5 Major Differences Between Backup and Archive

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

John Sharpe_HeadshotIn this special guest feature, John Sharpe, Director of Product Management for Iron Mountain’s Data Management business, identifies five key differences between data backup and archive. In his role at Iron Mountain, John is responsible for developing and implementing strategies for backup, disaster recovery, and archiving.  He has over 15 years of experience in engineering, corporate strategy, and product management. He holds a BA in computer science from Boston College and an MBA in finance from Yale.

Backup and 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 2016 by exploring the five key differences between these 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 with (i) 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; (ii) 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 with (i) 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: (i) 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; (ii) 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 life-cycle can significantly ease this process.


Sign up for the free insideAI News newsletter.


Speak Your Mind



  1. Glenn Stockwell says

    Active archives are the key to supporting big data growth. They extract value from legacy data, allowing businesses to access vast quantities of data in real-time. Enterprises looking to expand in size and scope should invest in the flexibility and accessibility of active archives. Read more here: https://t.co/XYkZdNwOWS or follow me on Twitter @glenn_stockwell.

  2. It’s good to talk about this important topic, even more nowadays. And knowing the difference will help those who are not that familiar with it.