5 Major Differences Between Backup vs Archive

John Sharpe


Backup vs archive. Two words that are often used interchangeably but have very different meanings. While both technologies support primary data storage, there are key differences between them. Let’s celebrate World Backup Day by exploring the five key differences between backup vs archive technologies.

1. Definitions: In his write-up a few years ago, Jay Livens put forth SNIA’s definitions of backup and archive as a clear example of their unique uses. The most important point here is that backup is typically used for recovery, while archiving is typically utilized for long-term preservation and retention.

2. Financial Value: Let’s get right to it and talk about what many IT departments are thinking about most: budget. Tiering data and putting it in its correct resting place via archiving is more cost-effective than backup. That’s why many companies choose to use tape storage as their primary mode of archiving data. While disk and cloud can help you get data quickly via lightning-fast backups, tape is a cost-effective method of storage for the data you need to keep for retention, litigation or business purposes.

3. Solutions: I’ve already mentioned that backup and archive solve different problems. Now, let’s take a deeper dive.

Backup: Backup protects both your active and inactive data (all of your production data). You can back up your information via tape, disk or the Cloud. Backup is a copy of production information. Your data still resides of the production storage systems themselves. That means that if your backup system faces a major data loss (due to a security attack, disaster, etc.), you could continue normal operations. Your production data won’t be impacted, though you would be operating at an increased risk.

Archive: Archive solutions are often used to retain inactive or older data for extended periods of time. Archives are optimized for low-cost, long-term storage. Archives hold production data, meaning a loss or corruption of an archive system will likely result in the permanent loss of production information. Keep in mind that this data will likely be older or less used, but it could also be the only copy.

4. Access: Backup and archive applications offer different levels of access to the user.

Backup: These applications are typically used for large scale recoveries. Backup data is written to deduplication appliances or tape libraries and for faster access to large volumes of information. Backup applications may be used to protect application and OS files, in addition to individual data objects—though it’s optimized for larger scale recoveries. It’s best for recovering applications or complete systems.

Archive: Archives are designed to store individual data objects such as email messages, files and databases, along with their metadata. An archive can provide quick, specific access to stored information—so it’s easy to find that specific email from five years ago. Metadata can help you zoom in your content search. Unlike backup systems, however, archives do not provide volume level or full server recoveries. They contain only a subset of your business’ data.

5. Disaster Recovery:

-Backup: Disaster Recovery (DR) is a closely tied with backup. IT professionals typically run backup jobs to protect their information and a separate process to move their data offsite for disaster recovery purposes, creating a robust data protection process.

-Archive: Maintaining your archive system disaster recovery can be difficult and costly. Organizations are often forced to purchase to identical, expensive archive systems (for the DR site and for the production environment) because most replication implementations are proprietary. Unlike traditional DR, the ability to control replication, rollback data to previous restore points and manage bandwidth usage varies widely depending on the archive system.

Conclusion: Each is Great, but Both are Better.

Though backup and archive solve very different issues, they can easily complement one another in your company’s overarching data management plan. If your organization has had trouble delineating between the two in the past, accessing and retrieving your archive data may be a complex and time-consuming process. Working with a vendor that can manage your data across its lifecycle can significantly ease this process.


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