What’s the difference between data backups and data archives?

What’s the difference between data backups and data archives?

Data backups and data archives are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different functions. While both involve making a copy of business data for future use, there are key differences you should consider to ensure your company's data storage methodology meets your needs.

Backups and archives: Key differences

Generally, data backups are used to recover from instances of data loss or corruption, while data archives are used for space management and long-term data storage and retrieval. Below are the ways in which these technologies differ.


Data backups are copies of your current and active data made to protect against data loss or corruption. Their main purpose is to provide a quick and easy way to restore your data in the event of an emergency.

Data archives, on the other hand, are copies of your inactive or old data. They’re primarily used to free up space on your primary storage devices and to act as a holding tank for data that may be needed at some point in the future.

Related reading: The cost of not having backups


Data backups are usually stored in the same storage area as your active data or in the cloud. When backups are created, the original files are not affected or changed in any way. Meanwhile, data archives are typically stored offline, often on different storage devices or locations than your active data. This is because archived data is not meant to be accessed or used on a regular basis.


Data backups are typically much faster to create and retrieve than data archives because these are usually done incrementally, meaning only the changes to files since the last backup are saved. Archives, on the other hand, are generally created in their entirety and can take significantly longer to download or access.

The ability to quickly recover and restore data is paramount in the event of a data loss emergency. That’s why backups are often completed as quickly as possible while archiving can be performed over time.


Being able to easily search for and locate a file is imperative with data archives. A single archive can contain thousands upon thousands of files, so it is unlikely that you will remember the exact file name or location of the data you need. That’s why most archive files are indexed and searchable, making it easy to find what you’re looking for without hours of digging through folders.

Meanwhile, data backups are not typically searchable. This is because backups are created with the sole purpose of quickly and easily restoring data in the event of an emergency. If you need to find a specific file, your best bet is to know where it was backed up and what its name is.


Depending on their operational importance, the data stored in backups and archives can have vastly different retention periods. Data backups are typically kept for a relatively short amount of time, anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, to ensure data integrity. And because they are meant to be used as an emergency fallback, their usefulness diminishes over time.

Data archives, on the other hand, can have retention periods that last for months, years, or even decades. This is because archives are not meant to be used on a regular basis and their value increases as time goes on.

Which is more important for your business?

Backups and archives are both critical components of a company’s data storage strategy, especially if your business generates or works with a lot of information.

Backups are especially helpful in case of data loss or corruption caused by unexpected events, like natural disasters and cyberattacks, and are often a necessary component to staying in compliance with industry regulations. And if you have a lot of inactive or outdated data that needs to be cleared up over time, archives can help reduce clutter on your primary storage devices by moving old files off-site.

Need help with setting up your company’s data backups and archives? Contact our experts for more information.

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