Backup vs. Archive: Why They Are Not the Same

While SaaS applications like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace provide very limited backup functionality, their backup capabilities are primarily designed for short-term protection against user error or to support application availability. To put it simply, they do not provide backup for business continuity purposes. That means deleted data is stored for a limited period and restoring lost data can be a nightmare. However, they do provide native archiving solutions to help meet compliance and legal requirements.

Many IT professionals wrongly assume that archiving and backup are the same since they perform similar actions, like making and storing a copy of production data. However, the similarities end there.

Let’s highlight the differences between backup and archiving to understand their distinct functions better.

A depiction of a backup icon vs filing cabinets for archiving.

What Is Backup?

Techopedia defines data backup as:

Backup refers to the process of making copies of data or data files to use in the event the original data or data files are lost or destroyed.

The reality is that not all SaaS backup solutions are equal. Native backup functionalities are designed primarily for application availability and aren’t capable of restoring data in its original state from a particular point in time. However, a third-party SaaS backup solution like Spanning allows end users and admins to search their backups for individual pieces of data and provide multiple granular restore options.

What Is Archiving?

Techopedia defines data archiving as:

Data archiving is the process of retaining data for long-term storage. Even though the data might not be in use, it can be brought into use and can be stored for future purposes.

Data archiving solutions like Google Vault and Microsoft Exchange Online Archive help meet information retention requirements such as financial transactions, agreements and employee records, and provide a mechanism for eDiscovery and legal hold in case of litigation. It is often a mandatory requirement for compliance with government or industry regulations.

The Difference: Backup vs. Archive

Backup Archive
Designed specifically to protect from data loss; quickly find and restore data and ensure business continuity. Designed specifically for legal use cases; used by lawyers and admins.
Automatically backs up point-in-time snapshots of all critical business data. Typically includes only email and chat and potentially preserves the final version of deleted files (not previous versions).
Specifically designed to quickly restore data exactly the way it was so users can get back to work. Does not restore data; only offers download for eDiscovery use cases.
Built for administrators and end users to quickly find and restore data. Access is often strictly controlled by privileged admins and the legal team.

Build a Reliable Backup and Recovery Strategy

Solely using native backup and archiving solutions provided by SaaS vendors like Microsoft and Google won’t help build a reliable backup and recovery process. To make restoration easy and less painful while also being faithful to your recovery time objectives (RTO), try Spanning.

Spanning’s cloud-native, purpose-built solutions for Microsoft 365, Google Workspace and Salesforce protect your organization’s critical data from loss caused by ransomware and malware attacks, human error, malicious behavior and sync errors. Spanning is unique in its ability to enable end users as well as administrators to quickly find and restore data to its original state in just a few clicks.

Learn More About Spanning Backup


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