A big selling point of “cloud” solutions is not having to worry about things like server uptime, security, and data protection.  However, it’s a misconception that every cloud platform takes care of all these things for you.  Case in point: Microsoft 365 backup and recovery.

Many of the organizations we work with believed Microsoft backed up everything they uploaded or typed into SharePoint, and nothing was ever lost.  But while it’s true that Microsoft backs up their servers, they only do it in case of a catastrophic system-wide crash on their end.  Microsoft does not provide backup and recovery as a service for customers. 

This means organizations need to know the limits of SharePoint backup and recovery, and develop a plan to cover any gaps.

So, what does Microsoft back up for you, and for how long?

  • First, all SharePoint Online document libraries have version history activated by default.  You can set it to keep anywhere from 100 to 50,000 major versions of each file. 

    This is the easiest way to roll back a file to a specific point in time, but won’t help if the file is deleted.

  • When it comes to lists, libraries, or entire sites, SharePoint offers point-in-time restoration up to 30 days.  

    Of course, this approach gets a little bit messy if you want to preserve some changes but not others.

  • Once a file, library, list or site is deleted from SharePoint, it can be retrieved for 93 days, unless A) you deliberately delete it from the first and then second stage recycle bins, or B) both of your recycle bins hit their storage limits, after which the oldest files will be deleted until the bins drop below their quotas.   

    But while this 93 day lookback period is sufficient for most everyday documents it’s not sufficient for documents that need to be kept for audit purposes (for example, healthcare organizations in the United States have a medical records retention requirement of 7 years).

So what can an organization do if the above isn’t good enough for your backup and recovery needs?  For Microsoft 365, there are basically three options:

  1. Subscribe to a SharePoint backup service like Barracuda or Veeam.  This can give you back that wonderful “let someone else worry about it” feeling, but can get expensive at $1.00 to $2.00 per user per month.
  2. Get a second SharePoint tenant and use a migration tool like ShareGate to basically clone your tenant on a regular basis.  Backing up and recovering this way can get a bit painful in practice, but only costs $6K to $12K per year if you have a large user base and a limited budget.
  3. Back it up yourself to an outside server.  Synology NAS offers a SharePoint backup app, which you can then set up to back up / replicate to yet another server like Amazon Glacier.  While your organization would be responsible for making sure the solution stays up and running, it is definitely the lowest cost – perhaps a $3,000-$5,000 initial investment, then just a few hundred dollars per year to maintain, (this is the solution our company uses internally – and no, we aren’t getting paid by Synology to say that).

So if your organization needs rock-solid long-term backup and recovery – either for audit or a more general sense of paranoia – hopefully one of these solutions can work for you.