It’s time for another terminology lesson. If you know all this, you can skip reading the article and go straight to backing up your computer(s). On the other hand, you might prefer to keep reading just to see if I make any mistakes.
A backup is something you have in case something goes wrong. That means you have to have it where you can get to it quickly, because a backup is no good if you can’t restore things to the way they were. The longer you have to wait to get your computer up and running again, the more money your business loses.
Of course, a backup is also no good if it gets destroyed along with the computer, which is why it’s good to have both on-site and off-site backups, or a way to get your off-site backups very quickly.
The word “archive” conjures images of dusty bookshelves in library basements. The archives of a publication are the back issues, the old stuff. Businesses keep archives for tax purposes or to comply with other government regulations. The purpose of an archive is to get things out of the way. When Outlook asks if you want to archive your old items, what it means is “Do you want to put this stuff into another file so you have more room?”
So a backup is made for safety purposes and an archive is made for data retention purposes. Backups need to have current data, but archives might be months, years, or decades old. Archives are almost always kept off-site, because you hardly ever need them.
Storage is the general term for anything you can put data onto. Hard drives, CDs, DVDs, ZIP disks, floppy diskettes, USB flash drives, SmartMedia, magnetic tape, paper-punch tape, and so forth. New storage formats seem to be invented every day, and storage capacities are increasing by leaps and bounds—if never quite fast enough for those “power users” who always need more than they can get.
To make a quick analogy with paper, your archive might be a box full of file folders; your storage is the basement you put it in. (Or more likely the garage, here in California where so few people seem to have basements and no one uses the garage for the car.) As for your backup—that’s the printout of the directions to your speaking gig in case you forget how to get there.
Just to keep us confused, though, not everyone uses these terms precisely. According to the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia, the verb “archive” means “(1) To copy or move data onto a secondary disk or tape for backup or data retention purposes; (2) To save data onto the disk.” Moreover, “Archived files are normally compressed to maximize storage media, and such programs may be called ‘archiver programs’ or ‘archiving programs.’”
Bonus definition: If you hear IT people talking about migration, it doesn’t mean they’re flying south for the winter. “Migrating” data means moving it from one storage medium to another, or from backup to archive, or from one computer to another.
Finally (because you don’t want to have to deal with this), data recovery is what you have to do when you don’t have any backups or your backups are so old that they’re useless. This is almost always a very expensive process requiring special hardware and software, and it frequently meets with only mixed success. Data recovery specialists do sometimes work miracles, but their rates start at $200/hr.
Backups are cheaper. Back up today. Do it for yourself. Do it for your business.