick one, get it going, then get back to creating the large files that are using up all your storage, without worrying so much about them filling up your drives.
Image Credits: Header photo by Benjamin Lehman via Unsplash
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