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The Difference Between Data Backup and Archiving

Data backup and data archive are two terms which are often mentioned in the same breath and on the surface may seem

Data backup and data archive are two terms which are often mentioned in the same breath and on the surface may seem to be almost analogous. After all, they both involve making a copy of a business’s data for future use. However, that is where the similarities end.

A backup and an archive are actually used for completely different purposes and are quite different in a number of ways. Below, we have highlighted some of the key differences between a backup and an archive and the critical common features which are important in both.


A backup is a copy of your current and active data which can be used for operational recoveries in the event that your data is lost or corrupted in some way. The main purpose of a backup is to restore your data to a previous point in time. Archives, on the other hand are intended to be used as repositories for data which needs to be kept for a long period of time but is not necessarily important for operational activities. For example, data which must be retained for regulatory compliance only may be archived but would not necessarily be suitable for backup.

Data Backup vs. Archive

The data stored in a backup is a copy of the current and active operational data in use by a business. This includes files which are currently being accessed and changed on a regular basis. The files stored on an archive are generally no longer in use, not changing frequently and not required on a regular basis. As such, employees will not be affected if these files are moved from a business’s regular storage. However, through file stubbing, files stored in an archive can still be made easily accessible to employees.


A backup is simply a copy of the current and active information stored on your servers. When a backup copy of your data is created, the original files are not affected and still reside in the same location. While an archive is also a copy of your data, the archiving process relocates the data from your business’s primary storage location and moving it on to less expensive and more long-term storage locations.


As the purpose of a backup and an archive are different, the features valued in each are also different. With a backup, speed is an important attribute. As backups are often made regularly to keep them current, it is essential that they can be completed quickly. Equally as important is the ability to quickly recover and restore data in the event of data loss as a quick backup procedure allows your business to limit the operational impact.


The ability to easily search for and locate a file is of vital importance with a data archive. An archive can potentially contain a huge amount of data built up over several years and it is unlikely that the location of specific files and folders will be known. It is incredibly important that these files can be found in a quick and efficient manner not only for compliance reasons but also in the event that a legal request is made.


The length of time the data stored in a backup is much shorter than an archive. Depending on its operational importance, the data stored in a backup may be updated as frequently as daily or even multiple times a day. As such, the data is only required for a short period of time. Archives on the other hand may store large amounts of data for many years. For this reason, the integrity of retained data over longer time periods is of great importance.