Item-level vs. image-level backup: Why it’s best to use a combo

Two types of backup – item level and image level – have different strengths, and it’s possible to tap the best of both.

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There are two very different ways to backup a computer: Item-level backup and image-level backup, and both methods have been used by IT pros for decades. Each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, which is why most environments use a combination of the two.

Item-level backup

An item-level backup backs up discrete collections of information that are addressed as individual items, and the most common type of item is a file. In fact, if this article were being written several years ago, this would most likely be called file-level backup.

The other type of item that might be included in an item-level backup is an object in an object storage system. For many environments, objects are similar to files in that most companies using object storage are simply using it to hold onto what would otherwise be files. But since they are being stored in an object storage system, they are not files, as files are stored in a file system. The contents are often the same, but they get a different name because they are stored differently.                                                

You typically perform item-level backup if you are backing up a file server, a Windows or Linux server, or a virtual machine where the backup agent is running inside the server/VM itself. The backup agent is deciding which files to backup by first looking at the file system, such as  C:\. If you are performing a full backup, it will backup all the files in the file system. If you are performing an incremental backup, it will be backing up files that have changed since the last backup.

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