What to consider before users can perform self-service file restores

Brien Posey offers a number of best practices for user self-service file restoration that can prevent issues and maximize effectiveness of the technology.

Self-service restoration for file data is finding its way into some backup applications today. This can be a useful capability because it allows end users to recover data at will without having to wait on the help desk. At the same time, help desk is no longer inundated with file restoration requests. As useful as self-service restorations can be, it is important to consider some best practices prior to allowing users to recover their own data.

It is also important to note that every backup vendor takes a somewhat unique approach to self-service file restorations. The best practices discussed in this article are based on personal experience and vendor recommendations, but may not be applicable to every backup product on the market.

Define user roles

The single most important thing you can do in preparation for enabling self-service recovery is to take the time to determine who should be allowed to restore what. For example, some organizations will grant basic restoration permissions to everyone, while other organizations limit self-service recovery capabilities to power users.

Once you have made that decision, you must determine how your desired permissions model can be implemented through your backup software. Some backup products offer a fine-grained permissions model, while others may be more basic.

The next thing to decide is what type(s) of data users should be allowed to restore. Most of the backup applications that offer self-service recovery capabilities allow users to recover file data. However, there are some backup applications that also allow users to recover executable files, virtual machines and other types of data. As a best practice, you should base the allowed types of self-service recovery on the level of risk that the recovery operation presents. For example, you might consider allowing a user to recover an Excel spreadsheet to be a low-risk operation, while you might want to require administrative review prior to allowing the recovery of a virtual machine or limit that capability to specific users.

Another factor you absolutely must consider is data ownership. It is easy to assume self-service recovery mechanisms are designed to allow users to recover files that they have personally created. Although this might have held true at one time, it is no longer the case today. Backup applications exist that allow end users who have been granted permission to recover data that belongs to someone else. If you are using backup software that offers such capabilities, you need to determine under what circumstances a user should be able to recover someone else's data. For example, you might choose to allow all users to recover files that they have created, and to allow department supervisors to recover data for users in the department.

If you decide to allow some users (such as supervisors or power users) to recover data on behalf of another user, you may need to determine what level of access the user who is performing the recovery operation will have to the data. In other words, should the user who is performing the recovery operation be able to open a file that doesn't belong to them? Should they be able to save the file to removable media or an alternate location? Some backup applications allow a delegated user to restore a file on behalf of someone else, but only to the file's original location. This means the user has no way of opening the file unless they had access to it to begin with.

Provide backup documentation

Another best practice is to be sure to provide users with the proper documentation for self-service recovery. Not all backup interfaces are completely intuitive, so users might need some help with the recovery process. This is especially true if the user does not frequently perform recoveries, or if the backup console cannot be launched in an obvious way.

There are a number of different ways to provide users with the necessary documentation. Some organizations store a PDF file containing instructions within a SharePoint document library or a shared drive. Other organizations have recorded video tutorials.

Considerations for shared data

One last consideration to take into account is whether or not you want to allow self-service recovery for shared data. Suppose, for example, that everyone in a specific department shares a common folder containing data related to a particular project. If a user arbitrarily performs a self-service recovery on one of the files within the folder, it will impact all of the other users in the department. As such, you might choose to either disable self-service recovery for shared locations, or allow recovery operations to be performed only by a department supervisor.

Allowing self-service recovery can help to improve user productivity and help desk efficiency. However, if self-service recovery is implemented in a careless manner, it can cause more problems than it solves. As such, it is critically important to adopt the permissions model that makes sense for your own organization's needs.

About the author:
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and has been responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at

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