Let's Play Archive vs. Backup

By Henry Newman

There seems to be some significant confusion in the industry about the difference between backup and archive. Here are my definitions of the terms.

Archive: Storage of a collection of digital data comprise an archive. Archive data is data that does not change much or at all and must be kept long periods of time. Most often today, digital archive data is managed by HSM systems.

Backup: Backups have two distinct purposes. Their primary purpose is to recover data as a reaction to data loss, be it by data deletion or corrupted data. The secondary purpose of backups is to recover data from a historical period of time within the constraints of a user-defined data retention policy, typically configured within a backup application for however long copies of the data are required.

So the big difference the way I see it is that archives do not change much, and backups are used for transactional data or data that changes often.

Now, let's play archive or backup? (answers below).

  1. Is my home Internet backup of my underwater pictures from my trip to Saba in 2004 really backup or archive?
  2. Should my patient records with the history what medications I am taking be backed up or archived?
    Bonus question: Should the MR Scan of my knee be backed up or archived?
  3. Should a small business database be archived or backed up?
  4. Should my home Outlook PST file be archived or backed up?
  5. Should SEC compliance data be archived or backed up?


  1. Archive - The pictures are not changing and will not change
  2. Backup - My records could change at any time and historical changes should be kept.
    Archive - The MR scan will not change
  3. Backup - The business should keep historical changes should be kept.
  4. Backup - As if I delete emails and wanted to go back I would need historical copies of the PST file
  5. Archive - This information better not change

More to come on this topic.

This article was originally published on July 28, 2011