Email Backup vs. Archive: What’s the difference?

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Email continues to see strong use in the business world. Nearly half of the worldwide population will be using email by year end 2020, as stated in the Email Statistics Report, 2016-2020 by the Radicati Group. As data volumes rise and information is distributed throughout an organization, businesses must ensure complete and secure storage of the email messages exchanged by users. This stored data can come in use for future reference in business and legal matters, to restore email data in case of device breakdowns, or simply as part of the process of mandatory compliance. The solution, Backup or Archive the data. Often, people use these words interchangeably as solutions to restore emails. However, there is a marked difference between the two which we shall explore below.

A Backup is a collection of data stored on (usually removable) non-volatile storage media for purposes of recovery in case the original copy of data is lost or becomes inaccessible. To be useful for recovery, a backup must be made by copying the source data image when it is in a consistent state. Thus a backup contains the snapshot of of the current state of the mail store and will not contain mail which has been deleted from the mailbox or downloaded to the users PC.

Backups need to be scheduled to ensure that an offline copy of the mail store is available to allow restoration up to a particular date or just a few mail files or a folder etc.  Backups can be used to restore a part or the complete mailbox of a user. There is a likelihood of messages getting missed out due to arrival or deletion between two backup schedules. In case of a crash, messages can be missed from the last snapshot.

Because backups only copy data, the original file is left in its place, which frees up no space at all. In addition, the backup creates yet another copy of the data, which means we are now using twice as much storage space as before unless files are deleted manually after the backup. This only adds more data management overhead.

An Archive is a collection of data objects, perhaps with associated metadata in a storage system whose primary purpose is the long-term preservation and retention of that data. An archive contains all the mails sent and received by the user and happens in ‘real time’. The objective being that the organization has a copy of every mail sent or received, for a defined period of time, by selected or all users irrespective of how they access their mail. The storage for this is compressed and encrypted to secure against direct access from the back-end. Usually, businesses and organizations like to provide the end user the capability to retrieve his own mail from the archive store. This results in the retrieval and storage of all mails without loss as seen during scheduled Backups.

In Archival, the archive accounts can be retained for a specified period. Messages that fall outside the specified period can either be deleted or compressed and moved to an alternate storage for longer term archival as per the business policy of the enterprise. Other than to satisfy a legal or regulatory compliance requirement, archives are used to free up primary (production) disk storage space from data that is no longer actively used but must be retained.

Related Article: Email archiving, backup and journaling: What is the right strategy to secure email data?

The changing landscape of Technology

With rapid adoption of digital mechanisms to drive business processes and resulting unexpected growth of data in organizations, it is essential to find a solution to improve capacity, cost and efficiency in the way data is backed up or archived.  With cloud offering these benefits and eliminating the maintenance of storage infrastructure, there is a rapid movement towards cloud based solutions.  As per Gartner’s “Market Insight: Cloud Shift — The Transition of IT Spending from Traditional Systems to Cloud.” report, IT spending is steadily shifting from traditional IT offerings to cloud services (cloud shift). The aggregate amount of cloud shift in 2016 is estimated to reach $111 billion, increasing to $216 billion in 2020.

Related Article: 4 Reasons To Consider Cloud Archival For Your On-Premise Email Solution

So what are your thoughts on Backup Vs Archive?

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