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What are some Office 365 disaster recovery best practices?

Microsoft's guidelines for Office 365 disaster recovery and backup can be vague at times. Expert Brien Posey discusses the vendor's policies and what users need to be aware of.

Microsoft does back up Office 365. But the company's policies for Office 365 disaster recovery might not be what you would expect.

It's becoming increasingly common for software vendors to encourage customers to run their applications in the cloud as software as a service (SaaS) rather than installing the software in the usual way. SaaS provides a number of benefits, not the least of which is that the vendor handles most of the application-related maintenance. However, when it comes to SaaS, you have to take the bad with the good.

The downside to using SaaS is that you relinquish some degree of control over the application. One of the biggest ways in which an organization might lose control is in its ability to back up application data.

One of the most notable examples of this is Microsoft Office 365.

In all fairness, Microsoft's policies for performing Office 365 disaster recovery operations are somewhat vague, and the Internet is full of contradictory information regarding what Microsoft will and will not do for you in the event of a disaster. Even so, the consensus seems to be that Microsoft doesn't do item-level recovery for Office 365 customers, such as restoring a document from a SharePoint library or an individual email message.

Microsoft provides Office 365 customers with various tools so they can perform a granular recovery on their own. For instance, SharePoint Online has a versioning feature that can be used to retain multiple versions of the documents stored in a SharePoint document library.

The problem with these self-service features is that there are often limits as to what you can recover. For instance, you probably won't be able to recover an email message that was deleted a few months ago. Similarly, Microsoft restricts the amount of storage available to SharePoint, which may limit the number of document versions that can be stored. It is therefore a good idea for users to adopt their own Office 365 disaster recovery solution to improve their odds against losing Office 365 data.

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This was last published in October 2015

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What tools do you use for Office 365 disaster recovery and backup?
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This is a common misconception and source of confusion for many Office 365 customers. Microsoft has built in redundancy and backups in all of their data centers, (just like Google, Salesforce, etc) but these backups are for internal data center recovery only, and not available to customers for restoring their data in the event of accidental or malicious data loss. Once data is automatically or manually purged from the recycle bin the data is lost forever. That is why office 365 user and system admin need to backup their data using a third party app like CloudAlly which provides a full functional office 365 backup (www.cloudally.com) and offers a free trial.
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My boss told me to do research on some Office 365 mailbox backup solutions. Read some good comments on CodeTwo (https://www.codetwo.com/backup-for-office-365/), Cloudally (https://www.cloudally.com/backup-sharepoint-online/), CloudBacko (https://www.cloudbacko.com/en/office-365-exchange-online-backup.jsp), Spanning (http://spanning.com/products/office365-back-up/) etc. They all seem okay, except their prices vary a lot. Anyone can share your experience in any of them? Which one is problem-free? Much appreciated :-D
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