Archiving vs backup: One, the other, or both?

Nick Cavalancia

I’m going to assume at this point you have a backup strategy in place for your organization or your customers (depending on whether you’re an MSP or not).  And with that strategy comes modern day hybrid use of the cloud and local storage to facilitate an ability to recover pretty much as far back as you like, right? If not, then you might want to go back and read this article first to help you understand about choosing the right backup solution. 

So, if you were asked to recover something from, say, two or three years ago, you could likely do it. First off, that’s some solid work there and you’re in a great position for recovery. So, when someone brings up the topic of archiving, it’s likely you (or your customers) believe you can (and should) rely on your backups, rather than adding an additional service.

Understanding archiving 

So, is archiving just a really old backup?

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Archiving has a completely different use case, core function, and data set than a backup. Take a look at the grid below.





Core Function


Point in time snapshot of data

Preserve a complete record of relevant information

Use Case

Restore data after a system failure

Easily access/search historical data; improve productivity; satisfy legal requirements; 

Data Captured

Data at each snapshot

Full record of contents

Retention Period

Typically 30-90 days

Many years or indefinitely

Understanding Backup

Backups are about capturing the current state of a file, database, application, or system with the intent of using that data set to recover it back to a specific point in time. Archiving is about creating a searchable, historical business record of communications and work produced over a span of time for legal, compliance, or productivity purposes. 

Better said, backups are about data protection, whereas archiving is about business protection.

Take the example of your company or customer being subject to a lawsuit around an incident that occurred a year ago. You may need to help produce relevant emails that existed within a specific period of time.  So which solution will provide the needed data quickly and easily?

First off, with backups, you may not have the requested data, as your backup strategy may only include a recoverability timeframe of, say, 90 days. But even if you do have backups that span years of time, think about the actual request – someone wants to see every email and file related to a specific topic over perhaps months of time. Producing this via backups would require recovering applications and data and extracting the needed information over and over and over again.

Archiving satisfies the example above by already having a searchable database of all email correspondence, including the needed emails, thereby protecting the business in a situation where possible legal action would have negative implications on the company. 

Archiving: protecting the future

So, is archiving just for litigation purposes?

No.  There are a number of reasons you need an archive for your company or customers:

  • eDiscovery – The cost of finding and obtaining relevant data can be double without an archiving solution. 
  • Compliance / Regulation – many compliance standards mandate being able to demonstrate compliance around how privileged data has been accessed and handled. Archiving preserves the original unadulterated email record ensuring you can show exactly what was sent, received, and communicated. 
  • Productivity – users may need to find an old email or attachment in an organization where email retention is something like 90 days. Archiving provides a cost-effective and efficient means to access older data.
  • Lower TCO – the cost of maintaining larger production email databases (and the corresponding backup requirements), along with the cost of recovering emails via backups all totals a much greater cost than simply maintaining an archive. 

You have backups in place today as a precautionary measure – should a server or application go South, you have an ability to recover.  It’s the same for archiving; it’s a precautionary measure should a company be involved in litigation, need to prove compliance, or simply potentially have the need to find older work. So, to answer the question in the blog title, the answer is you need both archiving and backup. It’s not an either/or.

And for those MSPs in the audience, archiving becomes another billable service you provide to your customers, allowing them to quickly respond in circumstances requiring the retrieval of older email, and continuing to reinforce your place as their trusted technology partner.