Important difference between back-up and archive

We all know that it is important to keep your valuable data and documents safe. However what is it called? The terms back-up and archive are being used as the same. However they are not. There are some significant differences.


A backup is a copy of data that can be used to restore the original should the data be damaged or lost. The original data is not deleted when you make a backup. Examples of back-ups are nightly backup of files on workstations or copying photos to iCloud in case your iPhone breaks down.

In IT we back-up the file servers (unstructured data) and databases (structured data). A backup can focus on pure data, such as the dump of a database, the entire operating system environment of a server as in a bare-metal backup or both.

The definition of a back-up comes down to its purpose and that goal is always the same: restore data in case something happens. For example there may be a disk failure in which case all data must be recovered. Or someone may have accidentally (or intentionally) erased data or files.

Another example is that you become a victim of ransomware and have to restore a clean situation with the copied data. Without a back-up you have only two choices: pay the ransom (which you should never do!) or take the loss. However if you have a backup you have time to discover the source of the ransomware attack and make sure to stop the attack and then restore all data.


An archive is a data copy made for a very specific purpose. Although it is not a requirement the original is often deleted after an archive has been created. The idea of ​​a backup is to restore the situation from before but an archive has several purposes.

The most common goal is to find data from a long time ago. This can be a single file that contains an important component, for example a contract that a customer signed years ago. Or it may be a group of related data, such as the blueprints of a building that has collapsed. It can also be CAD drawings of a product that your company used to make is now back in fashion.

Or think of an e-mail data set that can be used to prove something such as a dispute with an employee. Or you need to prove that certain terms and conditions have been sent to a client.

You can achieve these goals with an archive. An archive is not intended for data recovery so it does not have to easy to access which is the case with a back-up. You may have an archive of every sales contract, every invoice and every quote. You may keep the current contracts and orders in a network-connected location but the entire history is in an archive that should have an index to look up orders and contracts.

You may also have an archive of every email that has ever been sent or received in your company. Some archiving systems remove emails from the mail server when the email is larger than a certain size or has not been consulted for days. That keeps the system size at a minimum, saves costs in storage and server releases and makes it easier to back-up. Even if it is not legally necessary to keep an archive it may be useful to keep an archive for these reasons.

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Important difference between back-up and archive

Restore versus retrieve

The difference between back-up and archive is simply said: you restore a backup (to recover the old situation) and you retrieve an archive (to consult data).

When you restore a backup it is usually a single file, server or entire database. When retrieving an archive you usually retrieve a collection of related data that has been on one or more servers and may not even have the same file format. Restoring a backup is done to a specific point in history. For example to the database as it was yesterday at 8:00 AM. A retrieval uses a time series from point X to Y. For example the e-mails from the past three years.

Recovering requires that you know exactly which files or data are involved, the name of the server where it was located, the database or directory where it is located, the names of the files or tables you require and the date of the last moment it was intact. This is not necessary for retrieval: you only need to know which files or records match your set parameters.

Why is the difference between back-up and archive important

Many organisations try to cut costs by using their back-up system as an archive system. Storing back-ups for years or even forever. But when a retrieval request is made it will quickly transpire how difficult it is to get data from something that is meant for recovery. That makes the collection process a time consuming task which will push up costs.

If the collection request is due to a court case and you cannot produce the required data in time you will encounter problems with lawyers and the court. It can take months to find data that is regarded as a simple collection instruction and even then you may not have retrieved exactly what you are looking for.

That is why it is important not use back-ups as archives. If you are looking for long-term storage invest in an actual archiving system. That means a cost item at the start of this process but it can save you a lot of money in the long term.

Tech-Wales back-up and archive solutions

At Tech-Wales we are experts in setting up and maintaining excellent back-up and archive solutions. Our friendly staff will set you up with an excellent and reliable back-up solution tailor made for your business. If you think your data or documents are lost we also provide excellent data recovery solutions. Feel free to contact us today to start keeping your valuable documents and data safe.