What’s The Difference between Backup and Archive

Backup and archive are sometimes confused, but they are difference in essence. In this article, I will make a comparison to show the difference between backup and archive.


By Crystal / Updated on March 8, 2023

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Backup vs archive, what’s the difference

In the 21st century, data itself symbolizes wealth. To protect this important data, such as the data in outlook, office 365, database, or even on your iPhone, you must have carried out various data protection measures. From the simplest copy and paste, to backup, and to archiving.

Then which of them is the best match data protection measure for you? To tell the answer, you need to know the difference between them first. And that’s what this article will cover.

Since I have already made a comparison to tell the difference between backup and copy, I won’t elaborate on it in this article. I will focus on the difference between backup and archive. They are often used interchangeably, but still are very different in meanings.

Difference between backup and archive

What is backup

A backup is a copy of all the data you want to protect from data loss. If you back up a system, an application, a virtual machine, or something else, it may also contain the system and its registry files, configuration files, or other hidden files.

Technically, backup is a measure of disaster recovery. The purpose to keep a backup is to be able to restore all the data quickly and maintain business continuity in the event of unexpected disasters.

Therefore, backups are always accompanied by backup schedules. The more frequently you perform backups, the more recent copies of data you can keep, and the less data you may lose.

Backup icon

What is archive

An archive is a copy of the data you made for long-term storage and reference. In most cases, the original data will be deleted, and the archive will be the only copy.

This is because unlike backups, archives are kept more often for compliance purposes. To be more specific, the purpose to keep an archive is to keep a long-term copy of the data that you will no longer use, but still need to retain. Archives are used to retrieve data rather than restore it.

Therefore, for archives, the storage media and retrieval speed are not important. When archiving, you may be concerned about how to get more storage capacity and higher durability at a lower storage cost.

Archive icon

Comparison: the difference between backup and archive

So, what’s the difference between backup and archive? I believe that after understanding the basic concept of each of them, you already got your ideas. To make it clearer, here is a comparison chart of archive vs backup:

  Backup Archive
Purpose For disaster recovery For long-term storage and reference
Data scope All business data Specific data that you must retain for compliance purposes
Data state Constantly changing Will not be modified after archived
Retention policy Short-time retention Long-term retention
Storage type Local or hot network storage Tape archives or cold storage media

As you can see, although sometimes confused, the fact is that there are many differences between backup and archives, in terms of the purposes, the data stored, the retention time, the storage media, etc. You may determine whether you need them currently from these differences, and the situations they often apply to.

How to choose from backup and archive

Actually, in practice, the existence of backups and archives are not in conflict with each other, rather they coexist. So, you don’t have to choose one or the other from the two. You just need to determine if you are in a situation where you need to use backups and archives or not.

Here are some examples of the different types of data protected by backups and archives respectively.

  • Backup: all business data currently in use that cannot be lost, often it will be some structured data, such as a system and its configuration, a database, an application, a whole disk, virtual disks of virtual machines, etc.
  • Archive: important papers that required to be retained for compliance purposes, such as legal documents, correspondence, contracts, business practice, and financial transactions, employee records, etc.

If you have the above types of data to protect, you can choose the data protection measure accordingly. Please note that backups and archives cannot replace each other. For example, archives cannot be used on virtual machines, since the VM data is constantly changing, and keeping all archives without regularly deleting the old data copies will be great waste of storage cost.

▶ Free VM backup solution to protect your data

Archives cannot be used on virtual machine protection.

If you are looking for an effective measure to protect your VM data from disaster, you can try AOMEI Cyber Backup – a free virtual machine backup software to backup multiple VMs on VMware ESXi or Hyper-V agentlessly.

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Backup and archive are both effective measures to protect data. And they are often confused by people, but in fact, they are very different in essence. For example, backups are mainly used for short-term retention, while archives are for long-term retention.

In this article, I made a comparison to illustrate the difference between backup and archive. If you make the data copy to meet retention requirements, then archives are what you need; but if you are doing it for disaster recovery, then you should choose from the backup measures.

Crystal · Editor
Crystal is an editor from AOMEI Technology. She mainly writes articles about virtual machine. She is a positive young lady likes to share articles with peolpe. Off work she loves travelling and cooking which is wonderful for life.