Data Backup & Data Archive – What’s the Difference

Rollins Duke   
Published: May 13th, 2024 • 9 Min Read

Data Backup and Data Archiving – Both the terms are analogous in nature so it creates a lot of confusion as well.  Here we are matching the backup & archive process to explain the key difference between the two highly in-demand technologies. Even though the process of data backup and data archive involves storage of copied data, both addresses specifically different issues of data management.

Data Backups – “The activity of copying or saving files or database in a secure medium, with the aim to preserve data in case of any data disaster is termed as Data Backup.”

Data Archives – “The activity intended to copy or save repository for data that are currently not in use but is to be stored for a longer period is termed as Data Archiving.”

Key Difference between Data Backup and Data Archive

The main, in fact, the only similarity between Data Backup & Data Archiving is that they support the process of primary data storage. Backup and Archive of data is not the same. Backup implies the collection of data copied or saved in any storage media with the aim of data recovery at times of equipment failure, data corruption or other catastrophes that lead to inaccessibility of original data. A backup copy is of great help to regain data under situations where data is lost, corrupted or damaged. Archiving implies the long term preservation of data. The retention of old data that are not regularly in use but is still important and to be saved for longer time duration leads to data archives.


To affirm the difference between the process of data backup and data archive let us take some instances that both the process involves. Sequential Access Recovery Medium is used to save the data that are backed up using any data backup technology whereas data archiving is moving information to a lower Tier Random Access Medium. Archives works in the retention of a single copy of data whereas backup retains multiple layers of data that are selected to be protected. Archives get the single copy of data retained through the advance storage algorithms such as data de-duplication or other technologies.

Now-a-day vendors are incorporating many advanced functionalities to the backup technology they provide to cop up with the archiving functionalities.  However, data backup and data archive fundamentally two different concepts of business data management.

Access What You Need and When You Need it!

Normally, disk or tape is the storage medium to copy the vital data as a whole. In the backup process, it is such a copy that is maintained in another storage space but the actual data will be still residing in the main production system. In case of damage to the original copy or catastrophic error to the backup copy, the business can be continued with the help of anyone copy available. But, losing the backup will elevate the risk of data disaster, so every time data backup should be maintained up-to-date.

The archive serves as a solution for a different problem. The maintenance of older data that cannot take the risk of losing is stored using archiving technology.  Low cost – long term storage is the main principle of the data archive and they move inactive information off of primary storage location.  As archive contain the de-duplicate data, any corruption to archive data may lead to the permanent loss of the information.

The archive is the only copy of data available but backup is the copy of data that resides in the original file also.

Single Instance Storage: Data archiving applications support the data de-duplication technology that helps for clean storage of data without duplicate content. In the traditional backup technology, this feature is not available, thus the user has to choose third-party applications to remove duplicate content.  To remove the limitation of not having single instance storage, the advance feature of data deduplication is said to be added in the data backup streams.

With the addition of multiple functionalities and key features, data backup had traveled a long way. Still, there is a notable difference in both technologies. The analog nature of both backup and archive will remain as such, but they cannot be replaced in place of the other. Both processes have their own purpose in the industry and they will have to remain complimentary for each other and not as a replacement.

Purpose of Long Time Preservation & Retention of Data v/s Data Recovery

Through backup of data entire data is protected, no matter if it carries active or inactive information. And Data Archive consists of old information that is highly important to the organization for future reference or compliance regularity.

Searchability & Speed:  While going for either Data Archive or Data Backup, the two features should be taken care of as; Searchability and Speed. As archiving and data backup can pile up information in the storage media, the algorithms for a speedy recovery and effective search and filter options is a must check.

Speed is more important for a data backup application. Backups are approached in case of overwritten or corrupted original data, so, it is very important to get speedy data recovery from the data backup available. To avoid downtime and other business loss, the user prefers data backup applications that ensure speedy data recovery only.

Speed is not a major point of concern when we deal with data archives. Here the search-ability of the information plays a vital role. The ability to retain and preserve data without altering the data integrity over decades is what is appreciated and demanded in the data archive applications.


Never assume that data backup and data archive are the same and occupying one will serve the duties of both. The functionality and the design of both the technologies are different, thus one can never assume to run the show with any of the selected options. Data backup will give you data recovery in case of data loss or deletion. But, data archives are dedicated to that inactive information that is supposed to be preserved for a longer time duration. Backup application is the right tool in case of complete system recovery or application recovery, whereas Archives are for that subset of data intended to be preserved for a longer time, so we can never depend upon the archive to restore full server or volume level recoveries.  Data backup are traditionally saved for large scale recovery process, hoping to regain access to large volumes of information. Backup is not only for the individual file or applications, but Archives are generally saved with the database, email messaged, individual files with metadata of each item.

DISASTER RECOVERY: Data Backup plays a vital role in disaster recovery and thus IT admins always keep their data backup plans associated with the disaster recovery plans. When large scale recoveries are forecasted, data backup is the first choice of IT practitioners and when cost-effective, retention of older data is in cards, the Data archive is preferred.


The selection of the Data Archive medium depends upon the need of the organization. Whether to fit with Tape, Disk or Cloud storage is the question that the IT admin needs to check and find the answer with. The type of medium selected should complement the speed and ease of data retrieval. Searchability should be user-friendly with proper indexing and filtering of data.  Tapes are used for archiving data because it is easier to search for data but there are many risks involved in Tape storage. The changing trends in technology can raise questions about the availability of Tape-based data retrieval systems 20 years down the line. Thus Tape data archiving is vulnerable and is not suggested as a long term data preservation unit.  Disk storage also involves high risk and seems impossible and costly. Cloud Archiving solutions are of more in demand nowadays and there are very few to name for online cloud storage services. Amazon company is renowned for its outstanding customer service in getting information archive in the cloud.

Exchange Email Archives

Not only for the legal procedures but for business continuity also, Exchange Email Archiving is of great help. Email message retention policy is to be carefully planned and executed. Unless there is no such emergency or critical reasons it is suggested to wipe out data from Exchange server regularly after fixed intervals.

Considering the risk of losing the vital data in the process of data wiping, most of the users prefer to archive Exchange EDB mailbox to Outlook PST format. Down the road, it may create trouble related to the questions raised to the accessibility of PST file from 10 years now, still, import EDB to PST is one of the most preferred Exchange archiving process followed by IT admins. By getting EDB mailbox to PST the risk of long term data retention, ease of accessibility and the fear of data loss is all managed successfully. Exchange recovery tools that come with the provision of saving EDB mailbox as PST is available for free download, which is worth giving a try.

Conclusion: There are some legitimate business requirements that call for the retention of information, mainly email messages for a longer time period. This data archive practice can save a lot of issues that any business environment may involve. Selecting the best process of data archive or email archive plays a vital role in protecting crucial information. Knowing the difference between Data Backup and Data Archive will help the user to reduce the risk of business downtime and data disaster. Selecting the best practice for data backup as well as data archive will help you to reduce costing and increase data safety and security.