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SaaS data backup challenges and best practices

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This article is part of our Essential Guide: Cloud-based backup: Best strategies and practices

The challenge of SaaS backup and how to approach it

Just because it is in the cloud doesn't mean it's safe. SaaS data backup is equally as important as backing up your on-premises workloads but has its own unique challenges.

The use of cloud-based applications, also known as software as a service, such as Office 365 and Salesforce, is now a mainstream part of most organizations' operations. The reliance on these services as a critical part of your business means their availability is crucial to ensure you can operate.

Service availability usually isn't an issue; every vendor has architected an environment that provides a fair number of nines of availability. But there's the issue of the data you use within any given SaaS platform. Corruption, deletion and loss are all real concerns around data in any application. It's the very reason you have backups on premises and should for SaaS data as well.

Why worry about SaaS backup?

There are a couple reasons to be concerned with SaaS backup:

  1. It's your data. Just because an application is in the cloud doesn't relinquish your organization's responsibility to back it up. If it were an on-premises application, you'd be ensuring backups were made, so why is it different in the cloud? It isn't.
  2. It's not being backed up. You should check with the application provider, but most aren't backing up your data for the purpose of recovering it for you. Take Office 365, for example: The only backups made are to ensure the availability of the service. If your data were to become corrupt, Microsoft is not responsible.

The bad news is: Most application providers offer little in the way of a facility for you to back up data on your own. But many third-party SaaS backup providers -- both on-premises and cloud-based -- are paving the way, offering backups for some of the most important cloud applications today.

While, normally, this means the problem is solved, the backing up of cloud application data is anything but straightforward. There are a few challenges you need to be aware of that require your attention when looking at SaaS backup products:

  1. Backup method. There is no standard around providing access to data for backup. Cloud providers have their own APIs to make data available. And backup vendors sometimes take different paths to back up data, such as delegated access, migration APIs or backup APIs. You should inquire as to exactly how backups are created and compare their speed, efficiency and completeness of data.
  2. Data included. Not every data set within a given cloud application is included in backups. For example, with Office 365, some SaaS backup vendors today only cover email, SharePoint and OneDrive. The reason for limited backup coverage is a mix between the applications not having an API and backup vendors not yet caught up when one is available. This issue will improve over time but is still one you should note.
  3. Backup storage. Backing up the data is one part of the backup storage story; the other is where you store the backups. Vendors have different platforms for this. Some have their own storage, others connect to myriad private cloud partners and still others use the mega-cloud vendors. In all three cases, pricing is going to vary. Ask about both ingress and egress charges so you have a complete picture of the impact storage will have on cost.

Every backup vendor I've spoken with is focused on providing quality backups. But, as with most every sector of tech products, vendors take different paths to get to a similar end result. Backups of cloud application data are no different. You have lots of options, so use the challenges outlined above as your set of criteria to better understand exactly how each SaaS backup vendor accomplishes backups and what the impact is on your organization.

Next Steps

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