Is Cloud Storage a substitute for backup?

Here is an interesting discussion about the need for backup with cloud storage.....

The emergence of file sync/share solutions has spurred a debate regarding whether a file sync/share service with versioning capabilities (such as Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business) can replace endpoint backup solutions (such as Storagecraft Shadowprotect). These tools, created for different purposes, have overlapping but distinct functions. However, sync and share tools and enterprise backup tools differ at core, fundamental levels. Both have value, but they are not swappable replacements for one another. 

At first glance, file sync and share tools with versioning capabilities (such as Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business) appear to be “good enough” for backup, due to the tools’ innate data protection capabilities. However, they lack adequate data protection; these tools, designed with backup as an afterthought, are more complex and create reliability problems when used in that role.

Sync-and-share, versioning, and endpoint backup solve different business problems, address different requirements, and are managed differently:

  • File sync is designed for ubiquitous access to the same content — usually the most recent content. It’s organized by folder, over different devices and with access by different people. Data remains active and can be modified continually.
  • Versioning helps manage content creation by individuals and groups. All versions of the content (such as a Word document or application code) may be visible to users for active access before a final version is complete. Because the older versions' content is different from the final version, older versions are typically not recalled for recovery of the final version, but for content reuse or recycling. Versioning tools put their attention primarily on the changes made in each content iteration (that is, additions or code fixes) and controlling file access (so people don’t overwrite one another's edits). Backing up thus puts more attention on saving recent versions than on the entire history of the content.
  • Endpoint backup aims to provide data protection of all local data on mobile devices and laptops, not just the actively modified files in a specific folder. Backup data should remain inactive and invisible to users until it is recalled for recovery. Endpoint protection may also extend to application data, personal settings, and configuration options. It is not limited to specific user files or folders.Endpoint backup solutions provide more advantages over file sync and share tools when it comes to backup and recovery. OneDrive for Business’ key strengths are in sharing and collaboration of SharePoint content across multiple endpoint devices with users inside and outside of an organization -- and it’s great at that. However, Shadowprotect protects endpoint devices at a far more comprehensive level.

The Problems of Restoring Backups With OneDrive
Microsoft ensures that your OneDrive files stored on SharePoint Online isn’t lost for any reason. That’s good. Internally Microsoft manages backups of SharePoint Online automatically, but OneDrive does not provide any interface into accessing or restoring those backups. So: What do you do if you really want to restore from a backup?
With OneDrive/SharePoint Online there are essentially three ways a user or sysadmin can recover data on endpoint devices:
  1. Use the Recycle bin. The files in the Recycling Bin have a default retention period of 90 days. After that time (or if a user manually deletes them before that time from the recycling bin), files can no longer be restored. The files cannot be retrieved by any means. (You try telling the legal staff that the document needed for a court case is unavailable. Good luck with that task.) 
  2. Make a service request to Microsoft. Site collection backups are performed by Microsoft every 12 hours; they are kept for only 14 days. Currently, the only restore option is a full site collection restore to the same URL.) Once a restore is requested through the Microsoft portal, it may take two days (sometimes more) for that restore to be performed. This is done based on O365 support’s triage process and the perceived priority of the request. The tenant license or overall number of users for the tenant does not change the priority. 
  3. Use a third party dedicated end-point backup solution that provides a fully-integrated, easy-to-use platform for enterprise-wide data protection and governance. Such tools generate a secondary copy of data stored in endpoint devices, making it recoverable should the primary copy of the data be lost. 

Most well-known cloud file sync and share services are not designed for backup despite their versioning capability (and their claims). Sync and share tools and enterprise backup tools differ at core, fundamental levels. Both have value, but they are not swappable replacements for one another. Rather, fundamental design goal differences make them complementary technologies. In particular, file sync and share can't replace endpoint backup today.

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