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Some cloud backup vendors are starting to offer cloud archiving services, but do you need such features? The answer to that question will depend on your business' needs. First, let's review the difference between a backup and an archive, and why you might prefer the latter.
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A backup restores files, databases or servers to the way they looked recently -- typically, yesterday. You're usually restoring a single file, database or server. You might be restoring a group of servers, but you will almost always be restoring them all to a single point in time, such as the most recent backup. An archive is very different, and is used to retrieve a group of related information over a period of time, such as all of the emails from one person to another for the last five years. It's easy to restore from backups. It's easy to retrieve from an archive. But it is not easy to retrieve from a backup.
Considerations for using cloud backup vendors' archiving features
It's important to understand whether or not your company needs archives. Do you have a regulatory requirement to keep certain aspects of your information for a set period of time, such as the typical condition to keep all of your emails for seven years? If so, then you need archive functionality. Does your business have to keep something, like product design revisions, for a long time? Then you need an archive.
Now, let's look at what some cloud backup vendors refer to as an archive -- an extended retention of backups. That is not an archive; it's old backups. Keeping backups around for a long time does not change the fact that it's difficult to do a retrieve from something that's designed to do a restore. It requires dozens of restores from different points in time, such as restoring every copy of Exchange you have during the five-year period of an e-discovery request, followed by querying all of those Exchange copies for the emails you need. An actual archive system would allow you to perform a single query that would supply you with all of the emails or files you need.
If cloud backup vendors or disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) vendors claim to offer cloud archiving services, make sure that they are not just extended retentions of backups. Verify that you are able to perform a query via a context other than file, directory, server or a single point in time. You must be able to specify wide parameters, such as all emails with a given word in the last five years or all files with a given phrase in the last seven years. You should not have to specify the names of the servers the data comes from, although you should be able to limit the query to a small list of servers.
If you do not have an archive requirement, don't archive. Keeping old files and emails without being required to do so is the electronic equivalent of giving up your right to remain silent. Any lawyer would agree with that. If you do have a requirement to archive and the DRaaS/cloud backup vendors offer real archive functionality, then by all means, consider deploying such a feature.
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