System Image Backup vs. File Based Backup - What
By Steven Freidkin on Mar 19, 2020

System Image Backup vs. File Based Backup - What's Best For You?

Imagine if you came into the office and all your PCs and servers were completely down. How quickly do you think you could get your business back up and running? How smoothly would that process go? Do you have a rock star IT team to help you bring everything back online?

We know that as a commercial business owner or nonprofit executive, the LAST thing you want to worry about is data backup – what it is, how it works, or any of the gory details.

However, if you’re ultimately responsible for keeping your business secure and your employees productive, you should know the right questions to ask about your data backup and disaster recovery solution.

This includes knowing the important difference between image-based and file-based backup! 

If you don't have in-house experts, your IT services provider should be able to educate you, but here is a good summary to get you started.

Learn the Difference Between Image-Based and File-Based Backup

What is a System Image Backup?


To help explain these types of backups, let’s take a quick look at what you need to protect and why.

  • Files and folders. These are your day-to-day documents and records used to keep track of your operations. Patient records, client information, contracts, customer data, etc. This is typically what people back up, either on site, in the cloud, or both.
  • Applications. These are programs such as Microsoft Office, Exchange, SQL, your billing software, software that makes an x-ray generator work, or the software that’s tied to your point of sale equipment. Without these, you cannot view your files and folders. You must back these up too, and more importantly in a format that is easy to restore.
  • Configurations and Settings. Many of the applications you use every day have been customized for your needs. For example, auto-updating of software, malware alerts, access privileges, even scheduling. While these all happen in the background, they’re critical to your workflow and thus critical to your data backup strategy.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service) Data. If you’re using SaaS-based Microsoft 365 or Google Apps, believe it or not you still need cloud-to-cloud data backup. While these are both great cloud-based apps, they do have vulnerabilities. As an example, if an employee should accidentally (or maliciously )delete an important email, file or folder, and you don't find out about it right away - good luck getting it back!

What is a System Image Backup? 

System image-based backups take a “snapshot” of your entire system. This means you can quickly rebuild after damage or disaster, sometimes in a matter of hours. The image backup can restore your entire system, including files and applications in the event of catastrophic failure.

What are the Benefits of a System Image Backup?

Think of the system image backup as the top-down review of your entire network. This "review" can then be saved to the cloud, ensuring that you will have a copy of your data even if your local machine or network is lost.

In most cases, all files can be quickly restored with a system image backup.


What is a Regular File Based Backup? 

File level data backup only backs up individual files. It's that simple.

This is fine if you're only trying to protect a few specific files (hopefully to a virtual machine in the cloud!) but this won't save your settings, software, or even the parent folders those specific documents are stored in,

If you're trying to protect your entire in-house network, file level backup can take weeks or even months - you can read the story here about a company that learned this the hard way!


We know this is a lot to understand, but that’s what IT consultants are for. We can tell you exactly what your network needs, and can handle those pesky routine backups and backup software for you!

Reach out to us if you want to discuss your options for the best data backup and disaster recovery solution for your business.


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