We often hear from our MSP Partners about conversations with customers who confuse backup with archiving. It’s easy to understand the confusion. Both relate broadly to data protection, so it’s natural to assume one solution can serve both archiving and backup needs.
In truth, however, the requirements differ in critical ways, so it’s important to understand clearly what your customers need.
Different Use Cases
For starters, archiving and backup serve two very different purposes.
Archiving is about compliance, governance, and security. Organizations involved in highly regulated sectors, such as banking, securities, legal, or healthcare, are often required to maintain data for a specified amount of time. This is known as compliance archiving. But there are other situations that call for archive data, such as disputes between a company and an employee, lawsuits, or other investigations that create the need to search company emails or electronic files for evidence. This search process is called eDiscovery.
Backup, on the other hand, enables business continuity and disaster recovery. Business continuity strategies seek to maximize business process availability, and disaster recovery strategies help organizations restore operations in the event of site-wide data loss.
Different Recovery Requirements
To serve their respective use cases, archiving solutions need to enable long-term retention, and backup solutions needs to enable quick recovery. But, “recovery” means different things in archiving and in backup.
The recovery scenario for archives involves rapidly identifying specific data — emails, files, database values, streaming media — and marking it for retrieval. Depending on the industry, a company can retain more than 10 years of archive data. This means effective archiving solutions must provide search and retrieval capabilities powerful enough to crunch through massive quantities of data quickly. To speed searches, archiving technologies typically capture and store metadata (e.g., time, date, sender and receiver for emails), in addition to raw data.
By contrast, backup recovery is about getting an organization up and running ASAP after an outage or a crisis. To minimize downtime, backup technologies have evolved to encompass many specialized approaches, including image-based, application-native, and hypervisor-native backup solutions. If you’re backing up fast-changing data, such as online transaction processing data, the ability to back up at frequent intervals is also mission-critical. The performance metrics for these capabilities — Recovery Time Objective (RTO) for recovery speed and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) for backup frequency — are vital for backup but largely irrelevant for archiving.
Different Storage Requirements
These differences point to divergent storage requirements for archiving and backup. Archiving strategies seek to save everything or at least a protected copy of everything. Archiving technologies therefore need to treat multiple types of data (documents, databases, audio and video files, etc.) with the same, high level of integrity. Where compliance and eDiscovery are concerned, data archived many years ago can be just as important as data archived an hour ago.
To support fast recoveries, on the other hand, backup data tends to be captured on a point-in-time basis. Backup data changes continuously, and the most recent backup data is usually the most valuable for restoring an organization’s IT operations.
In most cases when customers ask you for either backup or archiving help, the need is clearly defined. In some cases, however (especially when customers assume one solution can serve both needs), it’s your job to qualify the opportunity.
Generally speaking, you can clarify any ambiguity by asking three simple questions:
- What business or sector is your organization in?
- What kind of data do you want to protect?
- What situations are you trying to protect against with this solution?
The benefit of asking these questions is that each can lead to a deeper conversation about the differences between backup and archiving. The answers can also give you insight into other managed service opportunities your customer can use.
Following this qualification process can elevate your status as a trusted advisor, and you’ll be providing a valuable service to your customers. Simply accepting a customer’s word on what solution the business needs can lead to problems at recovery or eDiscovery time. This can hurt your business, despite your best intentions.
Just remember to be patient when explaining the difference. This stuff can trip up even a seasoned IT pro.