We talk about our MediaPhile digital services as being backup and archive, but have you ever stopped to think about those terms more deeply? What’s the difference between backup and archive? If you’re not sure, now’s your chance to find out.

Backup and archive serve different purposes

Let’s start by looking at what you want to achieve.

Do you need to be sure you can get all your current project files back quickly if your system’s hit by a flaming asteroid? Then you want a backup service.

asteroid burning through the Earth's atmosphere and about to hit the surface

Do you want the aliens who arrive on Earth a million years after the attack of the flaming asteroids to have access to a complete library of all your masterpieces? If so, you need archive services.

Note it is possible – in fact likely – that you may want both backup and archive. You want to carry on creating no matter what happens, and you also want to preserve and protect all your creations.

Backup is insurance for your immediate needs

Disaster strikes. You have a deadline. You need your files back quickly.

The characteristics of a backup service match this scenario:

  • The backup is a ‘just-in-case’ copy – but your original files are still there. If all goes well, you’ll never even need to use the backup files.
  • Backups tend to focus on WIP – work in progress. That’s what you’ll need back quickly to hit your deadline, after all.
  • Backups get overwritten. They’re insurance for what you’re working on now, not for what you were working on 6 or 12 months ago.
  • There’s no review, analysis or reorganising of the content. That would take too much time. And since these are WIP files, you should know where they are anyway – so what’s the point in filing? Everything is just copied across ‘as is’.
  • Backups are frequent. Because you need the latest version of your WIP. You also need to be sure they don’t slow down day-to-day operations. For this reason, it’s common to do frequent ‘incremental backups’ of new and changed files only, then a full backup less often.
    One consequence of this is that the files from a specific project are not necessarily on the same backup job. This doesn’t matter in a disaster recovery scenario, as you restore the full backup plus increments as needed, but you can see how it’s not ideal for long-term filing of content.
  • When you restore a backup, you restore everything from that backup.

Archive is designed for the long term

In contrast to backup, archive is enduring. It’s a historical record – a place to store content you want to keep.

This different goal means archive looks nothing like backup:

  • You don’t need to keep the original content in the original place. One major benefit of regular archive is that you free up space on the servers you use daily. So they run faster and it’s easier to find the files you need for your current project. (See here for how to keep your server running like a high end sports car.)
  • Archives are designed to preserve content for the long term. That’s why so many people archive when they complete a project.
  • Nothing is overwritten. It’s kept until you consciously decide to delete it.
  • You don’t necessarily keep everything. You make a conscious decision what to keep. That’s the first step in establishing an archive policy. (You can also set rules about how long you want to keep content, if that’s important to you. So for example, you might keep masters longer than camera rushes, or you might retire out certain projects after a specified time.
  • Your archive material is filed and organised. The details of how this works will depend on your archive policy. It could be by project, by client, by product, by brand, by kind of content. Whatever works for you is fine, but a structure helps you find specific content when you want it.
  • Searchability is vital. If you’re looking for current media files, you know where they are and what they’re called. If you’re trying to find something from a year or two ago, you don’t! So metadata and tagging are an essential element of effective archive.
  • You can access or restore just the content you want. (As long as the quality of your original metadata and the archive system mean you can identify those files.)
  • Speed is generally less important. That gives you (or our friendly Customer Service team!) time to analyse and file according to your archive policy. And if it takes a day or two to ingest material, that’s not generally an issue. Even when you’re restoring content, it’s not usually time-critical in the way a new project would be.

graphic showing main differences between backup and archive as described in article

Making sense of your backup and archive needs

Do you need backup or archive? Or both? The answer depends on your specific business – and sometimes on what stage of your project you have reached. Here are some common scenarios from our client base:

Backup scenarios

  • You’re in production and you’re halfway through a project. You don’t want to lose any of your footage because reshooting would blow the budget.
  • You’re a post-production company and you’re in the middle of a job. You’ve spent a long day editing and you want to pick up in the same place tomorrow.
  • You’re an ad agency or a post-production company and you’ve just finished a project. You want to free up space on your server. You don’t expect to need the content again, but your client requires you to keep all files for a period of time.

Archive scenarios

  • You’ve just wrapped up the pilot episode of a TV series or web series.
    Depending on how you were funded, you may have a lot of content you will want if the series goes ahead.  How will you sort, file and manage that content?
  • You’re an established brand. You’ve been using TVCs to promote your product for decades. In recent years you’ve branched out into online and social media video marketing too. You want to store all your video content in one place. So you can easily access what you want for social media posting, history reels, internal presentations or any other project.
  • You’ve just finished post-production on a feature film.
    You want to keep a master copy of your final cut. You probably don’t want all your rushes, but what about your EDLs? Might you need them for a director’s cut, or for special features. Then there’s the blooper list. Or hard-to-shoot content you might want for a sequel. Planning and selection is key here.

A complex scenario

You’re filming a documentary with a story unfolding in real time. You don’t yet know the ending, so you don’t know what will be important in the story. You need to keep all your content safe until you start post-production. At that point, you’ll need to access specific footage quickly.

Here, you have options depending on your budget.
If you’re storing content on hard drives, the minimum you need is backup. There’s a high risk of hard drive failure over this time period, especially if you’re not spinning them up. So make sure you have an extra copy of all your rushes until you finish production.

You could also go for a full archive service. But you’ll need to think carefully about the metadata you tag footage with. The aim is to get back the content you want quickly when you go into post-production.

Can Preferred Media help?

At Preferred Media we’ve been looking after content for broadcasters, producers, agencies, brands and more for decades. Back in the days of physical media (film and tape), we were heavily focused on archive, but like everyone else we’ve evolved over time. Digital media is more flexible, and so are our digital services. So whether you want backup or archive, we have options to consider.

We’ve got a good idea of what’s important for our different clients. If you’d like to discuss your  specific situation, drop us a line.