A: Data backups and data archives have similarities and differences. They both protect your important files so that they are available when you need them. Yet, they are maintained and used in different ways.
Recovery: The Purpose of Data Backups
If your firm suffers a data loss incident, backups enable you to recover. You restore what you lost as of a point in time before the incident.
No doubt, you are familiar with the high-risk incidents facing law firms today:
- Ransomware attacks.
- Fires, floods, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.
- Theft of your files and threats to publish them.
In addition to these traumatic, drastic events, your valuable files face more mundane threats:
- Accidental deletion or overwriting.
- Operating system meltdown.
- Hard drive failure.
Your backups rescue you from all these misfortunes—so long as they themselves are stored safely in a cloud data center or offsite.
Long-Term Storage: The Purpose of Data Archives
Archives protect files that are valuable but are not needed in the short term. The files are moved off of the network and servers and onto storage media.
Data archives are great for keeping inactive or old files for long periods of time. They are also used to comply with legally mandated data retention periods.
Characteristics of data archives:
- Retrieval speed is not a priority.
- Drives or discs are stored disconnected from any computers or networks.
- Offsite storage is typical.
Backup and Archive Confusion
In practice, it is easy to confuse archives with backups.
To preserve some old files, for the sake of expedience, you might simply copy a backup file or volume onto a USB drive. Once it is offsite, it can serve as an archive. You use this archive to store files that you then purge from the active file server. A backup has become an archive.
Be careful and methodical with the creation of data archives. Otherwise, you could encounter either of two pitfalls:
- Creating a disorganized and duplicative collection of backups and archives.
- Not knowing what files you have archived and where they are located.
Redundancy is ordinarily good. When disorganized, it becomes a problem.
Assiduously follow a regular practice of making, transferring, testing, and pruning backups. These processes can be semi-automated. But make sure you do not skip the testing.
Follow your own written procedures for archiving data you need to retain for longer time periods. Your procedures should include safely storing the archives and logging your archiving operations. It makes sense to make duplicate copies of archives and to store them in different physical locations.
For multi-year preservation of smaller archives (under 100 GB), consider using a Blu-ray BDXL disc writer (burner). BDXL optical discs and the M-Disc media, in particular, have much longer predicted lifespans than magnetic media such as USB hard drives, NVMe flash drives, and standard flash drives.
LG and Pioneer make inexpensive, external BDXL burners. Verbatim makes M-Disc media in 25 GB, 50 GB, and 100 GB sizes. These are excellent for data archives.