Debating the Need for Office 365 Backup

The Great Debate, Hosted by AvePoint

In August, I wrote a review of a document issued by a well-known backup vendor proclaiming six reasons why backing up Office 365 is critical. My conclusion was that the document was full of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) designed to convince unwary Office 365 tenant administrators that they should invest in an expensive third-party backup solution.

Soon afterwards, AvePoint (not the vendor in question) contacted me to ask if would be willing to debate the issues around Office 365 backup with John Hodges, VP of product strategy at AvePoint. I have no problem in setting out why I think people need to eliminate the FUD surrounding this topic before deciding about backups, so I agreed. The debate takes place tomorrow, Wednesday October 7 at 10AM EST. Attendance is free. You can register to attend online and join the fun. AvePoint also plan to stream the debate live on their LinkedIn page.

Topics to Debate

I’m sure we’ll touch on many important (but sometimes misunderstood) topics like:

  • What’s included in Office 365 and what added value do third-party backup solutions deliver?
  • What data can Office 365 backup solutions process and what data can’t be handled today (largely because of a lack of suitable APIs from Microsoft).
  • How easy is it to restore data when things go wrong and when should you think about restoring data (and what’s a suitable restore target).

Time to Restore Service

Developing the last point, situations like the recent Azure Active Directory outage invariably cause a chorus of criticism from cloud unbelievers and advocates of backups, especially when issues with a fundamental cloud service cuts access to popular applications like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, or Teams. While the Azure Active Directory issue played out, I saw some silly comments by people who should know better that email traffic could be rerouted to another server. Such advice should be consigned to the wastebasket on the basis that:

  • Exchange Online is not the only application used in Office 365. Although it’s the largest workload, if you don’t get SharePoint Online and Teams up and running, your services might only be limping along, and users won’t have access to important data. New messages might arrive, and users might have offline copies of (some of) their mailboxes in OST files, but it’s an incomplete service. In other words, users now expect a holistic view of the data they work with, not an application view.
  • Rerouting email traffic to another server (where?) might compromise your organization’s data governance and compliance strategy.
  • Protected (encrypted) email and documents will be inaccessible if sent elsewhere outside Office 365 unless they’re decrypted en route to the new target.
  • Most organizations don’t have the necessary IT infrastructure to host anything other than a skeleton replacement service. It takes time to spin up servers, adjust network paths, reconfigure clients, and put in place security services.
  • Finally, by the time you’ve made the decision to move service, even if you already have a suitable target system available and operational, Microsoft might well have fixed the original problem and restored service.

The Future Role for Backup Services

Don’t get me wrong. I think backup services and solutions have a role to play inside the Office 365 ecosystem. Microsoft’s tools can be overcomplicated and hard to use to restore data, especially on a highly granular basis. There’s lots of scope to come up with new ways to visualize the important data used in a tenant, protect that data by copying some or all of it to a separate location, and delivering easy ways for tenant administrators to access and restore information quickly and efficiently.

The old-style backup techniques developed for on-premises environments and brought into the cloud are not what’s needed. There’s too much data in cloud services and too many points of interconnection and dependencies to keep on using the “let’s stream data out of Exchange or SharePoint” approach that I see in so many offerings.

Come join us at the debate. I can promise nothing except some arguments. Let’s hope that the moderator maintains control and the participants remain cheerful and polite!

Update: You can access a recording of the debate online. I think AvePoint did a nice job of setting up and running the debate and I look forward to using this format to debate other issues in the future.

The Great Backup Debate
Figure 1: The Great Backup Debate

4 Replies to “Debating the Need for Office 365 Backup”

  1. Is this going to be recording in some way? I won’t be able to attend the debate, but i’m highly interessted in this.

    1. I believe that the session will be recorded and you should be able to access it on the AvePoint website. I’ll update this post with a link after the event.

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