There is often confusion between the terms “archive” and “backup.” Although archiving and backing up both involve data storage, these concepts are not synonymous and have key distinctions.
A digital archive is a repository of information that ensures the longevity, integrity, and accessibility of data to fulfil business, legal, and regulatory retention requirements. Archiving helps organizations deal with digital preservation challenges such as file format obsolescence, ensure regulatory compliance, make inactive records easy to retrieve by authorized users, and reduce the time and cost of maintaining obsolete systems only for their data by extracting and archiving the information.
A backup is a copy of files made so that the original data can be restored if information is lost. Backing up data on a consistent, defined schedule mitigates the risk of data loss from human error, technology failures, computer viruses, and natural disasters.
The three main differences between archiving and backing up data are:
Digital archives ingest and maintain inactive data that must be retained. Information needing long term preservation is archived to manage retention, avoid data bloat, and allow for the decommissioning of legacy applications. Archiving will therefore cut costs and enable better allocation of time and resources.
Backups protect both active and inactive production data. This vital information needed for everyday business use is copied to a backup storage target. If the backup system suffers a catastrophe, operations would still continue since the production data would be unaffected. However, a new backup system would need to be put in place in case the production data was hit by a disaster.
Access to Information
Once your information has been archived or backed up, how and why will information be accessed? Digital archives store structured and unstructured data for long term preservation. Metadata for this information is captured and correlated with these digital objects. An archive will provide authorized users with a business need access to necessary information. The users can then search and retrieve records thanks to the associated metadata.
IT uses backups for recovering large amounts of data, often to restore an application or system. Unlike archives which only store a piece of enterprise information, backups can provide full server recovery.Backups are only accessed when there has been a catastrophe and the backed up information must be loaded into a system. A backup includes copies of active data that still remain on the system. Therefore access to backups must be limiting to insure the protection, authenticity, and integrity of enterprise information.
Long-term Preservation vs. Disaster Recovery
Archival storage is focused on long-term preservation of digital objects. Disaster recovery for digital archives exists and is necessary. However, this is a different process from backups since archives are not a backup service to restore systems.
Backup storage media of vital records and information includes magnetic tape, hard disks, and the cloud. The backup and disaster recovery processes are closely related with IT running scheduled backups on data then moving it to another location to protect against compromising events.
The integrity of backups should also be checked to minimize the risk of data corruption. The retention of backups will be different than the retention of archived records as backups are copies and unofficial records unless the originals are destroyed and the backups need to be used. Backups may need to be retained longer if there is a litigation hold.
Enterprise Archiving, Backing Up...Necessary Allies
Both archives and backups are necessary for an enterprise to avoid risk and gain value by ensuring the availability and protection of its most important business asset: information. General principles of risk management are standard procedure for archives and backups.
For archives, risk management practices include capturing sufficient relevant metadata to guarantee access and instituting a file format policy so that only data in open, widely available formats are archived to ensure long term preservation.
Risk management standards from the perspective of backups would include implementing a regular backup procedure and having disaster recovery contingency plans. Knowing when and how to archive and backup with policies and procedures in place for both is important to support the preservation and access of information with long term retention and to prevent data loss in the event of a disaster.