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Understand the Difference Between Backups and Archives

They are not the same and confusing the two concepts could be expensive

  • You don’t understand the difference between a backup and an archive or when to use one or the other.
  • Data is not constant. It is ever-changing and growing. How do you protect it?
  • You just replaced an application that was in use since day one, and even though you have a fully functional replacement, you would like to archive that original application just in case.
  • You want to save money, so you use your backup solution to archive data, but you know that is not ideal. What is the correct solution?

Our Advice

Critical Insight

Keep in mind that backups are for recovery while archives are for discovery. Backups and archives are often confused but understanding the differences can result in significant savings of time and money. Backing up and archiving may be considered IT tasks, but recovery and discovery are capabilities the business wants and is willing to pay for.

Impact and Result

Archives and backups are not the same, and there is a use case for each. Sometimes minor adjustments may be required to make the use case work. Understanding the basics of backups and archives can lead to significant savings at a monetary and effort level.


Understand the Difference Between Backups and Archives Research & Tools

1. Understand the Difference Between Backups and Archives

What is the difference between a backup and a data archive? When should I use one over the other? They are not the same and confusing the two concepts could be expensive.


Understand the Difference Between Backups and Archives

They are not the same, and confusing the two concepts could be expensive

Analyst Perspective

Backups and archives are not interchangeable, but they can complement each other.

Photo of P.J. Ryan, Research Director, Infrastructure & Operations, Info-Tech Research Group.

Backups and archives are two very different operations that are quite often confused or misplaced. IT and business leaders are tasked with protecting corporate data from a variety of threats. They also must conform to industry, geographical, and legal compliance regulations. Backup solutions keep the data safe from destruction. If you have a backup, why do you also need an archive? Archive solutions hold data for a long period of time and can be searched. If you have an archive, why do you also need a backup solution? Backups and archives used to be the same. Remember when you would keep the DAT tape in the same room as the argon gas fire suppression system for seven years? Now that's just not feasible. Some situations require a creative approach or a combination of backups and archives.

Understand the difference between archives and backups and you will understand why the two solutions are necessary and beneficial to the business.

P.J. Ryan
Research Director, Infrastructure & Operations
Info-Tech Research Group

Executive Summary

Your Challenge
  • You don’t understand the difference between a backup and an archive or when to use one over the other.
  • Data is not constant. It is ever-changing and growing. How do you protect it?
  • You just replaced an application that had been in use since day one, and even though you have a fully functional replacement, you would like to archive that original application just in case.
  • You want to save money, so you use your backup solution to archive data, but you know that is not ideal. What is the correct solution?
Common Obstacles
  • Storage costs can be expensive, as can some backup and archiving solutions.
  • Unclear requirements definition to decide between backups or archives.
  • Historically, people referred to archiving as tossing something into a box and storing it away indefinitely. Data archiving has a different meaning.
  • Executives want retired applications preserved but do not provide reasons or requirements.
Info-Tech’s Approach
  • Spend wisely. Why spend money on an archive solution when a backup will suffice? Don’t leave money on the table.
  • Be creative and assess each backup or archive situation carefully. A custom solution may be required.
  • Backup your production data for the purpose of restoring it and adhere to the 3-2-1 rule of backups (Naviko.com).
  • Archive your older data to an alternate storge platform to save space, allow for searchability, and provide retention parameters.

Info-Tech Insight

Keep in mind that backups are for recovery while archives are for discovery. Backups and archives are often confused but understanding the differences can result in significant savings of time and money. Backing up and archiving may be considered IT tasks but recovery and discovery are capabilities the business wants and is willing to pay for.

Archive

What it IS

A data archive is an alternate location for your older, infrequently accessed production data. It is indexed and searchable based on keywords. Archives are deleted after a specified period based on your retention policy or compliance directives.

What it IS NOT

Archives are not an emergency copy of your production data. They are not any type of copy of your production data. Archives will not help you if you lose your data or accidentally delete a file. Archives are not multiple copies of production data from various recovery points.

Why use it

Archives move older data to an alternate location. This frees up storage space for your current data. Archives are indexed and can be searched for historical purposes, compliance reasons, or in the event of a legal matter where specific data must be provided to a legal team.

Tips & Tricks – Archiving

  • Archiving will move older data to an alternate location. This will free up storage space in the production environment.
  • Archiving solutions index the data to allow for easier searchability. This will aid in common business searches as well as assist with any potential legal searches.
  • Archiving allows companies to hold onto data for historical purposes as well as for specific retention periods in compliance with industry and regional regulations such as SOX, GDPR, FISMA, as well as others (msp360.com).

Backup

What it IS

A backup is a copy of your data from a specific day and time. It is primarily used for recovery or restoration if something happens to the production copy of data. The restore will return the file or folder to the state it was in at the time of the backup.

Backups occur frequently to ensure the most recent version of data is copied to a safe location.

A typical backup plan makes a copy of the data every day, once a week, and once a month. The data is stored on tapes, disk, or using cloud storage.

What it IS NOT

Backups are not designed for searching or discovery. If you backup your email and must go to that backup in search of all email pertaining to a specific topic, you must restore the full backup and then search for that specific topic or sender. If you kept all the monthly backups for seven years, that will mean repeating that process 84 times to have a conclusive search, assuming you have adequate storage space to restore the email database 84 times.

Backups do not free up space.

Why use it

Backups protect your data in the event of disaster, deletion, or accidental damage. A good backup strategy will include multiple backups on different media and offsite storage of at least one copy.

Tips & Tricks – Backups

  • Production data should be backed up on a regular basis, ideally once a day or more frequently if possible.
  • Backups are intended to restore data when it gets deleted, over-written, or otherwise compromised. Most restore requests are from the last 24 to 48 hours, so it may be advantageous to keep a backup readily available on disk for a quick restore when needed.
  • Some vendors and industry subject matter experts advocate the use of a 3-2-1 rule when it comes to backups:
    • Keep three copies of your production data
    • In at least two separate locations (some advocate two different formats), and
    • One copy should be offsite (nakivo.com)

Cold Storage

  • Cold storage refers to a storage option offered by some cloud vendors. In the context of the discussion between backups and archives, it can be an option for a dedicated backup solution for a specific period. Cost is low and the data is protected from destruction.
  • If an app has been replaced and all data transferred to the replacement solution but for some reason the company wishes to hold onto the data, you want a backup, not an archive. Extract the data, convert it into MongoDB or a similar solution, and drop it into cheap cloud storage (cold storage) for less than $5 per TB/month.

Case Study

Understanding the difference between archives and backups could save you a lot of time and money

INDUSTRY: Manufacturing | SOURCE: Info-Tech Research

Understanding the difference between an archive and a backup was the first step in solving their challenge.

A leading manufacturing company found themselves in a position where they had to decide between archiving or doing nothing.

The company had completed several acquisitions and ended up with multiple legacy applications that had been merged or migrated into replacement solutions. These legacy applications were very important to the original companies and although the data they held had been migrated to a replacement solution, executives felt they should hold onto these applications for a period of time, just in case.

Some of the larger applications were archived using a modern archiving solution, but when it came to the smaller applications, the cost to add them to the archiving solution greatly exceeded the cost to just keep them running and maintain the associated infrastructure.

A research advisor from Info-Tech Research Group joined a call with the manufacturing company and discussed their situation. The difference between archives and backups was explained and through the course of the conversation it was discovered that the solution was a modified backup. The application data had already been preserved through the migration, so data could be accessed in the production environment. The requirement to keep the legacy application up and running was not necessary but in compliance with the request to keep the information, the data could be exported from the legacy application into a non-sequential database, compressed, and stored in cloud-based cold storage for less than five dollars per terabyte per month. The manufacturing company’s staff realized that they could apply this same approach to several of their legacy applications and save tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

Understand the Difference Between Backups and Archives

Backups

Backups are for recovery. A backup is a snapshot copy of production data at a specific point in time. If the production data is lost, destroyed, or somehow compromised, the data can be restored from the backup.

Archives

Archives are for discovery. It is production data that is moved to an alternate location to free up storage space, allow the data to be searchable, and still hold onto the data for historical or compliance purposes.

Info-Tech Insight

Archives and backups are not the same, and there is a use case for each. Sometimes minor adjustments may be required to make the use case work. Understanding the basics of backups and archives can lead to significant savings at a monetary and effort level.

Additional Guidance

Production data should be backed up.

The specific backup solution is up to the business.

Production data that is not frequently accessed should be archived.

The specific solution to perform and manage the archiving of the data is up to the business

  • Archived data should also be backed up at least once.
If the app has been replaced and all data transferred, you want a backup not an archive if you want to keep the data.
  • Short term – fence it off.
  • Long term – extract into Mongo then drop it into cheap cloud storage.

Case Study

Using tape backups as an archive solution could result in an expensive discovery and retrieval exercise.

INDUSTRY: Healthcare | SOURCE: Zasio Enterprises Inc.

“Do not commingle archive data with backup or disaster recovery tapes.”

A court case in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada involving Guardiola and Renown Health in 2015 is a good example of why using a backup solution to solve an archiving challenge is a bad idea.

Renown Health used a retention policy that declared any email older than six months of age as inactive and moved that email to a backup tape. Renown Health was ordered by the court to produce emails from a period of time in the past. Renown estimated that it would cost at least $248,000 to produce those emails, based on the effort involved to restore data from each tape and search for the email in question. Renown Health argued that this long and expensive process would result in undue costs.

The court reviewed the situation and ruled against Renown Health and ordered them to comply with the request (Zasio.com).

A proper archiving solution would have provided a quick and low-cost method to retrieve the emails in question.

Backups and archives are complementary to each other

  • Archives are still production data, but the data does not change. A backup is recommended for the archived data, but the frequency of the backups can be lowered.
  • Backups protect you if a disaster strikes by providing a copy of the production data that was compromised or damaged. Archives allow you to access older data that may have just been forgotten, not destroyed or compromised. Archives could also protect you in a legal court case by providing data that is older but may prove your argument in court.

Archives and backups are not the same.

Backups copy your data. Archives move your data. Backups facilitate recovery. Archives facilitate discovery.

Archive Backup
Definition Move rarely accessed (but still production) data to separate media. Store a copy of frequently used data on a separate media to ensure timely operational recovery.
Use Case Legal discovery, primary storage reduction, compliance requirements, and audits. Accidental deletion and/or corruption of data, hardware/software failures.
Method Disk, cloud storage, appliance. Disk, backup appliance, snapshots, cloud.
Data Older, rarely accessed production data. Current production data.

Is it a backup or archive?

  • You want to preserve older data for legal and compliance reasons, so you put extra effort into keeping your tape backups safe and secure for seven years. That’s a big mistake that may cost you time and money. You want an archive solution.
  • You replace your older application and migrate all data to the new system, but you want to hold onto the old data, just in case. That’s a backup, not an archive.
  • A long serving senior executive recently left the company. You want to preserve the contents of the executive's laptop in case it is needed in the future. That’s a backup.

Considerations When Choosing Between Solutions

1

Backup or archive?

2

What are you protecting?

3

Why are you protecting data?

4

Solution

Backup

Backup and/or archive.
Additional information required.
Column 3 may help

Archive

Device

Data

Application

Operational Environment

Operational recovery

Disaster recovery

Just in case

Production storage space reduction

Retention and preservation

Governance, risk & compliance

Backup

Archive

Related Info-Tech Research

Stock image of light grids and flares. Establish an Effective Data Protection Plan

Give data the attention it deserves by building a strategy that goes beyond backup.

Stock image of old fuse box switches. Modernize Enterprise Storage

Current and emerging storage technologies are disrupting the status quo – prepare your infrastructure for the exponential rise in data and its storage requirements.

Logo for 'Software Reviews' and their information on 'Compare and Evaluate: Data Archiving.'
Sample of Info-Tech's 'Data Archiving Policy'. Data Archiving Policy

Bibliography

“Backup vs. archiving: Know the difference.” Open-E. Accessed 05 Mar 2022.Web.

G, Denis. “How to build retention policy.” MSP360, Jan 3, 2020. Accessed 10 Mar 2022.

Ipsen, Adam. “Archive vs Backup: What’s the Difference? A Definition Guide.” BackupAssist, 28 Mar 2017. Accessed 04 Mar 2022.

Kang, Soo. “Mitigating the expense of E-discovery; Recognizing the difference between back-ups and archived data.” Zasio Enterprises, 08 Oct 2015. Accessed 3 Mar 2022.

Mayer, Alex. “The 3-2-1 Backup Rule – An Efficient Data Protection Strategy.” Naviko. Accessed 12 Mar 2022.

“What is Data-Archiving?” Proofpoint. Accessed 07 Mar 2022.

About Info-Tech

Info-Tech Research Group is the world’s fastest-growing information technology research and advisory company, proudly serving over 30,000 IT professionals.

We produce unbiased and highly relevant research to help CIOs and IT leaders make strategic, timely, and well-informed decisions. We partner closely with IT teams to provide everything they need, from actionable tools to analyst guidance, ensuring they deliver measurable results for their organizations.

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Authors

PJ Ryan

Allison Kinnaird

Contributors

  • Darin Stahl, Principal Research Advisor, I&O Practice, Info-Tech Research Group
  • Allison Kinnaird, Practice Lead, I&O Practice, Info-Tech Research group
  • John Annand, Principal Research Director, I&O Practice, Info-Tech Research Group
  • Frank Trovato, Research Director, I&O Practice, Info-Tech Research Group
  • Andrew Sharpe, Research Analyst, I&O Practice, Info-Tech Research Group

Search Code: 98684
Last Revised: May 2, 2022

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