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What is the difference between Archiving and Backup? → Aug 29th 2008

We've noticed confusion among people due to a blurring of the boundary between archiving and backup in descriptions of services offered by vendors. I’m going to draw a clear line between backup and archiving to enable you to tell the difference and judge the accuracy of statements from vendors claiming to do both.

I'll say up front that Datawitness falls clearly on the archiving side of the boundary. After you've read the article and know that archiving is what you need, we'll gladly show you how our services give you secure long-term storage of important records.

The differences between archiving and backup exist due to the reasons that data is stored separately from computers and file servers used in the regular course of business.

A backup stores a snapshot of active data in bulk, for restoration in the event of deletion, corruption, or loss. Backups are designed to enable you to copy your data back to a computer and pick up where you left off. For security and efficiency reasons, backup data may be encrypted and compressed. Restoring a backup to a hard drive takes time to decompress and transfer the large volume of data involved.

Archiving has different purposes and can be defined from three points of view. Records management defines archiving as long-term preservation of records in an unalterable form. Information technologists define archiving as storing data off production systems. And from a legal perspective, archiving is keeping records as long the government requires and to protect against future liabilities arising from disputes and lawsuits.

Ideally, archiving should satisfy all three definitions. You want to lock in data for the long-term on a dedicated archiving system and be able to find very specific pieces of it when you need them.

What Is The Lifespan?

A second difference is the lifespan of backup and archived data.

Backups are temporary and have short lifespans measured in days. They are frequently overwritten or deleted as time passes and updated snapshots of backup files are stored.

Archived files have a longer lifespan. Archiving selectively stores final versions of closed or inactive files for a period usually measured in years as defined by regulations or accepted practices for an industry or profession. The files are stored uncompressed and fully readable in their original format.

Not all files need to be archived and not all archived files need to be retained for the same length of time. Different industries and professions have different requirements. For example, our education clients in Ontario and British Columbia must store student records for 25 and 55 years respectively.

How Easy Is Access?

A third key difference is how easily you can access your data at the file level. Backup systems focus bulk transfer of large numbers of files. The options for searching and navigating through a backup to select and retrieve individual files tend to be limited or slow and clumsy.

Archives are built for selective retrieval on the file level. When you need to locate specific files, you should be able to target searches to return small numbers of close matches. Then you can find and retrieve exactly what you are looking for accurately and quickly.

Where Do The Files Go?

A final difference is whether files stay on computers in day to day use. Backup files are still in active use and changing. Archived files are removed completely from the computer you use on a day to day basis. Hard drive space is not the issue it used to be so people are tempted to retain copies of files on computers used everyday. However, doing so can’t be considered archiving for several reasons.

First, and most important, files can be lost or deleted a number of ways. On a purely mechanical level, a drive can fail and files can be corrupted without any human intervention or error. Second, access to the computer or drive holding files may not be controlled or tracked. Insecure access controls enable the third issue, which is the opportunity for tampering which includes changing or deleting files with bad intent.

A true archive removes files from the routine workflow on computers in day to day use and places them in safe, separate, yet accessible and searchable storage. Larger businesses with resources for staff and equipment may have the capability of keeping archives in house using systems built specifically for archiving.

How You Can Archive Your Records

Many businesses and organizations can afford neither the people nor the hardware for dedicated archiving. And if they could bear the cost they may not have the need for a full-blown system when an economical outsourced option is available.

That is where a service like Datawitness StoreIt enters the picture. StoreIt can fill the gap between heavy-weight enterprise systems and no archiving at all.

You may have seen statistics about how major record loss affects SMBs. Whether the loss occurs through natural disaster, fire, theft, or accidental damage, many businesses simply can’t recover and go under.

So whether you are compelled to archive by an outside force like regulations or want peace of mind by protecting ongoing business viability in an unpredictable world, we have an archiving solution that you can access via the Internet. If you want to see how easy secure, off-site archiving can be we’ll show you how it works in minutes. Request a demo online or call us at 604-273-8894 to get started.

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