File-level vs. Image-level Backups – What is the Difference?

When searching for a backup solution, you’ll find that there are two main types of backups: “file-level backup” and “image-level backup.” Yes, both types of backup will save your documents. But image-level backup goes one step further.

File-Level Backup

File-level backups are the most common type of backup. This method has been around for a long time, and most people are familiar with the process. Simply select which files and folders you want to save, then the backup system will save those files.

For most SMBs, operating only a few machines or in a home computing situation, this type of backup is usually adequate for maintaining your data. Delete a file? Go and get it from your external drive or cloud storage solution. No big deal.

The problem is when you start operating many machines or servers. Then, backing up each file in this very granular, specific way consumes a lot of unnecessary time, system resources and energy.

Image-Level Backup

Image-level backup is known by many names: bare metal backup/recovery (BMR), disaster recovery backup, ghost backup, block-level backup or “cloning” your machine. Whatever you call it, an image-level backup saves not only your files, but also your application data, operating system, settings, patches — everything —as a single recoverable file.

Recovery time from an image file is blazingly fast. Instead of configuring a new computer by installing the BIOS, then the OS, then the applications, then finally transferring the backed up files… everything happens all at once. The recovered system will also look and behave exactly like the old computer did because it is literally a clone of the old device.

Imaging your drives makes your data completely portable. Imaged computers can be run as virtual machines from other machines. What if your employees could access their desktops from any network device? What if your business falls into a sinkhole? Your employees could be back to work in a matter of hours instead of days.

Which is right for your needs?

File-level backup has served many users well, but if you’re running a business with more than a few computers or servers, it’s probably time to get a more advanced backup solution in place.

For most modern business applications, image-level backup is the superior option. From speed of recovery to complete data restoration, it is definitely the more robust option.

That’s not to say file back doesn’t have its place. Especially if application settings, system data, or stored procedures have limited or no impact to operational efficiency. If all the sole proprietor or business needs is a file preservation option for archival and retention, then file backup is an appropriate and less expensive backup method.

Want to learn more about backups and what your business needs? Give us a call, live-chat us, or contact us.