Backup or archive: what’s the difference?

Victoria Oresanya
20 Sep, 2021 - 0 Comment(s)

The words ‘backup’ and ‘archiving’ are often used interchangeably, as though they refer to the same thing. You have probably done this if you’re not acquainted with the technicalities of storage technology.  

They aren’t the same thing. And the differences between them are so important that a company could lose a huge amount of its resources if it handles its IT without this knowledge.

But how are these terms different?

In order to answer this question, we should understand what backup and archives are.


A backup is a copy of existing data that is created to replace its original if or when it gets lost, stolen, or damaged. The original is not destroyed after the copy is created. It continues to be used for as long as it’s available and in the right state.

‘Backup’ also refers to the process of creating backup data. A recognizable instance: baking up your contact list and messages you have exchanged with them on your phone. This entails copying all those details to the cloud (for example, Google Cloud or iCloud). You can also back up data and operating systems on your servers.        

What you should look out for here is the purpose for which the data is being copied. If your company is creating copies of its product models while anticipating the loss of the originals, you could call those copies backups.

Someone could delete the original models (mistakenly or deliberately) at some point. Or a service disruption could erase an ongoing workload. If this happens, the backups will replace the originals in everyday use (or whenever they have to be used).

Where backups are virtualized versions of the originals, they can be called up within a few minutes of the disruption, allowing work to carry on.  


Archives are copies of original data, just like backups. But unlike the latter, they are created to serve as reference material. Also, the originals are usually destroyed after this. 

When you backup data, you do so intending to use it at a later date, just as you would use the original.

But archived material helps you find information from the past that you would like to reference. For instance, you could retrieve data about customer transactions that occurred on a certain day or month five years ago. Or you may find emails mentioning the name of a particular employee.

Archived data can be used for a range of things besides regular checks.

Imagine, for instance, that you want to trace your communication with a customer from five years ago. The customer needs to ascertain some details from that transaction before reestablishing business relations with your company. You could go to your archives, request for data bearing the appropriate characteristics (customer name, date of communication, or service they requested for), and have them retrieved.

As time elapses, you will want to get rid of excess data from the past, to create room for more currently relevant material on your server. But you will also want to be able to ascertain things from the old data trove. An archive will allow you to do this.

Key Differences Between Backup and Archive

Here are some of the important differences between backup and archive.

1. Restore vs Retrieve

When you use backed up data, you restore the data that has been lost. But when you access archived data, you retrieve it.  

These differences are important. When you restore something, you bring it (or in this case a copy) back after it’s been lost or stolen. So you can restore data, applications, or servers by calling up their backup. But it’s usually a single thing.

On the other hand, you retrieve a group of data that are related by the characteristic for which you have searched (name, date, location, etc). You aren’t replacing preexisting data per se; the original may already have been destroyed long before any retrieval takes place.

Another difference: if you are retrieving archived data, you just need to isolate data based on criteria that you come up with. You don’t have to know where the archive is located. But if you’re restoring data, you will need to know where the data is backed up. 

2. Cost

It takes just a few seconds or minutes to recover backed up data from the cloud. That’s fast when compared to the time it could take you to retrieve old data. But backups cost more than archives. This is why some companies chose to archive their data instead of backing them up. However, this isn’t a good reason to choose one approach over the other.

3. Volume

Backups lend themselves to large scale recoveries—for instance, applications, operating systems, and servers. Archives, on the other hand, are typically made up of individual bits of data, such as emails and transaction information. As such, you can access specific information from archives. Backups are more concerned with large volume recoveries.

Which Should You Choose?

Ideally, your approach to data storage should embrace both archiving and backup. This allows you to enjoy the best of both.

With proper backup, you can recover data that are lost to theft or power outages in a very short time. This keeps downtimes at a minimum and ensures business continuity. Work won’t have to suffer just because disruption has occurred.

Archives will let you refer to related bits of information, such as email threads, the activity of an employee, or your sales on a particular day five years ago.

Take these together, and you will have considerable coverage of your past and present operations—coverage you will need to make informed decisions about your organization’s future dealings.

How Layer3 Can Help

If you want the best of both archiving and backup services in Nigeria, you can trust Layer3 to deliver this to you.

We have a track record of working with companies all over Nigeria to improve their storage and compute capabilities. This record stretches the better part of 14 years. We bring this experience to bear on every new project we undertake on our client’s behalf.


Tap into our expertise today, and build your organization’s IT capacity. Connect with our agents here