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Before you create an ironclad data backup and recovery system for your organisation, it’s crucial to understand what, exactly, data backup is and how it differs from a data archive. It’s dangerous to confuse the two or assume that they’re the same.

You may happily back up your data and assume your work is done – until the day regulators or auditors arrive with a list of questions that you aren’t equipped to answer. Here’s the mantra that data storage experts often repeat: “Backups are for recovery; archives are for discovery.” And here’s what that means:

How are they different?

A backup is a copy of your current data that you use to restore original data if it’s ever damaged. If your data updates every day, so should your backup. Most organisations run regularly scheduled backups that protect them from losing any more than, say, an hour’s or a day’s worth of new data.

You may have several backups that reflect several points in time, and that’s fine. What’s most important is that, because they exist to guard against downtime, they must be readily accessible – disk-based backups are most typical – and remain accessible for several months, just in case.

A backup is not designed to be particularly well organised or searchable. It just aims to replace what’s been lost as quickly as possible. This is key to understanding why a backup is a very different animal than an archive.

An archive is a collection of historical business records that you must retain for future reference should you ever need to produce evidence when legal or regulatory questions arise. An archive contains data you no longer use day-to-day, which is why many archives are stored offsite on tape.

A good archive is searchable. It comprises database catalogues and indexes that you access when you get a question about a specific piece of data from a particular day and time. Data in an archive doesn’t change. It’s the permanent record – think tax returns, compliance reports or patient records. Your industry as well as federal and local governments set the rules for how long you must retain archived files. Don’t think of your archive as simply a backup you keep for several years.

The two systems tackle different problems. Backups preserve business continuity, and archives support your compliance effort.

Consider a total solution

As data growth and regulation increase and storage prices drop, backups keep getting bigger, and archives keep getting bulkier. A trusted third-party provider can help you establish a secure data backup and recovery programme to protect you day-to-day and also offer an archiving solution with the kind of management and cataloguing you need to respond quickly to regulators. Yes, you need backups. And yes, you need an archive. You need both, because the two are definitely not the same.

Do you have questions about data backup and recovery? Contact Iron Mountain’s Data Protection team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable specialist who can address your specific challenges.