The Difficult Question of Office 365 Backups

To Backup Or Not To Backup

In today’s article, I venture once again into the choppy waters of asking if backups are necessary for Office 365 data.

In the old days when Office 365 was still new, it was possible to see how on-premises techniques and standards could be taken forward into the cloud. After all, in 2011 Office 365 ran barely-cloudified versions of Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010. Mailboxes were small, and the SharePoint migration hadn’t really started because of a lack of tools.

Roll on seven years and we have a completely different situation. First, the variants of Exchange and SharePoint running inside Office 365 are very different and have a different mission. Exchange Online is now a mailbox service for the rest of Office 365 (for example, Teams uses mailboxes to store compliance records). SharePoint Online is a document management service used by Teams and Planner. Everything is much more tightly interconnected. Mailboxes have a basic 100 GB quota but can store much more through expanding archives and the volume of SharePoint documents now stored in the cloud is growing at an enormous rate.

But what hasn’t changed is the notion of streaming mailbox and document data out to a backup location. This is all fine, providing that your network supports the transmission and that the backup vendor can deal with data sovereignty and handle regulations like GDPR.

Can Backup Solutions Cope with Office 365?

However, the problem is that most Office 365 backup solutions can’t handle Teams or Planner because the necessary APIs are not available to stream the data out to the backup datacenters and then restore teams and plans back to a point in time. Without the APIs, backup solutions have to resort to processing Teams compliance records held in Exchange mailboxes (but they don’t get a true copy because not all metadata is copied).

I also ask if tenants are making use of the Office 365 features available to them to avoid the need for backups. Some features are only recently available (protocol authentication policies), others have been around for a while (retention policies for Teams, SharePoint, and Exchange). Given the rate of change in the cloud, it might be the case that tenants are unaware of the features that they are paying for that could be deployed to avoid the expense and complexity of taking partial Office 365 backups. Read on!

We know it’s difficult for companies to keep track of Office 365 features and functionality. That’s why we write the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook and keep it updated with new information and insights as we learn more about the technology. Every Office 365 administrator needs a copy.

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