Microsoft 365, one of the most ubiquitous SaaS offerings in the enterprise, will soon have cloud data backup and archival services for customer data available directly from Microsoft itself.
Microsoft 365 Backup and Microsoft 365 Archive, included among the myriad new releases out of the vendor's Microsoft Inspire 2023 show, provide enterprises exactly what their respective names imply: a data backup service and a data archival service for Microsoft 365 sold by Microsoft.
These services are expected to enter public preview in the fourth quarter of this year, according to Microsoft. The vendor is also releasing more extensive APIs for backup and archiving available to technology partners to enhance existing offerings.
A SaaS vendor with a backup service for its own product is uncommon, said Christophe Bertrand, practice director at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group. Many buyers still assume purchasing a service in the cloud automatically provides a backup, so having the minimum amount of protection delineated and offered by the provider is useful.
Christophe BertrandPractice director, Enterprise Strategy Group
"It's exactly what every SaaS vendor should do," Bertrand said. "They say, 'You need a baseline, [and] I'll give you a baseline.' I think every SaaS vendor in the end will have to provide something with a backup-and-recovery capability. Whether that's through themselves or an ecosystem, we'll see."
First line of SaaS defense
Microsoft 365 Backup enables backup and recovery of all OneDrive, SharePoint and Exchange data within a customer's Microsoft 365 environment.
The service can restore files, sites and mailbox items either granularly or in batches. Restorations can include content filters based on metadata -- such as item or site names, owners, and date ranges -- to further specify recover times. Recoveries will also provide a minimum service-level agreement time.
Microsoft 365 Archive places inactive or aging data within the SharePoint collaboration software into colder Azure storage tiers per data lifecycle requirements set by customers. Specific capabilities include maintaining all metadata information and the ability to archive SharePoint sites without migrating data outside of Azure.
Individual file-level archiving will arrive later in 2024, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft 365 Backup will be available to activate and purchase through the Microsoft 365 admin center. Microsoft 365 Archive can be enabled through the SharePoint UI, which further can be managed through PowerShell scripting or SharePoint lifecycle policies.
According to Mike Matchett, principal analyst at IT firm Small World Big Data, these capabilities are useful as a baseline of defense, but could prove a liability if a customer keeps a company's backup data entirely within Microsoft's cloud network. Any outage that affects Microsoft's services could also affect individual recovery.
"Maybe keeping all your backups and archives in the same security regime as your production data will not be the most secure approach," Matchett said.
Redmond's SaaS ecosystem
Since Microsoft 365 launched in 2017, an entire data protection market has sprouted up around the cloud technology.
Most SaaS providers do not offer a native backup service, and instead expect customers to purchase third-party backup offerings made possible through APIs or more general capabilities such as snapshots. The providers cite the shared responsibility model for data governance, meaning vendors will ensure the SaaS is available for use, but do not provide any protection of individual user data lost by errors, cyber attacks or other means.
Most enterprises would still be better with a third-party alternative for protection, according to Krista Macomber, a senior analyst at Futurum Group. These products provide coverage for other SaaS products outside of Microsoft's ecosystem, the ability to replicate to other clouds and other, more mature features.
She said Microsoft likely realizes the uphill battle it would face against these established backup vendors, as the initial announcement of these services included significant airtime to partner vendors and a willingness to work with others.
Specific partners that Microsoft named include AvePoint, Barracuda, Commvault, Rubrik, Veeam and Veritas.
"The market for protecting 365 and SaaS applications in general has been maturing," Macomber said. "I'd be a little surprised if Microsoft was looking to compete directly with the data vendors already established in the marketplace."
Tim McCarthy is a journalist from the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.