We create and consume data at an astronomical rate. According to research by Domo, we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. That includes over 1.2 trillion photos captured every year. Just think about it: How many photos have you posted on Instagram or uploaded to a Facebook album? That’s probably not even the bulk of it, as most of our photos stay dormant on our phones, reserved for our eyes.

Photographs take up just one slice of the pie of global data consumption. We also have eBooks, documents, podcasts, applications, backups, backups of backups, movies, soundtracks and more to fill our devices to capacity. But what happens when we need to offload our data to make more memories and absorb more information?

We previously wrote about cloud storage, but that’s not the solution everybody needs. Not everyone requires virtual access to their saved memories 24/7, while those that are more paranoid might want to set up their own service with their own privacy controls. That’s where we’re here to help. It’s time for you to choose the right digital storage solution that would fit your daily routine.

Whether you’re a casual user of the Internet or a hardcore surfer that hoards memories, there is a right choice for you. We’ve broken it down into three tiers – easy, intermediate, and advanced – based on the technological prowess you need to set it up.

Portable Hard Drives (Easy)

Just plug it in. (Illustration: Nadine Christmas)

This one is a no-brainer. Most of us would have owned one portable hard drive once in our lives. Maybe it was used for backups (computers do fail occasionally), or to store the many vacation pictures you’ve taken over the years. Either way, a portable hard drive is the easiest way to get started.

The size and portability is the biggest advantage. Nowadays, a small device that can fit into a pocket of your briefcase can store up to a hefty 4 terabytes of data. Just plug it into your laptop or computer and start transferring your files.

Portable hard disks are also offline, so no one from a shady basement can hack into your sensitive documents. Even if they get their hands on the physical hard drive, some devices like the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive have an encryption software that only you can access.

A downside to portable hard drives is that you actually need them with you to browse through your files. They also aren’t able to save themselves from any failures. So if you lose your device or it fails unexpectedly, your data goes along with it.

If you’re constantly on the move, jet-setting from one continent to another, maybe this might not be the solution you need. But if your day-to-day operations aren’t too complex and you need a simple solution for your data, get a portable hard drive.

Cloud Storage (Intermediate)

We’re all living in the cloud. (Illustration: Nadine Christmas)

As easy as portable hard drives were, cloud storage is the most versatile and the current status quo. We’re all using cloud storage, even if you’re not aware. Users of Apple and Google products automatically get some space in the cloud to sync their first photos and videos.

Besides, unless you’re off the grid in Sri Lanka, your access to the Internet is 24/7/365. Reaching into the cloud and finding your files is easy, so as long as you’ve set it up right. Compared with the plug-and-play straightforwardness of portable hard drives, there’s a more technical aspect to cloud storage. You’d have to sign up for an account, pay the subscription fees, and get it downloaded on all your devices for seamless access.

Why choose the cloud? It’s the perfect hands-off solution. Everything is left to the developers like Dropbox, Google, Box, Microsoft, and Apple. Your precious photos and documents won’t disappear if one of their data centres fail (god forbid). Redundancies are in place so that your data is always backed up and that there are multiple copies of it.

It’s also a lot easier to share large files with your friends and colleagues. Just send them a link over WhatsApp or email, because thumb drives are so 2008. Those collaborating on big projects together can also start “shared folders” to work on multiple documents.

The biggest question is: How secure is your data once it’s in the cloud? They’re pretty safe, actually. The cloud services have the infrastructure and security to fend off any attackers. Your data is also encrypted and requires a key, if not it’s just a sequence of ones and zeros.

If you’re after accessibility and want something more forward-looking without having to maintain anything by yourself, check out using a cloud service.

Network-assisted Storage (Advanced)

Your own private server at home. (Illustration: Nadine Christmas)

Step forth into the realm of the power user. Network assisted storage (NAS) systems aren’t new. In fact, they’ve been around for quite some time, with household names Synology and Buffalo dominating the market. Other companies like Seagate and Western Digital also have NAS systems.

So what is NAS? It’s your own personal private server at home or at work. A NAS system functions like a cloud storage service where you can access your files remotely from anywhere in the world, but you are the one maintaining the hardware.

For families that have more than one shutterbug at home, a NAS will be a better option than a cloud service, as it can store more photos and videos at a better value. You might also not feel comfortable handing all your files to an external party for security reasons.

A NAS essentially combines the best of the two former options. There’s the isolation of the portable hard drive and the accessibility of the cloud. Most NAS units are also built to hold more than one drive so that your data is safe in the event of one drive failing.

The trouble with NAS systems is that it might be overkill if you’re going to be the only one using it. It’s also highly-reliant on your bandwidth, so it won’t be as effective if your Internet traffic is congested. Shopping around for a NAS also isn’t easy, as you need to make sure your devices are compatible, else you won’t even be able to use it.

(Illustrations by: Nadine Christmas)

Josiah Neo
Writer
Josiah Neo is a tech writer who contributes occasionally to the fashion, travel, and culture beats. When he’s not busy keeping up with the keynotes, he’s probably stuffing his face with the best Melbournian donuts (at Shortstop, BTW) or watching his favourite esports team, the Los Angeles Valiant, pummel their opponents into oblivion.