Archives vs. backups: What’s the difference?

To keep it basic, archives are places (or systems) used to store rec­­ords, documents, and other items selected for long-term preservation. Typi­­cally archivists, or information professionals, develop criteria to determine which items would be selected to be archived.

In the workplace, IT employees often refer to cheaper disk storage as “archival” storage. One IT strategy is to store documents accessed less often on archival storage because it is less expensive.

From the employee perspective, retrieving this information takes a few seconds longer than accessing it on the more expensive regular disk storage. No matter what you call the cheaper disk storage, it’s technically not an archive.

Backups, on the other hand, are typically something created by an organization’s IT department as a way to restore data and information, should a disaster occur.

By design, backups will save everything at timed intervals to ensure the right information is available to get the business up and running if something happens. Typically backups are created daily, weekly, monthly, and annually as part of a routine ­schedule.

The critical difference between archives and backups is that one is designed for long-term preservation (the archives) and the other is designed to restore a system at a given point in time (the backup).

Presently, the ability to save things in electronic formats (e.g. documents, pictures, music, etc.) rather than their more space-consuming physical counterparts makes it easier, and more tempting, to keep everything.

How­­ever, we shouldn’t arbitrarily save as much as possible just because we can without considering the long-term implications such as accessing and retrieving those items later.

When you “archive” something, is it for long-term preservation, or are you saving everything to restore in case of a disaster?