When you hear people talk about data backups and archival data, you probably hear those terms used interchangeably. Even in tech-savvy companies, people tend to get backup and archival confused. However, these terms refer to entirely different processes, and it’s important to understand what each process brings to the table. Read on to learn the four major differences between data backup and archival.

What Is a Data Backup?

Essentially, a data backup can be thought of as a copy of your data. Most of the time, data backups are created on a set schedule or whenever your original data is modified. This allows you to constantly have the most up-to-date data in your backup, meaning you lose as little progress as possible in the event of a data disaster.

When a backup is made, you keep the original data and your latest backups—older backups are deleted to make room for the new ones. Plenty of devices can be backed up, from phones and computers to large servers. In addition, you can specify the data you want backed up. Some companies want everything in their backup, like the operating system, application files, and data, while others just want the data.

Many hackers and bad actors try holding data for ransom through a ransomware attack. Essentially, they lock your team out of their computers and threaten to delete your data unless you pay them. Companies without a good backup strategy are vulnerable to this type of attack, as all of their data would disappear if it were deleted from their main machines.

A business with a good backup strategy could feasibly ignore the hackers and allow them to delete the data, then update their security and restore their backups.

On top of that, backups are great for dealing with internal problems as well. If a file becomes corrupted or a large portion is deleted, you can recover an older version of that file and get back to work.

What Is a Data Archive?

A data archive, on the other hand, is a copy of data that you make for reference as well as long-term storage. Once the data is archived, you can either keep the data on the original machine or delete it, as a copy of the data is already safe in your archive.

If you’re not sure why you would want an archival copy of data, consider an advertising agency. A skincare company approaches this agency to develop an ad campaign for them—the agency collects information, puts together a campaign, and runs it. Everyone is happy with the outcome, and the skincare company feels as though they got what they needed out of the exchange.

The ad company puts all the information from the campaign into an archive and deletes it from their main computers to clear up space for their next client. A few years later, when the skincare company wants another campaign, they decide to return to the same agency as they have a good relationship.
Instead of spending weeks or months collecting information again, the ad agency can simply restore their archived information and get right back to work without missing a beat.

A data archive can also be used to store legal documents and other inter-office documents that are not regularly needed or to meet information retention requirements for a business or corporation.

Most of the time, data is archived on a last-used basis. If data has not been accessed within a given period of time, or there is data for a project that is no longer active, the information is archived and stored, just in case.

The Differences

Hopefully, the definitions for each term have clearly distinguished the major difference between archives and backups. However, there are a few additional differences that are important to understand.

Problems Solved

At their very core, data backups and data archives are processes designed to solve entirely different problems. While backups are utilized to keep a close copy of your data for quick recovery, archives are designed to protect your inactive data for long-term storage.
A backup allows you to return to normal operations with minimal downtime in the case of a security breach, and archives seek to retain all your company’s inactive data in a safe, cost-effective system.


Because of the nature of each process, backup and archival access are significantly different. With a backup, you want to have quick access to your data. Whether you need to restore information after a data breach or go back to a non-corrupted file, you want to be able to get that done as quickly as possible.
With an archive, however, you won’t even have to think about it. Naturally, a way to save on costs is with an archive system that is a bit slower than your backup.

Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery and backups go hand in hand. The whole point of a backup is to allow your company to keep trucking through whatever disasters come your way, so full recovery of your system is made quick and easy.

Alternatively, archived data is a bit different. Depending on your archival system, you may find that the best solution is to purchase an identical archival system as a form of redundancy. While you have several backups from various points in time, your archive is one large pool of information. That means if you lose it, it’s very difficult to recover.

Which Is Right for You?

When considering which data management services to secure for your company, it’s natural to want to find a balance between cost savings and total protection. In practice, though, the truth is that most businesses need both backups and archives. They serve different purposes, and having one without the other will only solve half of your problems. With access to both short- and long-term data, you’re much better prepared for whatever happens.

Now that you know the four major differences between data backup and archival, make sure your company has a healthy dose of each. Without both processes working in tandem, you’re left vulnerable in the case of unauthorized access or a data disaster.

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