SharePoint Backup: Methods and Best Practices

SharePoint’s native integration with Microsoft 365 makes it a popular tool for collaboration and content sharing. Organizations often find themselves storing, organizing, and sharing significant amounts of data on SharePoint Online or an on-premises SharePoint server, making it crucial to regularly back up the platform.

It’s easy to overlook SaaS-based tools when planning a backup policy, but these tools often account for a larger portion of everyday workflows than you realize.

Understanding SharePoint Backup

SharePoint backup protects data stored on a SharePoint site, ensuring that it’s easily recoverable in the event of data loss. SharePoint includes features to safeguard against unauthorized access and accidental deletion, but the risk of data loss remains. For example, you may experience data loss if any of the following scenarios occur:

  • Corrupted storage for on-premises SharePoint instances
  • Fire, natural disasters, and other catastrophic events
  • Ransomware attacks
  • Breached administrative accounts
  • Malicious actions from authorized users

SharePoint faces similar security risks to Microsoft 365. Backup and recovery systems help mitigate those risks.

SharePoint servers contain a variety of data forms, including:

  • Microsoft forms data
  • Lists and libraries
  • SharePoint site databases
  • Files
  • SharePoint configuration data

SharePoint wasn’t designed to be a primary data store, and it’s possible to share files via SharePoint and access those files via Office 365. In fact, even Microsoft Teams files and tabs are stored in SharePoint Online. To ensure continuous data availability, it’s essential to have a backup policy for Office 365 and SharePoint.

SharePoint On-Premises vs. SharePoint Online

Microsoft SharePoint on-premises offers organizations full control over their SharePoint instance while still allowing them to leverage some of Microsoft 365’s capabilities. With SharePoint on-premises, your data stays in your data center, but you’re responsible for hosting, managing, and updating the data.

SharePoint Online is a subscription-based version of SharePoint that’s managed by Microsoft. As part of the subscription fee, users benefit from access to more features without worrying about managing the infrastructure or updating the applications.

Organizations with strict compliance requirements sometimes choose to keep their data on-premises or use a hybrid solution. Microsoft offers a number of solutions for organizations faced with strict compliance requirements, making SharePoint Online an option for most organizations.

Whichever SharePoint solution your organization uses, backup and recovery planning are essential.

How to Back Up SharePoint?

There are several potential approaches to backing up SharePoint, depending on how the instance is managed. However, only some of these approaches are effective at protecting against catastrophic data loss.

Manually Copying Files

Taking backups of key data, such as any files in the Documents and Forms folders, can offer some protection against unexpected data loss. However, many important pieces of data are stored in databases or folders that aren’t accessible to all users.

Manual backups are error-prone and time-consuming, making this the least efficient option. Not only is it easy to overlook an important file, folder, or database, but it’s also difficult to confirm the integrity of the backup, and any restoration process would take time.

While this method is sufficient if you only need to back up a single file, in most cases, it’s better to use any of the other backup methods mentioned.

Using Recycling Bin and Version History

SharePoint retains version histories for files, allowing for easy recovery of data if a user mistakenly redacts or overwrites part of a document. It also has long retention policies to prevent accidental data deletion.

When a user deletes a file, it’s moved to the recycle bin. By default, files stay here for 93 days before they’re truly deleted. If a file is deleted from the recycle bin, it’s held for another 14 days. The SharePoint administrator (or Microsoft technical support for SharePoint Online) can recover the file during this period.

These retention policies are useful as insurance against accidental file deletion. However, they shouldn’t be relied upon as a replacement for a full backup and recovery plan because they won’t protect against ransomware or catastrophic hardware failure. In addition, retention configuration is frequently prone to user error.

SharePoint Central Administration

SharePoint Central Administration is a tool in the SharePoint suite that offers useful backup features. SharePoint site administrators can back up a SharePoint site collection by logging on to Central Administration and using the Backup and Restore feature on the home page.

This feature is useful for ad hoc local backups. However, Central Administration lacks automation and testing features, making it impractical for long-term, frequent backup use.

Windows PowerShell

PowerShell is a convenient way to perform administrative tasks, and SharePoint backups are no exception. A SharePoint site administrator who holds the “db_owner” and “securityadmin” roles and is also a member of the Administrators group on the server can perform a back up of a SharePoint site by running the following in a PowerShell command prompt:

Backup-SPSite -Identity <SiteCollectionGUIDorURL> -Path <BackupFile> [-Force] [-NoSiteLock] [-UseSqlSnapshot] [-Verbose]

Replace:

  • <SiteCollectionGUIDorURL> with the ID or URL of the site collection to back up
  • <BackupFile> with the path to the desired backup file

You can apply the Force parameter to overwrite a previously created backup file. The NoSiteLock parameter prevents the site collection from having a read-only lock applied while the backup is running.

PowerShell scripts can automate the process of taking regular backups. This makes PowerShell a popular choice for creating regular local backups of a site collection.

Utilizing Third-Party Tools

Third-party tools, such as Veeam Backup for Microsoft 365 can be used by any sized organization, but are especially useful for enterprises needing to protect larger SharePoint instances and when off-site backups or automation features are desired. They offer features to save time and ensure reliable backups, such as:

  • Off-site backups
  • Backup policy tiering
  • Backup and integrity testing automation
  • Microsoft API support for native data protection
  • Granular and bulk recovery features
  • Native support for SharePoint and Office 365

SharePoint Backup Best Practices

Consider the following when planning and implementing a SharePoint backup strategy:

  • Frequency: Set a suitable backup schedule and automate your backups to ensure you adhere to that schedule
  • Follow the 3-2-1 rule: Aim for at least three copies of the data on at least two different media, with one copy kept off-site. Don’t count the production environment in these metrics
  • Use immutable off-site backups: Local copies don’t offer protection against catastrophic events, such as fires or floods. Off-site backups are essential, and immutable (or air-gapped) copies offer optimal protection
  • Encrypt data for maximum security: Store sensitive data in an end-to-end encrypted form to prevent data breaches. Depending on your industry and location, you may be required to follow certain regulatory requirements relating to off-site data processing
  • Test your backups: Use automated tools to test the integrity of each backup as it’s made
  • Review your policies regularly: Confirm your backups cover all the data on your SharePoint instance and that your procedures meet your RPOs and RTOs

Use monitoring and analytics to keep an eye on your Microsoft 365 backup processes and identify problems early. Being able to access real-time data about your backup procedures can alert you to issues such as low storage or unstable internet connections, which could make future backups problematic.

Common SharePoint Backup Issues and Solutions

SharePoint is an expansive product, and it’s easy to miss data when planning your backup processes. Some common challenges include:

  • Multitenancy environments: Many backup solutions are incapable of handling data from more than one subscription
  • Corrupted uploads: Large data files may become corrupted if the internet connection is unstable
  • Unsupported applications: Some backup solutions claiming to cover Microsoft 365 have limited support for SharePoint. Even if they can take a backup, data restoration may be a challenge
  • Limited support for hybrid deployments: Databases or folders may be overlooked when backing up a hybrid SharePoint on-premises and SharePoint Online environment
  • Failed locking: It’s possible to put an environment in read-only mode while taking a backup. If this fails, data held on a SharePoint site may be accidentally changed partway through the backup process
  • Difficulty backing up large instances: If there are more than 5,000 files in a SharePoint folder, Microsoft may block the backup request as part of its Throttling Performance Policy. Users must contact Microsoft technical support to request to exceed the policy limit to complete their backups

Methods for restoring data from a SharePoint backup depend on whether the SharePoint site is hosted on-premises or as a SharePoint Online site. Data recovery using Microsoft’s own backup solutions is simple:

Restoring a Shared Library in SharePoint

To recover a shared library that was deleted, corrupted, or otherwise lost, simply:

  • Go to the relevant SharePoint document library
  • Select Settings > Restore this library
  • Choose the date and time of the restore point you’d like to recover
    • If you’re not sure which date to choose, review the activity feed to find the most recent, uncorrupted version
  • Select Restore

Restoring Data From Veeam Microsoft 365 Backup and Recovery

Veeam offers over 50 ways to recover data using Veeam Explorers. The restore wizard supports restoring files to the original location or a new location, and it gives granular control over versions.

Select the file(s) you’d like to recover and the version you’d like to go back to, and the Explorer tool handles the rest.

SharePoint Backup FAQs

How Long Does SharePoint Retain a Backup?

Microsoft takes full backups of each site collection on SharePoint Online every 12 hours, and backups are retained for 14 days. If a user deletes a file, it’s moved to a recycle bin for 93 days. Files manually removed from the recycle bin are held for an additional 14 days and can be recovered by contacting Microsoft Support.

How Often Should I Back Up My SharePoint Data?

While Microsoft does its own backups of SharePoint Online, these are intended for disaster recovery only — not customer-requested restore jobs. SharePoint admins should make their own backups in accordance with their tolerance for data loss.

Is SharePoint Good for Long-Term Storage?

SharePoint can be used for long-term data storage and may be a suitable option if you wish to share the information with others. However, Microsoft offers other options, such as Azure Storage, which is designed expressly for securely storing data with lower-cost, long-term retention options and may be a better choice.

What Should I Include in My SharePoint Backup?

A SharePoint backup should include data files and the contents of any databases for web applications, along with configuration data for the SharePoint farm itself, for ease of recovery.

Back Up and Recover Your SharePoint Data With Veeam

SharePoint has established itself as an important tool for collaboration and data sharing. It’s vital to back up data stored in a SharePoint site regularly, as the platform is vulnerable to the same threats as other SaaS solutions, such as Microsoft 365.

Third-party backup tools with support for Microsoft’s APIs make taking off-site copies of data a simple process. Busy systems administrators and those who manage a lot of data should consider such third-party options.

It’s worth noting that not all SharePoint backup solutions are created equal, nor do they all offer the freedom to deploy exactly the way your backup strategy requires. Veeam allows you three different options for how you can leverage Microsoft 365 backup — software only, as a backup service, and managed services.

Discover how Veeam can assist with your backup for Microsoft 365 and SharePoint backup and recovery needs. Contact us today to schedule a demonstration.

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