Does Office 365 require a third-party backup? A Microsoft MVP’s perspective

Office 365 backup seems to be a hotly debated topic at the moment amongst IT professionals. Common questions they’re asking are “doesn’t Microsoft already backup Office 365?” or “how do Microsoft’s native Office 365 capabilities compare to third-party backup solutions?”

Organizations and admins alike are divided on the matter. IDC states that 6 out of every ten organizations do not have a data protection plan for their Office 365 deployments1. Do you need a backup tool for your organization? Getting the answer requires a more in-depth explanation of what Microsoft offers natively in Office 365 and whether these features mitigate all your risks.

This blog explains five essential security, compliance and availability capabilities built into Office 365. These capabilities provide excellent value to Office 365 users, and there is no reason for you not to leverage them. However, these features were not purpose-built to be a backup solution, so there are gaps and trade-offs to consider if you want to use them for backup. Microsoft makes strategic business decisions about where to invest in certain features. They have chosen not to invest in a purpose-built Office 365 backup solution. They have left this gap for their strategic partners, like Veeam, to fill.

To get an outside perspective, we interviewed Erica Toelle, a Microsoft MVP focused on compliance and data protection. Together, we will explain the differences between Office 365 native features and a full-featured backup solution. We hope this article helps you make the decision that is best for your business.

Datacenter to datacenter replication

Edward Watson: “As you know, Microsoft replicates customer data across multiple Office 365 datacenters to deliver on availability requirements for end-users. According to the Microsoft Office 365 Shared Responsibility Model, Microsoft is responsible for the global infrastructure and uptime of the Office 365 cloud service. With the redundancy and high availability provided by Microsoft, do you still see a need for an additional backup solution, and if so, why?”

Erica Toelle: “As the data owner, it is up to the customer to manage the risk of common data loss issues such as accidental deletion and ransomware. I recommend looking at a third-party backup tool to manage this risk.”

Veeam’s Solution: With Veeam, you can create a copy of the data as often as needed, stored in a separate location from the source, with a variety of storage locations to choose from — either on-premises or in cloud object storage — including Azure Blob, Amazon S3, IBM Cloud and S3-compatible providers. You can quickly recover your data from the backup copy, either as a single item, an entire site or mailbox.

Retention policies

Edward Watson: “Microsoft designed retention policies in Office 365 to help organizations comply with regulations, laws and internal policies that require that they retain or delete content. These policies ensure files, emails and other types of Office 365 content are available for eDiscovery, information requests or a compliance search. Given this, how might a backup complement retention policies?”

Erica Toelle: “It takes time to set up retention policies correctly, and admins can make mistakes just like any other user. There are more than a few examples of data loss having occurred due to user error when configuring retention policies. A third-party backup tool is like an insurance policy that protects your files, emails, and Microsoft Teams conversations from these types of mistakes.”

Veeam’s solution: Veeam provides a backup for peace of mind that you can fill any and all retention policy gaps. So, even if data loss occurs due to retention policy user error — or if retention policies are only applied to a subset of the data and the rest is vulnerable — you can maintain access to Office 365 data, including Microsoft Teams, by restoring entire Teams, Teams conversations, specific channels, tabs, content and settings.

Litigation hold

Edward Watson: “Office 365 allows organizations to put content on hold. A content hold can serve many purposes, such as preserving content for a legal case or eDiscovery, an internal investigation, or anytime you need a copy of content maintained while still allowing users to work with their content. So, why is a backup still needed using legal hold?”

Erica Toelle: “There are two ways that backup can complement legal and content holds. First is protection against user error, where someone puts the wrong content on hold or accidentally removes the hold. The second is a situation where you did not know the content needed to be on hold. For example, a user says something inappropriate in a Teams conversation and deletes the content before an investigation can preserve it.”

Veeam’s solution: With a backup solution like Veeam, you can ensure that Office 365 data can be made available at any time for a variety of purposes including a legal investigation, regardless of whether a content hold is in place or has been incorrectly setup.  

Archive mailbox

Edward Watson: “An Office archive mailbox provides extra storage space for Exchange content. By default, Exchange moves emails older than two years to the archive. Do data loss risks still apply to an archive mailbox?”

Erica Toelle: “An archive mailbox functions the same as a primary mailbox in terms of retention policies and legal holds. The same risks of accidental deletion, user error, and unapplied holds still apply.”

Veeam’s solution: Unlike an archive, we can conclude that a backup is an isolated and accessible copy of a single point in time that remains protected against deletion, corruption, or security threats, which genuinely separates backup from things like an unlimited mailbox archive.

Defender for Office 365

Edward Watson: Microsoft Defender for Office 365 (previously known as Advanced Threat Protection) provides a way to detect and block threats posed by email messages, links, and files in SharePoint sites and document libraries. It uses machine learning and analysis to detect malicious intent. So, if you have a detection layer that mitigates risks before they even happen, what is the use for a backup?

Erica Toelle: “Aside from protecting against many data loss scenarios, a backup is also the last resort against viruses like ransomware. Even if someone steals all your data, you could still recover content from a backup.”

Veeam’s solution: Ransomware is becoming more and more sophisticated.  Ransomware is “specializing” in certain areas like phishing, with content looking more and more legitimate. Surprisingly the majority of attacks come from inside the company and not outside. Ultimately the ideal outcome is not having to pay a ransom or losing any data permanently, which can be achieved with a backup vendor like Veeam.

In conclusion

We recommend that you utilize many (if not all) of these world-class security and availability services provided by Microsoft. They are excellent when used for their intended purposes! But it’s also important to recognize there’s no substitute for a real backup of your data, stored in an independent place of your choosing, of which you are in control. We design software solutions that make data protection simple and easy, so that you can get back to doing your day-to-day job and propel your businesses forward.

To date, people have downloaded Veeam Backup for Microsoft Office 365 133,000 times. The industry regards Veeam as the most flexible and easy-to-use Office 365 backup solution in the market. Please don’t take our word for it. Read our customers’ reviews on TrustRadius and G2.

Or find this additional information:


1 IDC, Why a Backup Strategy for Microsoft Office 365 is Essential for Security, Compliance, and Business Continuity, 2019

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