Email Backup or Archival? What’s the Difference?

April 24th, 2012

Most companies will backup your email in one way or another; only some offer “email archival” and that is usually a separate service.  On the surface, these seem to be the same thing — providing copies of your data for “just in case”.  So, what’s the difference?

Email Backups

A backup refers to a copy of data that may be used to restore the original in the event the latter is lost or damaged beyond repair. It is a safeguard for data that is being used.

Backups are typically:

  • Snapshots of what your data looked like at a particular point in time (e.g. when you save a “backup” copy of an important document you are writing once in a while, just in case.)
  • Associated with a location.  I.e. “on site” backups are located in essentially the same location as the original data.  “Off site” backups are located far away from the originals.  It is fast and easy to recover using an “on site” backup; but if the location itself is having issues, both the original and the on site backups could be compromised or destroyed.  The off site backups are the fail safe in this case — it is typically slower to recover using them and they are often costlier to maintain; however, if your on site backups are lost, off site is important to have!
In the context of email and messaging in general, backups provide copies of all messages that you have stored at certain points in time.  Backups will NOT contain copies of messages that were received and deleted before the backup was made, and will also not contain messages that were never actually saved in your mail folders.

Email Archival

“An archive refers to a single or a collection of historical records specifically selected for long-term retention and future reference. It is often data that is no longer actively used.”

Unlike backups, archived email:

  • Includes a copy of every message sent or received
  • Is not a point in time “snapshot” but a continuously updating history of inbound and outbound messaging
  • Cannot be edited or deleted (at least until a certain pre-defined expiration period is met).  I.e. archived email must be “tamper proof”
  • Cannot be used to restore lost or deleted email folders
  • Can be easily searched
  • Can be compliant to meet HIPAA, GLBA, and other requirements.

Compare Email Backups and Archival

Here is a more detailed comparison of Backups vs Archival, as they apply at LuxSci.

Feature Backup Archival
Cost Included Extra
Snapshots of email data? Yes
Stored “On Site” with your email data? Yes
Stored “Off Site” from your email data? Depends Yes
Copies of ALL sent and received email Not usually Yes
Can be used to restore deleted email folders Yes
Can be used to restore deleted email messages Yes Yes
Searchable Yes
Email accessible by end users/administrators Not usually Yes
Email accessible by support staff Yes
Saved in different geographic locations Depends Yes