File backup or image backup – what to choose?

In today’s world, there are many possible risks awaiting your data. Phishing attacks, accidental or intentional deletion of data, system errors, malicious hacker attacks. And many many more. Research says that the cost of 1 minute of IT infrastructure being down costs business from $926 to $17 244. That is why it is good to be well protected with a proper backup of your data. But when it comes to backup, which one to choose? File backup or image backup? In this article, we will take a closer look at where a file backup has its strengths and weaknesses, and where have those image backups are. Finally, I will try to answer your question about which to choose to best fit your needs.

Pros and cons of a file backup

But first, let’s talk about what those types of backups are in more detail. Starting with a file backup.

File backup is what a name suggests a backup of files. It allows you to make sure your data like files, databases, directories, office presentations, word documents, projects are secure. And is probably the most popular type of backup performed nowadays. And not by coincidence! 

File backup allows you to selectively choose which files you want to protect, and which you don’t. The result of that process is that backup requires a lot less storage space, and overall is less expensive to maintain. It allows you to precisely restore files you want in case of corruption or something happening to them. It also allows you to set priority to the files you create, you can choose which files you need to protect, and which you don’t. The other strength of a file backup is the restoration time of backed-up files. You have quick access to essential copies of the protected files. It also allows you to configure a backup more easily letting you choose exactly when to perform backups, and how often to do them. For example for more essential files that are updated often, you would want to back them up every half an hour or so. 

But file backup has its limitations and drawbacks. Especially when it comes to greater problems than a corruption of a file – like a whole system crash or other forms of disasters. And with that comes the lack of protection for a whole work system and environment. In that case, you would need to set up the whole system from the scratch – installing the operating system, all the software needed, and only then restoring files from a file backup will kick in. The other problem with a file backup is when the infrastructure you are working with grows in size. With more endpoints to protect and more and more files that need to be secured the granular way of backing up data on the file level takes more time and consumes more of the system resources. 

Pros and cons of an image backup

Let’s now explain what image backup is because it operates differently than file-level backup.

Image backup is what a name suggests an image of your system, an image of your disc. The short way to describe it is that image backup allows you to protect the whole operating system with its configuration, software installed on that system, and all the saved files.

In case of any major disaster, image backup allows you to quickly restore the old system with its configuration, applications, files to a new computer, with just a single copy. It is possible thanks to the way image backup is created. If you would like to restore the whole system using only file-level backup, you would need to separately install the OS, then the apps needed, and after all that you would need to restore the files from the file backup. Another benefit of image backup is when you upgrade your computer, or even just change it and migrate to a new one. It’s because image backup creates a clone of the machine, which you can then restore to a new device, or even run as a virtual machine. 

Although image backup is a very powerful tool when it comes to disaster recovery, it has its drawbacks. To safely store the image backup you would require much more storage space than with a file backup. It would also put much more pressure on the network you use in order to send the larger copies that come with an image backup, not to mention it would be more expensive.

File backup and image backup – which one to choose?

So now you know what are the benefits and drawbacks of file backups and image backups. But both of those types of backup are a good way to protect your files in case of disaster. Let’s now take a look at some scenarios where one would be better to use, and why. You must take into consideration the needs of your company. 

There are companies where a file backup will be sufficient. For example in an architecture company, where the main resources are building plans, and clients’ databases, a file-level backup will make sure those critical files will be secure without putting unnecessary pressure on the network they are using. 

And there are companies where you would need to perform an image backup to make sure their resources are well secured. For example in a manufacturing company with a network of stationery shops, sales representatives, and an office, to maintain the data security of such a big infrastructure you would need to perform an image backup. It will allow the IT team to quickly restore the system in case of disaster.

But the best way to protect your data is to mix up the two types of backup. It would create two-layered protection of your data. In case of a disaster, you could easily recover the whole system with its apps with an image backup, which you don’t need to perform very often. You can set up image backup to perform once a month, or every time new software is installed on your system. And if some files get corrupted you would be able to easily access those files from file backup, which you can set up to perform every week or even every day depending on your needs.