I’ve been taking my own advice lately and using a hybrid approach to backing up my data (including all those family photos, family group sheets, primary sources, and other digital genealogical records).

Cloud computing should be part of this mix. For our purposes, cloud computing is best defined as using virtual servers owned and managed in another location to back up your data.

I’ve used Dropbox to upload my really precious stuff, but I haven’t sprung for a subscription that would allow unlimited data backup.

This is in addition to Time Machine, which I’ve used on my Macs for years and love it with much love. It creates an automatic backup of your entire system every hour the computer’s active and keeps weekly and monthly data sets as your backup life progresses. I back up to a 2 TB external drive that I’ve been very happy with. It has over a year of backups at this point. It’s incredibly easy to retrieve files when you need them.

Vendors for cloud computing aren’t hard to find: Gator, Dropbox, Mozy, and now titans like Apple, Google, and Amazon see a business opportunity. Costs and pricing plans vary. Some services charge per volume of data, but you should look for a flat rate with no data-size limitations.

It may take some research to find a vendor that’s right for you. Don’t lock yourself into a long-term plan until you’re sure you like the service. And even then, competition will probably continue to drive costs down.

In addition to the obvious factors of cost and ease of use, also consider the security and privacy of your data. Dropbox recently experienced some unwanted publicity over the ambiguous wording of their privacy statement, which reads in part:

You grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service.

So financial data and other sensitive data does not belong on any cloud computing platform.

A final word on this from NDIIPP: “Consumer cloud storage is still in its infancy and business models are still being invented, so take your time and make an informed decision before you open your wallet or start uploading your precious stuff. Ask your friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers about their experiences and recommendations.”