What you need to know about backing up Office 365

An increasing number of businesses are moving or have already moved to Office 365. Its market share among enterprises is now about 56%, far beyond second-place G Suite from Google. The cloud work solution offers many benefits that competitors simply can’t, from full remove access to collaboration and 

One solution you might be surprised is not included in these benefits: comprehensive backups. It seems natural to assume that a cloud service like Office also backs up all data remotely for easy restoration in times of need. Unfortunately, that’s not quite true.

In reality, true backups are not native to this solution. To get to that point, you need to understand both what Office 365 actually offers, and where you might need to supplement these existing features for a better solution in the long run.

Why Back Up Your Office 365 Data?

If you already know about the need for data backup, feel free to skip over this section. Still, it’s important to remember just why the potential to restore any old or lost data is so crucial. As is the case elsewhere in IT, the why always needs to come before the how

It Business Edge lists 5 reasons why backing up your data from this and other cloud solutions on a regular basis is so crucial:

  1. Human Error. Even the best software cannot protect you from yourself or your employees. Human error is the biggest cause of data loss in organizations, and backups can minimize the resulting problems. 
  2. Hackers and Disgruntled Employees. When your data is maliciously taken, you should have a contingency plan in place. That contingency plan includes more secure data practices, but also a way that restores stolen data.
  3. Short Retention Spans. Vendors don’t tend to keep data for long. That includes Microsoft, as discussed further below. A backup ensures access to old data for longer time-spans, and sometimes indefinitely.
  4. Compliance. Cloud solutions, including Office 365, don’t always comply with laws and regulations regarding data storage. Through a backup, you can keep the data and ensure compliance.
  5. Restoring Data. It’s not enough to simply recover data. You need to make sure that you can actually restore it, allowing for smoother operations as your business gets back to normal after a data loss.

In isolation, of course, data backups are theoretical. If you don’t know what actually happens to the information you input for a system like Office 365, you cannot discern whether or not you actually reap the rewards of this type of backup. Let’s discuss Microsoft’s internal capabilities, along the potential addition of third-party backup solutions.

How Microsoft Looks to Solve the Issue

First, the most important component: Office 365 does not offer a comprehensive solution that actually addresses all of the above benefits. It does offer some ways to recover lost information, mainly files and emails that have been deleted from the server. According to Microsoft MVP Brien Posey writing on TechTarget,

When it comes to recovering Exchange Server data, your first line of defense is the same as it would be in an on-premises deployment. If an item is deleted by mistake, you can retrieve that item as long as the item’s retention period has not expired.

That retention period, typically, is 30 days, and there is no flexibility on behalf of the system. The recovery is also occurring on the item level, meaning that larger swatches of data loss are more difficult to handle. Microsoft does have a backup system for its servers, but limits its use for company-internal operation and large-scale disaster recovery problems across multiple enterprises.

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Instead of placing high value on comprehensive backups, Office 365 has gone another route. Through a number of redundancies, it hopes to prevent the need for data loss recovery to begin with. The idea is that if the server or system never goes down, backups will become unnecessary.

That’s satisfactory on most levels, but lacking in comprehensive problem solving in one crucial area. One the item level, the lack of indefinite retention can be immensely problematic over time. Plus, malicious loss of data that bypasses the retention policy (“deleting the deleted items”) is not covered under this umbrella.

Through its limited options, Microsoft has embraced a shared responsibility model. It promises enterprise users a system with guaranteed uptime through redundancies. But it does not offer a comprehensive backup solution that ensures continuous coverage and ability to recover lost data without limitations.

As a result, an increasing number of solutions have sprung up that promise to bridge the gap. Their platforms are more comprehensive, allowing full backup and data recovery options within Office 365. Should you leverage them and expand your app portfolio? The answer depends on your exact needs.

Third-Party Backup Solutions as a Potential Add-On

Any time we’re talking about data, backups are an important consideration – but it’s important to walk the line. Excessive retention of data is not just unnecessary, but can actually introduce legal risks in some cases. At the same time, given the shared responsibility philosophy embraced by Microsoft, simply using its internal systems is not enough for business continuity efforts.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. You need a system that can help you build targeted backups, keeping them secure even as you continue your regular operation. You also need to make sure that any solution you choose looks to not just backup the data, but recover and restore it when needed. That way, when your information becomes corrupted, the solution is already in place.

That’s especially true if you anticipate scenarios in which backed up data may become crucial. You might already have a disaster recovery plan that helps you build these scenarios. If not, now is a good time to start building it.

Doing so helps you better understand your organizational risk, which in turn provides the guidance you need to choose a backup path. The higher the risk, the more important backups become.

It also helps to familiarize yourself with Microsoft’s retention policies. Office 365 allows administrators in enterprise solutions to build their own, especially as it relates to “secondary data”. In some scenarios, these policies may be enough for your data needs. More often, though, it won’t be.

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That means evaluating potential third-party add-ons. Plenty of solutions have sprung up over the past few years, recognizing a market niche and need especially in larger enterprises with complex data needs within Office 365. The key, then, is finding a solution that actually works for you. Here, focus on a few main points:

  • Look for comprehensive restoration options, not just plain recovery. The solution should help your business and its data stand back up quickly.
  • Make sure the solution actually fills gaps in Microsoft’s internal options, instead of simply duplicating existing retention options of individual pieces of data.
  • Emphasize flexibility – your solution should allow you to restore anything from a single file to your entire system of data.
  • Backups should be able to occur multiple times per day to minimize data loss and optimize recovery options.
  • Recovery options should not interfere with your current operations, allowing for continuous runtime wherever possible.

Many solutions will claim these traits to be their own. They might be, but don’t leave it to chance. Ask for currently clients around your industry and IT infrastructure size, and make a few reference calls. Talk to others who have experience with these solutions, and maximize the chances of your experience matching theirs.

Do You Know How to Manage Your Data in Office 365?

Data backups are a crucial part of any business recovery and IT management plan. The question is how you get to a solution that will work for you, especially if you’re working with cloud SaaS solutions that don’t necessarily offer the right solutions within their platform.

Office 365 is the perfect example. The fact that it comes delivered almost ready-made fools some enterprises into believing that backups are included. As explained throughout this article, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, any data recovery effort has to account for the fact that you need an alternative solution for your 365 platform.

That, in turn, comes down to a simple question: do you know how to manage your data in Office 365? The answer is more complex than you might think, given that it will have to most likely involve a hybrid approach between the system’s own capabilities and another solution layered on top of it for extra data security. Managing that can quickly become complex, especially with a large user base leveraging a wide range of apps within the 365 infrastructure.

As a result, you might need help. You might look to a partner who can help you build a better backup and recovery plan that includes, but is not limited to, Office 365. That’s where we come in. Our experience in the system, and especially as it relates to data security, makes us valuable partners to any businesses looking for solutions. Contact us to start talking about a potential partnership.

About Jess Coburn

It's Jess's responsibility as CEO and Founder of Applied Innovations to set the direction of Applied Innovations services to ensure that as a company we're consistently meeting the needs of our customers to help drive their success.In his spare time, Jess enjoys many of the things that made him a geek to begin with. That includes sexy new hardware, learning new technology and even a videogame or two!When you can’t find him at the office (which admittedly is rare), you’ll likely find him at the grill or in front of his smoker getting ready for some lip-smacking ribs to enjoy with his wife and two kids.