A topic that sometimes comes up in conversation is that of backups. I can’t stress enough the importance of backups. Storage is cheap and there are lots of tools that make it ridiculously simple to enable, so there’s really no excuse not to.
A device that comes to mind is Apple’s Time Capsule. Integrated into recent version of OS X is the Time Machine utility which automatically creates differential backups at regular intervals, and as the hard disk fills up, it automatically removes older backups to make room. Sounds great, right?
What may not be evident is that there is a small but important difference between a “Backup” and an “Archive”.
In general terms, a backup utility or service will provide short-term protection in the event of a catastrophic hard drive failure. A recent backup means you can simply restore to the most recent state or at the very least recover just the important files. What this backup does not do is keep files forever. As noted previously, backup utilities will typically delete the oldest backup to make room for the newest. So let’s say you have a backup of a file you just created. Now, if you were to delete that file, it still exists on the backup drive – until perhaps six months from now when it runs out of room, and deletes it. Now because that file wasn’t on your computer for the last six months to be backed up, it is no longer there to recover.
That’s where a proper archive comes in. You can do this yourself by manually copying files to a disk outside the scope of the backup utility, or by simply making a backup and stowing it away in a safe or a safety deposit box. That data will go nowhere. There are also cloud-based storage services that can be configured to keep at least one version of every file every stored – forever (or for a specific period).
Knowing the difference between the two concepts can save you a lot of headaches, especially small businesses that rely on these handy tools.