File Backup vs. Image Backup: Which One to Use
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File Backup vs. Image Backup: Which One to Use

While the term “backup” may have a straightforward meaning for most SMB clients, MSPs are aware of the diverse range of tools and solutions available to quicken file backup and image backup. This article will delve into the variances between a file backup and an image backup, providing examples of scenarios where each method is most effective.

To begin, let us quickly outline the basic definitions.

What is File and Folder Backup? 

The purpose of file and folder backup is to safeguard essential business data from accidental deletion, corruption, or loss. Unlike system-generated files, executables, or similar, the backup files are created either directly or indirectly by the user. Due to the specific focus of these tools, they are often able to backup files more quickly, restore files more efficiently, and require less storage space.

Advantages of Using File-Based Backup

File-based backups offer a simple and direct approach to data protection, as they focus on backing up individual files rather than the entire system. This method provides several advantages:

1. Enhanced control over backup selection: With file-based backups, you have the flexibility to choose specific files or folders that you want to include in the backup or store in cloud storage. This allows you to prioritize critical data and exclude unnecessary files.

2. Precise recovery options: In the event of data loss or system failure, file-based backups enable you to be more selective in the recovery process. You can easily identify and restore the specific files you need, ensuring a more granular and efficient restoration.

3. Optimal storage utilization and faster backups: Compared to image-based backups, file-based backups typically occupy less storage space due to their smaller size. This not only helps in efficient storage utilization but also contributes to faster backup operations, saving valuable time.

4. Customizability: Certain backup applications offer the flexibility to customize backup schedules for different types of files. For instance, you can schedule daily backups for accounting files while opting for weekly backups for project files. Additionally, you can establish specific backup routines according to your preferences.


By leveraging file-based backups, you can exercise greater control over your data protection strategy, optimize storage resources, and tailor the backup process to suit your specific requirements.

Drawbacks of Using File-Based Backup

File-based backups have two primary drawbacks:

The files are backed up, but not the applications that generated them. In case you have to recover files on a different device, you must ensure that the device has all the necessary applications to access and utilize the files.


File-based backups are highly restrictive in a disaster recovery situation. If you have to restore a complete system following a natural disaster or a ransomware incident, you will have to first recover all your files and then invest extra time in rebuilding your operating system, reinstalling all applications, reconfiguring them, and so on.

What is Image-Based Backup?

Image-based backup is a backup method that involves creating a complete copy of your entire system and then uploading it to a backup storage. You have the option to choose whether you want to back up the entire system along with all the drives or only specific partitions.


This type of backup is particularly useful when you want to create a master image of your desktops or when you need to preserve your desktop or server in an exact state that allows for easy recovery in case of an emergency.


It is important to note that image-based backups are significantly larger in size compared to file-level backups. Therefore, it is generally recommended to schedule image-based backups during non-business hours.

Benefits of Using Image-Based Backup

Image-based backups offer a comprehensive solution. To draw a comparison, it’s like using the kitchen sink method. The benefits of this backup method are:


1. The ability to fully restore a server. This is particularly useful when safeguarding the entire server, including the operating system.

2. The flexibility to restore individual files or the entire system. With image-based backups, you have the same restoration options as file-based backups, but with the added advantage of being able to restore the entire disk if necessary.

3. Quicker recoveries. Image-based backups can help you save time if you have specific recovery time objectives (RTOs) to meet. There’s no need to reinstall and patch the operating system.

Drawbacks of Using Image-Based Backup

1. Image-based backups have some drawbacks, such as being time-consuming and bandwidth-intensive during the backup process. Due to backing up everything, image-based backups will require more time and internet bandwidth when saving them to cloud storage. It is usually advised to perform backups after work hours.

2. Image-based backups can be less efficient due to their time-consuming and bandwidth-intensive nature during the backup process. Since these backups store everything, they will take longer and consume more internet bandwidth when being saved to cloud storage. It is recommended to conduct backups after work hours.

How to Choose Between File-Level and Image-Based Backups

In all honesty, selecting just one backup type for data storage is not practical. It is advisable to combine the strengths of both types. For instance, for corporate desktop backups, you can perform an image-based backup initially to create a master image with standard settings and application structure. Subsequently, regular file-level backup plans should be scheduled to ensure the safety of all new and modified user data.


In summary, file-level backup is often quicker and easier for backing up and recovering a small amount of crucial data, while image-based backup is ideal for complex configurations.

Final Words 

 It is important to acknowledge that file-level and image-based backups each have their own advantages and disadvantages. 


By integrating both approaches, a comprehensive backup strategy can be achieved, which effectively safeguards against potential data loss and guarantees uninterrupted business operations. It is crucial to remember that a meticulously executed backup strategy serves as a safety net, ensuring the continuity of your business.

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