What You Need to Think About for Backing Up Microsoft 365

October 7, 2020
Backup, Cloud

For companies of all sizes, Microsoft 365 — delivered using the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model — has basically become the standard productivity suite. The platform’s intelligent cloud services handle everything from email and storage to compliance and device management, and apps like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Teams are can’t-do-without tools.

Plus, all Microsoft 365 services are available with a 99.9% uptime, financially backed service guarantee. What’s not to love?

Lack of Microsoft 365 Data Protection

The problem is that for all the great things Microsoft 365 does there’s one big thing it doesn’t do: backup. More precisely, it doesn’t back up the data in your Microsoft 365 environment. That includes your emails, documents, conversations, and any other data.

While there is that 99.9% uptime guarantee Microsoft 365 touts, it only applies to the availability of the Microsoft 365 infrastructure and services. It doesn’t address data loss – whether it’s the result of malware or accidental deletion.

That’s not to say all your data that passes through or resides in various Microsoft 365 apps is at risk of being lost. Some apps, such as Exchange Online and OneDrive, have a feature called deleted-item retention. However, that only works if a user realizes the need for the deleted item(s) within a specific time period.

Microsoft OneDrive does store a copy of a user’s files in the Microsoft cloud. But if a file is deleted or infected on a local device, that change is automatically synced in OneDrive. As a result, the file is automatically deleted or infected on every synchronized device.

These deficiencies in comprehensive data protection are why it’s important to understand that Microsoft takes a shared responsibility approach to its productivity apps and the data involved. In simple terms, Microsoft provides:

  • Protection against loss of service due to hardware failure or natural disaster
  • Short-term protection against user and administrator error

You’re responsible for protecting against data loss due to:

  • Accidental deletion
  • Hackers, ransomware, and other malware
  • Malicious insiders
  • Departing employees
  • Migrations

In fact, in the Service Availability section of its Services Agreement, Microsoft explicitly recommends doing your own backups stating, “We recommend that you regularly backup your content and data that you store on the services or store using third-party apps and services.”

Differences in Third-party Backup Options

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for backing up Microsoft 365 data. Most of these solutions store backups independently from Microsoft servers and enable granular restores of Microsoft 365 files, folders, and applications. They ensure that you can restore quickly and meet data retention requirements for Microsoft 365 data.

As with most options, those for backing up Microsoft vary greatly. Some don’t offer protection for the entire suite of Microsoft apps. Others don’t handle granular and permissions restores. Not all have simple user interfaces, so they’re not necessarily easy for IT generalists to use. Some protect a broad range of non-Microsoft platforms, including physical, virtual and cloud environments, as well as servers running other operating systems and hypervisors.

They may or may not employ security policies and processes based on broadly accepted international security standards. Some take into account the requirements of regulation frameworks such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the United States’ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Others don’t.

Must-have Microsoft 365 Backup Features

No two companies are the same; nor are their backup needs. Ultimately, the best third-party Microsoft 365 backup solution is the one that best meets your organization’s requirements. In assessing your options, here are some things to consider:

  • Does the backup solution address accidental deletion?
  • How does it deal with retention policy issues?
  • Does it have features that allow you to search for items or files?
  • Does it allow you to send emails directly from the backup without first restoring them to your Exchange Online mailbox?
  • Can you download a required file directly from the backup or download any of multiple versions of documents (not only the most recent one)?
  • Can you restore any data element to its original location or a new destination?
  • Does the solution protect against insider security threats, including the destruction or alteration of Microsoft 365 data? What about external threats such as malware? If an attack happens, can it restore malware-encrypted or -altered files to their pre-attack state?
  • How secure is it overall? Does it provide enterprise-wide access control based on unique user IDs and strong passwords, secure authentication protocols, two-factor authentication, and the use of web application firewalls? Does it use multi-layered, zone-based data security that’s reinforced by real-time data encryption in transit and at rest?
  • Can it mitigate data loss issues during a migration from a traditional premises-based Microsoft Office application suite to cloud-based Microsoft 365 services?
  • Can it minimize or eliminate compliance and legal exposures, such as violations of GDPR requirements?
  • Does it offer any advanced reporting and backup status monitoring capabilities to help your staff improve efficiency and responsiveness?
  • Does the solution have to be modified any time a new Microsoft 365 user, group or site is added?
Checklist: Must-have MICROSOFT 365 Backup Features

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Additional Data Management Resources

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