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Website Archiving vs. Backing Up Web Pages: What’s the Difference?

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Suppose that the head of your organization walked over to your office with a question.

“Is our website archived?”

If you function as your organization’s chief information officer, you could be forgiven if you replied, “Yes, it is. We are backing up web pages every single night.”

That wasn’t the question, though. She asked whether the website was archived, not whether it was backed up. And contrary to common perception, archiving and backing up are not the same.

The primary mission of backup software is to ensure that your organization’s active data, including its website, can be restored if it is ever destroyed. Therefore, a website backup scheme always operates with the present date as its primary point of reference. The further into the past one searches in the backup files, the fewer complete copies of the file collection become available. In a typical backup scheme, you might be able to retrieve a full copy of your organization’s data, including its website, from any of the past seven days, any of the previous four Mondays before that, and any first Monday from the previous 12 to 24 months prior. Depending upon your organization’s backup policy, all earlier backup files may have been permanently deleted or overwritten.

Web archiving services, including Archive-It™, are timestamp agnostic. In an archival scheme, the complete data set from March 3, 2012, is no more or less important to the archive’s integrity than a data set from yesterday. Unlike backup, website archiving is intended for long-term or permanent storage. Its goal is to retain documents and preserve records, not recover from a disaster.

Another important difference between a backup of a website and an archived duplicate website is ease of accessibility. Once preserved by Archive-It, an archived copy of a website remains online and any authorized user with an Internet connection is immediately able to access it. A backup copy, on the other hand, would need to be restored from the backup media (which may be a tape or a hard drive), which typically must be performed by IT staff. Depending on the age of the backup copy and your organization’s backup procedures, the media that contains the desired data may need to be physically retrieved from a remote storage location.

This is not to suggest that archiving and backing up don’t overlap in places. A backup procedure may end up preserving a collection of data suitable for document retention purposes. Likewise, a web archiving program may end up duplicating a data collection suitable for restoring the source material in the event of a disaster.

In either of those cases, however, the outcome is incidental to the intent of the procedure. To put it another way: If you’re counting on one to do the job of the other, you’re trusting to chance. And if your organization’s website needs to be archived for the purposes of compliance, records keeping, or historic preservation, you can’t afford to trust to chance.

Organizations from the Smithsonian Institution to Columbia University to the National Institutes of Health already use Archive-It for their web archiving needs. Call today to see how we can help you, too.



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