Data Recovery Versus Restoration: When it comes to SaaS Backup, Restore is Everything

As more organizations are moving their critical data to the cloud and leveraging SaaS applications like Google Apps, Office 365, and Salesforce, we’re witnessing a simultaneous evolution in the backup industry. These forward-thinking organizations are focusing not just on creating backup copies of data for safekeeping, but they’re also considering what it takes to maintain all facets of data protection, including business continuity, accessibility, and compliance. These goals require a new breed of backup. As we like to say at Spanning: Backup is one thing. Restore is everything. It won’t do you much good to just have your SaaS data backed up and stored somewhere unless you can get it back into your SaaS applications (along with metadata and customizations) quickly, easily, and accurately.

What’s the difference between recovery and restore?
Recovery simply means you get your data back – not that you get it back exactly the way it was. In the event of a data loss, you may be dismayed to find that your existing backup and recovery solution or provider defines recovery as exporting all versions of your backed-up SaaS application data and delivering them to you in a zipped folder containing nothing but a massive CSV file. That means your IT team will probably have to expend a lot of time and effort manually identifying precisely what data was lost, rebuilding your file structure the way you had it before, importing or restoring the data back into the application, and then validating it so everyone can finally get back to work. Data recovery is like someone handing you a giant stack of photos with a rubberband around it for you to recreate a scrapbook you had lovingly put together in chronological order with notes, decorations, and keepsakes for each photo.

data recovery
data recovery

Restore, on the other hand, means having that scrapbook returned to you in mint condition with all your memories perfectly intact – even if the original copy was completely destroyed. Translation? Data restoration means accurately and automatically returning your data directly back into your SaaS application, exactly the way it was before you lost it. Excellent backup and restore solutions will restore data from any point in time with file structure, metadata, and labels intact, while providing the flexibility to restore exactly what was lost – whether a single file from yesterday or an entire account from last year. Some solutions even make this process easy enough that an end user can do it in a few clicks without IT intervention.

Restore means getting back to business fast when data loss strikes.
Beyond recovery, restore is how you can get back to business faster than ever. If you want to shrink your RTO (recovery time objective, or the amount of time it takes to get back to business) from days – or weeks, even months – to a matter of minutes or hours in order to keep employees productive, keep your organization compliant, and protect business continuity (and your bottom line), then consider implementing a third-party backup and restore solution for your SaaS applications. Cloud-to-cloud backup and restore solutions not only provide secure, automated backups and fast recovery of data, but the right solution will also restore that information directly back into your SaaS applications, exactly as it was before.

Spanning General Manager, Jeff Erramouspe, elaborates in an interview with IT Business Edge, “Backup tools that ‘recover’ data by merely retrieving all versions of all your backed-up data for you to sort through are of little value when the priority is to have everything back the way it was before, as soon as possible. No one wants to find a needle in a data haystack. The true value is in a solution that retrieves data from any specific point in time, and then automatically restores it directly back into the application with no manual effort required. It should have the flexibility and granularity to restore the most recent version or any previous point-in-time version of a document, field or other item, such as a Google Apps file or folder, or a Salesforce record, with 100 percent accuracy. It should also be able to restore metadata – such as labels, file structures, and sharing settings – to ensure complete accuracy.”

Think your cloud provider has restore covered? Think again.
Most SaaS application vendors do a stellar job of protecting your data from mishaps within their own control, but if you accidentally delete data or get hacked, their ability to restore your information so you can get back to business is quite limited.

For example, Salesforce provides a weekly, manual export to all its customers. But this time- and energy-consuming backup method does not include metadata and customizations and requires the manual re-importation of data when data loss occurs. In the words of Salesforce expert Stephanie Herrera, “If you have no other option, [the export] does the trick. That being said, it is too time consuming and restrictive. Trying to figure out which objects were tied to which links and then manually backing up the data was time-consuming and difficult.” If a large-scale emergency happens, customers do additionally have the option of spending a minimum of $10,000 for Salesforce to provide a CSV file containing lost data, but this process can take weeks or more. That’s why Salesforce tells its customers to use a third-party backup tool.

Google Apps for Work
Similarly, Google is limited in its ability to recover data that’s accidentally permanently deleted, lost, or corrupted.  According to Google Apps support, “Once an administrator or end-user has deleted any data in Google Apps, we delete it according to your Customer Agreement and our Privacy Policy.” That means users have no recourse for recovering or restoring that lost data without the help of a third-party backup and restore solution.

Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft has done a commendable job of offering users some recovery options when accidents happen. However, these policies vary by application within the Office 365 suite and can often be confusing. Recently, new data retention policy settings have arisen for Outlook. Previously when deleting an email within Outlook, there was a period of 30 days in which the email could be recovered. After that, it was gone forever. But, Microsoft now allows admins to customize retention for deleted items in Office 365. On the other hand, OneDrive only stores the most recent version of your content, not the entire history. So there is no way to access previous drafts should you need to do so. In addition, the recycle bin within OneDrive has a default retention period of 90 days. After this period, files can no longer be restored. Moreover, Microsoft’s policies are not designed so that customers have direct access to backed-up data with the ability to easily restore it.

According to Microsoft MVP Brien Posey: “The sad truth is that you might not have as many options for restoring your data as you might think. As such, it is critically important to understand your options for disaster recovery in an Office 365 environment...Microsoft’s primary mechanisms for protecting Office 365-based Exchange Servers are geographically distributed Database Availability Groups. Microsoft says they also perform traditional backups of Office 365 servers. However, those backups are used for internal purposes only if they experienced a catastrophic event that wiped out large volumes of customer data…This can be a bit disheartening, because item-level recovery alone is often inadequate. Item-level recovery protects an organization against deleting items such as messages or mailboxes, but it does not allow for the recovery of a corrupt mailbox. Neither is there a provision for reverting a mailbox server to an earlier point in time (such as might be necessary if a virus corrupted all the mailboxes on a server). The Office 365 service-level agreement addresses availability, not recoverability.”

Protect productivity and compliance with a third-party backup and restore solution.
The bottom line here is that protecting your SaaS data must be coordinated effort between your SaaS vendors and your own organization. And restoring data so you can quickly recover from data loss is entirely in your hands. If keeping your employees productive and your organization in compliance with standards surrounding data backup, retention, and accessibility are important to you, a cloud-to-cloud backup and restore solution will be a key part of your SaaS data protection plan.

As you look for a solution that best fits your organization’s needs, there are a few key restore capabilities that will ensure business continuity (not to mention, your peace of mind). Download a copy of the Five Essential Restore Capabilities for Cloud Application Data to learn more about the importance of restore and to assist in your search for a backup and restore solution for your organization.

About the Author: Mat Hamlin