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Understanding Cloud Backup in Office 365

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October 19, 2018



As business continuity and data protection are of paramount importance (or at least should be) to any business, Cloud Backup has now also become a critical component within the business landscape. Throughout this article we will look to share factual views of the various threats and underlying risks to data in the cloud, we look to clarify the role of an Office 365 backup solution in a spectrum of related data protection approaches like BCDR, archiving and the legal hold. 

Office 365 usage has grown from 34.3 % to 56.3 % as the adoption of G suite levels out. At the same time, Amazon Web Services has emerged as the go-to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution. Overall 13.8 % of companies worldwide are using AWS with the technology industry leading the way at 21.5 % adoption. Office 365 empowers productivity through its robust communication, content creation tools and most of all, collaboration. That’s why the majority of businesses invest in the Office 365 eco-systems. However, what happens when the content that your employees create is lost or corrupted? To answer that question we need to dispel some myths around the question itself.

Some of the ambivalence about the role and value of an Office 365 backup solution is based on the impression that data in the cloud is safe. While the cloud offers many benefits, including the availability of data, it does not protect from data loss or corruption. In fact, studies have shown that;

  • 64% of data loss is accidental: On its own, Office 365 has limited retention policies. So, if an end user accidentally deletes an email, a OneDrive for Business folder, or even an entire SharePoint site, and the retention period expires, the data is unrecoverable.
  • 20% of data loss is due to malicious intent, including Hackers: More and more customers are realizing this with incidents like Ransomware getting attention in the media. But there are internal threats as well. For example, a SharePoint admin can permanently delete SharePoint content, making it immediately unrecoverable.

Data Recovery Can Be Expensive

The expense of data recovery can vary as there are a lot of variables, however, a one Pepperdine University study found that the average cost of data loss event without a backup solution in place is almost 4K.


Now it’s true that this expense may be slightly reduced by using tools such as Archiving and Legal Hold, however, these require additional costs for licensing, managing, and recovering data. And even then, they might not allow a quick recovery experience. For example, when using Legal Hold, it can take up to 6 hours to restore a single deleted email.

MYTH: Data is backed up in Office 365

Office 365 does replicate data in order to protect against hardware failures and catastrophic incidents that could bring down the data centre. However, this is drastically different to actually backing up the data and retaining it for as long as it’s required. Replication ensures that your data is always available in whatever state it is in. In other words, if a file is deleted or corrupted, that deletion or corruption is replicated throughout the cloud, and there is no way to quickly and easily get that data were it was.



Office 365 does have some limited retention policies, but those expire, and as a security flaw, it is possible to permanently delete data before the retention period expires. Now Office 365 also offers some additional data protection features, such as Legal Hold and Archiving. However, these are not the same as a data backup solution. Office 365 also offers some additional data protection features, such as Legal Hold and Archiving. However, these are not the same as a data backup solution. For example, while Legal Hold protects data from being deleted accidentally or maliciously, it is not designed to quickly restore data to where it was.

Choosing the right data protection and recovery option

There are businesses that just don’t understand and or are naive but there are others that appreciate the need to protect Office 365 data. In our experience, businesses consider Office 365 features e.g. Litigation Hold and Archiving, a dedicated Office 365 backup solution, and a full-blown Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery (BCDR) solution. However, each of these is designed for a particular purpose. As a result, one might be right for one business but not for another, and in some cases, more than one solution might be required for the full data protection and data recovery needs depending directly on the businesses security strategy.

The following framework can help identify the right solution or combination for a customer:

  • What Office 365 data does it protect?
  • What does it cost?
  • What is the user experience in a common data restoration scenario?

What exactly does Office 365 protect

Below there is a table which summarises the key attributes of the protection offered by each solution. A Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery (BCDR) solution, as the name implies, provides a very comprehensive fall back in case of a catastrophic event and allows you infinite retention and in the event of a catastrophic failure you are still able to have your entire business up and running in a matter of minutes. A Legal Hold serves a high-value scenario allowing businesses to comply with legal requirements around specific email inboxes. An Archiving solution helps optimize storage options and mailbox experience.  Finally, different from each of the options, a purpose-built Cloud Backup solution is optimized for creating an easy-to-restore copy of critical data across each of the O365 workloads. In addition to the additional license costs for each protected user, and the costs to set up and manage policy, it can take up to six hours of technical expertise to restore a deleted email from Legal Hold back into the mailbox where the user needs it.


Exchange OnlineSharePoint

OneDrive for Business

BCDROngoing mirror of data (separate copy of most recent data)

Protect against disaster by restoring all systems to state prior to disaster

Legal HoldCaptures email (in transit) in Exchange Online for specific end users and protects that data from deletion and for discovery to meet compliance and legal requirements



ArchivingProvides a separate location to which email can be moved due to mailbox space or to meet specific security/ compliance requirements



Dedicated Cloud BackupMultiple automated daily backup creates backup copy of all Office 365 data in Exchange Online, SharePoint, and OneDrive for Business

Rapid Search and one-click restore to exact location

Protect against data loss or corruption and lost productivity by quickly and easily restoring deleted, corrupted, or simply lost data



BCDR recovery is THE go-to when it comes to a major catastrophic event, but may be too complicated for individual data loss items for some businesses, other industries like finance require a minimum of 7-year retention which then puts the earnest on financial businesses to implement a BCDR solution. Whereas Archiving and Legal Hold provide the business with strong data protection, however, they are not designed to quickly restore data right back where it was. Not surprisingly then, while Archiving or legal hold can often technically recover Email-related data, the user experience is poor and the exercise often takes a longer time. On the other hand, an Office 365 backup solution which is purpose-built for the quick restoration scenario (but does not come standard with O365) trumps the other choices in this more circumscribed use case.


Office 365 does not offer a true backup solution and any business that is offering you Office 365 without including a backup solution is doing a disservice to you as a client and in the long run when things do go left or you need to retrieve a file due to a possible employee error, you will not be able to do so.

If you require an obligation free assessment and or quote on Office 365 and backup, please contact us today.

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