To Backup, or Archive?

    Many users don’t know whether they should be backing up their information or archiving it, what the uses are for each, and how they should be stored. Let’s start with some definitions. A backup is a collection of data stored on non-volatile storage media for purposes of recovery in case the original copy of data is lost or becomes inaccessible. An archive is a collection of data objects in a storage system whose primary purpose is the long-term preservation and retention of that data.

    So, why is it important to backup your data? Backups can protect you from hardware failure. While computers are becoming increasingly reliable, hard drives still fail and rarely give advance warning before they do so. Once they fail, it is impossible (or extremely expensive) to retrieve any data from them. Backups help protect you in the event that your computer hard drive is wiped clean, or completely corrupted by a virus. Additionally, backups help protect you in the event of theft of your computer or laptop. If you have backups, it’s simple to restore your files to your new computer. Without the backups your pictures and videos may be lost forever. Sometimes we inadvertently delete files or the kids delete family photos in order to install the newest game they want to play. Backups can be used to restore your last tax filing or your Quicken folder.

    Archiving, on the other hand, is complimentary to backing up data. Archiving is used to maintain older or inactive data for extended periods of time. Archive systems typically move older or inactive information off of primary storage to dedicated systems which are optimized for low cost long-term storage. Archiving may be done, for example, by copying old emails from Outlook and storing them on another part of your hard drive. In case of computer breakdown, however, this does not protect information as the archive is stored on the broken computer. If you are archiving old files onto your computer, it is doubly important that you backup those archives to another source and store it separately from the computer.

    While backups and archives should be stored separate from your computer, for maximum security, the backup or archive should not be kept in the same building as the computer. If there is a fire or theft, both copies of the data could be lost if they are kept together. They need to be stored securely and handled with care, preferably in rooms that are temperature controlled, with a fire detection system, and in a space with controlled access.

    So, just how easy is it to retrieve files from backups and archives? Backups are ultimately designed for large scale recoveries. The data is written to optimize easy access to large volumes of information. Objects of all sizes can be restored with a backup system, but the process is geared toward larger scale recoveries so accessing a single file often takes about the same amount of work as recovering an entire server. Backups are the right tool to retrieve an application or entire system. Archives are designed with very different accessibility. They typically store files, databases, or email messages and usually also capture metadata associated with each item. The result is that an archive can provide immediate granular access to stored information and so accessing an individual file or email is typically very easy in an archive system.

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