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Backup vs Archive

Backup vs. Archive: The Difference Explained

Backup vs. Archive: The Difference Explained

Archives and backups serve two separate functions. However, it is common to hear the terms used interchangeably in the context of cloud storage.

Businesses need to realize the differences between the two to make sure their data storage methodology meets their requirements in various key areas:

  • Data retention for a specific period
  • Protection from unauthorized data access or loss
  • Tagging or structuring to enable location-specific data
  • Updates as per business requirements

As far as the fundamental difference between backups and archives is concerned, backup helps with data recovery in the event of recent data loss or corruption or hardware failure. Archives, on the other hand, serve the dual purposes of long-term retention and space management.

Data Backup

What is the purpose of a backup? Generally, its main goal is to ensure that you can recover in the event that something unexpected happens to your data, such as a disk drive failing, files accidentally being deleted or a data center going offline during a catastrophic event.

In other words, data backups provide protection against the unexpected. You hope you never need them, but if you don’t have them, you won’t be prepared for critical disruptions to your infrastructure.

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Further reading Frequently Asked Questions About Backups: Everything You Should Know

Data Archiving

Data archiving is a solution for storing data for long periods of time. It ensures that important records remain available years after they were created.

In most cases, the purpose of data archiving is to meet legal compliance requirements. These requirements vary depending on the industry you operate in, as well as the jurisdictions that govern you, but in many cases, businesses are subject to data retention regulations. A doctor’s office might be required to keep patient records for a certain period of time, for example, or a bank may need to retain transaction records.

The Difference Between Backup and Archiving

Now that we’ve discussed the difference in purpose between the backup and archiving processes, let’s review the data backup vs. archiving main differences:

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Backup vs. Archive: Comparison Chart

Backup Archive
Data Storage Method The original data remains in place, while a backup copy is stored in another location Archived data is moved from its original location to an archive storage location
Data State Backed up data is constantly changing Once you create an archive, you do not modify it
Data Retention Policy You periodically delete or overwrite data backups that are too old to be useful Data archives are designed for long-term storage
Storage Type Hot cloud storage or easily accessible local storage locations Cold cloud storage or tape archives
Data Scope All of your data, with the exception of unimportant information like temporary files Specific files that you must retain for compliance purposes

Data Storage Method

The process of data backup involves taking a copy of data at a certain point in time and storing it for retention in another location instead of the original source. The original data remains in place, while a backup copy exists elsewhere and can be used to restore the data in the event of a failure in your main systems.

Data archiving is more concerned with data migration from primary storage systems onto secondary storage, mostly for long-term retention.

The latter process is preferred by organizations that manage data volumes across primary storage since it decreases capacity utilization and offers scope for long-term retention. Moreover, this cuts down on company costs, especially primary platforms. Why? Because secondary storage systems, whether dedicated hardware or tape, generally run on low-cost storage compared to primary systems.

Data Accessibility

Data backups ensure that valuable data is kept safe against deletion or loss, so it remains available for access whenever required. Restore speed is important for data backups, but retrieval speed is not a priority for data archiving. However, data stored in an archive should be organized in such a way that you can easily search through it to find specific information.

Data State

Backup supports the rapid recovery of live changing data while archiving stores unchanging data that’s no longer in use but needs to be retained. The former is one of multiple data copies, while the latter is usually the only remaining copy.

Backup retains the data as long as it’s used actively. Archives retain the data indefinitely or for the required period. What’s more, duplicate copies get regularly overwritten in backups, but archive data cannot be deleted or altered.

Data Retention Policy

Backed up data is not stored permanently. You periodically delete or overwrite data backups that are too old to be useful. If you don’t, you’d end up storing a large amount of outdated backup data, which would be very cost-inefficient.

Further reading Backup Retention and Scheduling Best Practices

Data archives are designed for long-term storage. You keep them for however many years your compliance policies or other needs require.

Storage Type

Backups are usually stored in “hot” storage locations that support rapid changes to data, such as an S3 bucket on AWS, Google Cloud Storage, or Azure Blog Storage’s Hot tier. Backups can also exist on easily accessible local storage locations, such as a NAS device.

Further reading AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Comparison for Backup

Archives, on the other hand, are typically stored either using tape archives or on a “cold” storage solution in the cloud. Examples of cloud-based cold storage services include Amazon Glacier, Azure Archive Blob Storage, and Coldline Storage on Google Cloud. It typically takes longer to move data into and out of cold storage services than it does with hot storage, but cold storage is less expensive.

Further reading Guide to Backup Storage Management for MSPs

Data Scope

When you back up data, you generally back up all of your data, with the exception of unimportant information, such as temporary files. If you had only part of your data, you wouldn’t be able to restore your systems to a working state in the event of a failure.

Because data archives are retained for long periods of time, archiving all of your data is not usually feasible. Instead, you archive only the specific files that you must retain for compliance purposes. These might include patient records, for example, but not application logs or configuration files.

Backups to Archives with a Lifecycle Policy

Although archiving and backup are separate solutions, there are a few solutions with the power to unify these processes, simplifying the management of solutions, and also streamlining the overall process of data management.
Leading data backup suites are ideal for SMBs, as they unify backup, archiving, and disaster recovery into a single, simple-to-manage, and highly secure solution.

Services like Amazon S3 provide data lifecycle management features. This makes it possible to automatically delete or archive data when specific time criteria are met.

Modern backup software allows you to set the archive in such a way that it goes from hot Amazon S3 storage class to cold Amazon S3 Glacier Deep Archive storage class within 90 days, and then stays there for a few years.

Further reading Upload to S3 Glacier with Amazon S3 Lifecycle Rules

Key Points

With data regulation and growth increasing, and storage prices decreasing, backups are growing bigger, while archives are becoming bulkier.

Businesses require assistance from a reliable third-party provider who can help them establish a secure backup and recovery program to protect day-to-day operations and even provide an archiving solution with the sort of cataloging and management necessary to respond to regulators fast. So, basically, companies need to understand that data backup vs. archiving difference is important as well as they need to use both data archive and backup, since the two are not the same.

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