Cloud to Cloud Backups Summary:
"How does Exchange Online backup my email?"
You might be under the impression that your data in the cloud is guaranteed by the provider against loss and that lost files or lost email messages can be easily restored. That is not the case. Your data in the cloud could suddenly disappear.
Cloud to cloud backup solutions minimize the risk of disaster for YOUR business.
Over the past ten years, business computing has undergone a mass migration. Small business used to run back-end information services from servers located on-premises. Now nearly all those services run in the cloud.
Application servers on premises have been replaced by server instances in Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.
The Exchange server that used to run on an Exchange server in your server room has been replaced by Microsoft 365 Exchange Online.
Files that used to live in a file server on premises are now hosted in SharePoint, OneDrive, and other file storage and collaboration services.
Cloud computing is a game changer! The advantages of cloud computing are numerous. It allows small businesses to compete against larger organizations without having to make massive initial investments in IT infrastructure. Small businesses can buy information services to the extent initially needed and expand those services as the organization grows. Significant barriers to entry have been removed.
Instead of owning and maintaining an expensive (and under-utilized) email server that sits in a server room on premises, companies now have the option of buying the very same services on a monthly subscription basis per user.
Typically, hosted services are available to users anywhere they can establish a connection to the internet. In 2020, businesses who had already adopted the cloud computing model were very well-positioned to accommodate work-from-home mandates due to COVID.
And not only does cloud computing make good financial sense, cloud computing infrastructure is also robust and secure. Cloud computing affords small businesses a level of redundancy and perimeter security around back-end services that most could never afford to implement on their own.
On the other hand, the dramatic shift to remote work during the pandemic has meant that end users are often accessing data in the cloud from home computers and home networks that are much less secure than their counterparts in the office.
Most are hosted on robust and resilient architecture and include backups of critical data. For example, according to Microsoft, Exchange Online backups "use the Exchange Server feature known as Database Availability Groups (DAGs) to replicate Exchange Online mailboxes to multiple databases in separate Microsoft datacenters."
There are vulnerabilities within this approach that could lead to frustration or data loss.
Also from Microsoft: "...all online services suffer occasional disruptions and outages, and Microsoft is not liable for any disruption or loss you may suffer as a result. In the event of an outage, you may not be able to retrieve Your Content or Data that you’ve stored."
First of all, we have to acknowledge that hosted services are sometimes not available. That's to be expected.
While cloud computing has many advantages, it also has some distinct disadvantages. In particular, availability is out of your control. Cloud computing resources may not always available. Internet outages can disrupt your access to hosted services. Problems on the provider’s end could result in downtime for hours at a time.
Downtime is not unusual and not unexpected. In fact, the Microsoft Online Services Consolidated Agreement offers a guarantee of 99.9% uptime. If services are down for more than 0.1% of the month (roughly 43 minutes) the company will refund part of all of the monthly service fees. In other words, their service fulfills the service level agreement even if it delivers 42 minutes of downtime in a month.
But the real issue is more ominous than just a few minutes of downtime here or there: Your data could simply disappear one day.
You might be thinking, “That would never happen!”
But it did!
On Monday, March 15th, 2021 Microsoft Azure suffered a massive outage. Nearly all hosted services were affected, including SharePoint, OneDrive, Exchange Online, Outlook.com, Microsoft Teams, as well as other Microsoft 365 services.
But there is already a little bit of downtime built into the SLA...so this is to be expected, right?
What happened on March 15th wasn’t just downtime. Some users experienced something worse than a temporary disruption to workflow.
Several end users, consultants, and network administrators reported incidents of data loss. Many of these folks logged-on to their computing environment to find SharePoint folder structures intact but empty. Data had moved to various recycle bins or had been deleted entirely.
And while Microsoft guarantees uptime of their services, and they engineer redundancy and resiliency into their systems, they don’t guarantee that data will never be lost. There is some degree of risk associated with having important data in cloud services like Microsoft 365, Dropbox, Gmail, and within hosted applications.
So far, we have been talking about data loss that results from downtime on the service provider's end.
But what happens if a user accidentally deletes a file or an important email message?
Many hosted services include some degree of backup and disaster recovery features in addition to the extensive redundancy built into the infrastructure that supports these services. If you accidentally delete data, odds are pretty good that that it can be recovered, but there is a catch.
For many hosted services, data recovery features typically lack granularity. For example, the recovery features in Microsoft 365 Exchange Online backups facilitate restoration of an entire mailbox, but aren't well suited to easily restore a single email message or a single hour’s worth of email from a specific point in time. Again, according to Microsoft, "Point in time restoration of mailbox items is out of scope for the Exchange Online service." (Emphasis added.)
How can you backup Microsoft Office 365 or backup Gmail, Azure, AWS, Dropbox, or other hosted services? How can you ensure that the backups enable restoration of single file, single email?
To mitigate the risk of data loss and to enable granular restoration of data, we advocate cloud computing strategies that leverage cloud to cloud backup services. At the very least, executives and others who work with the most sensitive or most critical data should have cloud to cloud backup of their mailboxes.
There are literally scores of options available--from custom built solutions to commercial "off-the-shelf" products. Broadly, they offer some or all of the following features:
There is no magic-bullet, one-size-fits-all solution. Careful evaluation and discerning judgement is critical in implementation of cloud-to-cloud backup and disaster recovery services.
If you are overwhelmed in the evaluation phase of your journey, or intimidated in the implementation phase, EXP can help! We provide IT consulting services and strategic guidance to hundreds of small and medium sized businesses across Western Washington.
Our experience with this technology is unrivaled. Not only do we have decades of experience with backup and disaster recovery strategies for small business, EXP executives also have experience in leadership roles at seminal cloud-based disaster recovery services companies. We’ve examined this issue from both sides of the cloud and are available as your advocate and guide in the journey towards a more robust and resilient operations.
For more details about Exchange Online backups in particular, we suggest: "Backing up email in Exchange Online" and the Microsoft Services Agreement.