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What are the common Microsoft 365 backup challenges?

Microsoft 365 is a widely used service, but its many different applications make backup complicated. Watch out for these common roadblocks.

Nearly all major backup vendors offer a tool for Microsoft 365 backups. Even so, the process of backing up Microsoft 365 isn't always easy.

The wide array of applications within Microsoft 365 is a major benefit of the service, but it draws attention to a weakness in the backup market: There just aren't that many backup products that can handle each and every application. Once customers do back up their applications, the recovery objectives may be longer than they're used to.

Microsoft 365 has a lot to offer, but don't overlook these challenges when it comes to backing it up.

Too many apps, not enough products

One of the big issues that IT pros encounter with Microsoft 365 backups is that few, if any, of the available backup products provide comprehensive coverage. Most of the backup vendors focus on data protection for Office applications, such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. Microsoft has recently released a backup API for Teams, so some backup vendors are adding Teams support. The problem, however, is that there are numerous other Office applications, such as Yammer and Planner, that don't have specific backup tools.

These Office applications typically store data inside of Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive or some combination of the three. In theory, if an organization backs up these three applications, it also backs up the other Office applications. However, data restoration can be tricky for an Office application not specifically supported by a backup tool.

Active Directory domains can pose another challenge to those who need to back up an organization's Microsoft 365 environment. Most organizations map a single Active Directory domain to their Microsoft 365 deployment. However, larger businesses often associate multiple domains with their Microsoft 365 environment. Backup software does not always work well with multi-domain Microsoft 365 deployments.

Similarly, multi-tenancy can create issues. Although each backup vendor has its own way of doing things, backup applications typically use a service account to connect to a Microsoft 365 subscription. A multi-tenancy environment consists of multiple Microsoft 365 subscriptions. Some backup applications are incapable of protecting more than one subscription.

Be prepared for longer recovery objectives

Another challenge associated with backing up Microsoft 365 data is that an organization may not always be able to achieve the same recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) that it can for other types of data.

The RPO issue stems from the backup architecture. Many organizations use continuous data protection (CDP) for data backups. They create backups on a continuous basis, rather than run a nightly backup. This approach ensures an organization backs up new data almost immediately after it creates it.

While some Microsoft 365 backup tools use CDP, such as Zerto, Arcserve and HubStor, many rely on a simple scheduler. An organization might be limited to backing up its Microsoft 365 data once per day, resulting in an RPO that is far longer than that of other company data.

Microsoft 365 backups may also have an unusually long RTO. There isn't a way to store a backup copy in the cloud. Instead, the IT team must write backups either to another cloud or to an on-premises backup target. If a restore is needed, the backup application will have to upload all of the data to the Microsoft 365 cloud. Depending on the available bandwidth, this process might take a long time.

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