Filing cabinet with American flag; Backup and ArchivingImagine it’s the Fourth of July and you and your friends get together to celebrate. Good food and company make this year’s celebration one to remember. But, how do you make these memories permanent? Cue the camera and camcorder. At the party, you take plenty of photos, many complete with obligatory Instagram filters. Meanwhile, you also use your video camera to record your team’s come-from-behind victory at the bean bag toss. The different function of the photos and the videos are clear. The photos periodically captured the party at different moments in time, while the video captured every moment, memorable or not. Even if they typically aren’t concerned with a Fourth of July party, businesses also want to remember their goings-on. And, just as there is a clear difference between using cameras and camcorders, there is an analogous difference between “backing up” and “archiving.” Although related, backup and archiving are not synonymous. In fact, understanding the difference between backup and archiving is critical to a business’s successful records management strategy.

Backups capture single moments in time

To begin, a backup can be loosely compared to a photograph from a camera. When a business backs up documents or files, it essentially takes a snapshot of those files at that moment in time. As such, the primary function of a backup is to provide an alternative source in case the original is destroyed or unusable. In the event of a server malfunction, the lost files will be able to be reconstructed from the backup. Furthermore, like a camera, a backup is only performed periodically. Commonly, businesses will backup their emails monthly, replacing or augmenting the last month’s backup. And because the files being backed up are expected to become irrelevant or be replaced in a short period of time, the lifecycle of a backup is generally on the scale of months.

Archiving captures a series of moments over time

Alternatively, archiving is analogous to a camcorder’s video. Like a camcorder, archiving captures all records the instant they are created. This means that archiving will, for instance, record when you post a status as well as the reply it receives three minutes later. This interaction does not have sit idle for a month waiting for a backup to become a company record, but it becomes one instantly through archiving.

Furthermore, the primary motivators for archiving include compliance and e-discovery reasons, not information restoration. Regulations about business records differ by industry, but regulators (such as the SEC and FINRA in financial services) almost universally require that records be “authentic” and be preserved for extended periods of time. Archiving, unlike backup, provides this functionality. Backed up files are often not secure from modification and may be inadvertently erased in violation of records retention regulation. On the other hand, part of the archiving process is ensuring that the records are tamper-proof and possess longevity. Additionally, archiving expedites the e-discovery process due to its verifiable, comprehensive, and tamper-proof nature. Backups may provide some of the same files during the e-discovery process, but it carries the likely risk that they may be tampered with or even erased.

Backup and archiving are related, but not the same

So although backup and archiving are connected under the umbrella of records management, each performs appreciably different functions critical to a business’ overall records management strategy. Like a camera, a backup takes a snapshot of a moment in time mainly for a firm’s information security. Meanwhile, archiving compares with a camcorder, continuously making records while also helping the company comply with regulation and e-discovery needs. So, just as anybody at your Fourth of July celebration can differentiate between the uses of a camera and a camcorder, so should a business know the difference between backup and archiving.