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

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

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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 and distribution of information throughout organisations rises, 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. Restoring email data is necessary 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 backup and archiving interchangeably as solutions to restore emails. However, there is a striking difference which we shall explore below. So what is the difference between archive and storage?

Email Backup

First let us tackle the question, what is archive backup? It 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.

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 the current state of the mail store. It does not contain mail deleted from the mailbox or downloaded to the user’s PC.

Scheduling of backups is essential so as to ensure that an offline copy of the mail store is available to allow restoration up to a particular date or restoration of a few mail files or a folder etc.

The use of backups can be 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 go missing from the last snapshot.

Backups only copy data, leaving the original file in its place, and thus freeing up no space at all.

In addition, backups create yet another copy of the data. This means, the usage of twice as much storage space, unless after backup there is a manual deletion of files. This only adds more data management overhead.


Now, to the other side of the ‘what is the difference between an archive and a backup?’ debate – Archiving. It 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 like to provide the end user the capability to retrieve his/her 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 retention of archive accounts is for a specific period of time. Messages falling outside the specified period are either deleted or compressed and moved to an alternate storage for longer term archival as per the business policy of the enterprise.

Archiving helps satisfy legal or regulatory compliance requirements. Archiving can also help in freeing up primary (production) disk storage space from data that is no longer actively in use but needs retention.

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

The changing landscape of Technology

Rapid adoption of digital mechanisms to drive business processes, results in unexpected growth of data in organizations. It is therefore essential to find a solution to improve capacity, cost and efficiency in the method of backing up or archiving data.

With cloud offering these benefits and eliminating the maintenance of storage infrastructure, there is a rapid movement towards cloud 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). Estimates show, that the aggregate amount of cloud shift in 2016 is 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 the Backup Vs Archive debate?

Please share them as comments below.

Ready to go to the next step? We suggest you watch a video of how email archiving works, use a live demo account of the product (no sign up required) and then sign up for a no-obligation free 30-day live trial.

Want an in-depth discussion? Our archival experts are ready to talk to you, one on one to suggest archival best practices, to help you manage email storage better, learn how to make use of all the archived business email for business intelligence and stay ready for regulation compliance. Contact us today.

Want to just keep updated with the latest in Email Archival? Watch recordings of email archiving webinars to understand in depth how enterprise email archiving can benefit you. Most of our webinars are well-researched stories about live customer use cases, as narrated by the customer and an AWS team member Live.