In this insight, we look at what many users think to be a surprising fact in that Microsoft 365 doesn’t provide a traditional email backup solution, and we look at what businesses can do about this.
Did You Know?….
Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft 365 (previously known as Office 365) is not designed as a traditional “backup” solution in the way many businesses might think of backups. Most importantly, email isn’t properly “backed-up” by Microsoft. Instead, the onus is on the business-owner to find their own email backup solution. In fact, Microsoft 365’s backup and recovery default settings only really protect your data for 30-90 days on average.
So, How Does It Handle Email and Other Data?
Although Microsoft 365 doesn’t automatically provide a traditional email backup, it does provide some email and data handling protections that can include aspects of email. For example:
– Microsoft has multiple copies of your data as part of its ‘data resilience.’ For example, if there’s an issue with one data centre or a disk fails, they can recover data from their copies. Although this can help, it’s not the same as a backup that can be used to recover from accidental deletions, malicious activity, etc.
– Microsoft 365 provides retention policies that allow you to specify how long data (like emails) are kept in user mailboxes. Even if a user deletes an email, it can, therefore, be retained in a hidden part of their mailbox for a period you specify.
– For legal purposes, it is possible to put an entire mailbox (or just specific emails) on “Litigation Hold”, which basically ensures that the emails can’t be deleted or modified. Also, eDiscovery tools / document review software can be used by legal professionals for searching across the environment for specific data, e.g. to find emails, documents CAD/CAM files, databases, image files, and more.
– Microsoft’s archiving, i.e. where older emails can be automatically moved to an archive mailbox, can be one way to help businesses ensure that critical data is retained without cluttering the primary mailbox.
– When users delete emails, they go to the ‘Deleted Items’ folder. If emails are deleted from there, they go to the ‘Recoverable Items’ folder, where they remain for another 14 days (by default, but this can be extended) and can, therefore, be recovered.
Although these features help with retaining some important business data and emails, they’re not a substitute for a dedicated and complete email backup solution, and they have their limitations, which are:
– They may not protect against all types of data loss, especially if data gets deleted before a retention policy is set or if the retention period expires. For example, with email archiving, when an item reaches the end of its aging period, it is automatically deleted from Microsoft 365.
– They may not facilitate easy recovery if a user accidentally (or maliciously) deletes a vast amount of critical data.
– They don’t offer a separate, offsite backup in case of catastrophic issues or targeted attacks.
Third-Party Backup Solutions
Given these limitations and given that most businesses would feel more secure knowing that they have a proper email backup solution in place (such as for the sake of business continuity and disaster recovery following a cyber-attack or other serious incident), many businesses opt for third-party backup solutions specifically designed for Microsoft 365 to provide another layer of protection.
These solutions can offer more traditional backup and valued recovery capabilities, such as ‘point-in-time restoration’.
There are many examples of third-party Office 365 and email backup solutions and for most businesses, their managed support provider is able to provide an email backup solution that meets their specific needs.
Does Google Backup Your Gmail Emails?
As with Microsoft 365, Google provides a range of data retention and resilience features for Gmail (especially for its business-oriented services like Google Workspace) but these aren’t traditional backup solutions. The retention and resilience features Google’s Gmail does provide include:
– For data resilience, Google has multiple data copies. If one fails, another ensures data availability.
– Deleted Gmail emails stay in ‘Trash’ for 30 days, allowing user recovery.
– The ‘Google Vault for Google Workspace sets email retention rules, which can be used to preserve emails even if deleted in Gmail.
– “Google Takeout” (data export) is probably the closest thing to backup that Gmail offers its users. Takeout lets users export/download their Gmail data for offline storage. Also, the exported MBOX file can be imported into various email clients or platforms. However, this isn’t necessarily the automatic, ongoing backup solution that many businesses feel they need.
Like 365, Google Workspace offers archiving to retain critical emails beyond Gmail’s regular duration.
As with Microsoft 365’s data retaining features, these also have their limitations, such as:
– They might not protect against all types of data loss, especially if emails are deleted before retention policies are set or if the retention period expires.
– They might not offer an easy recovery process for large-scale data losses.
– They don’t provide a separate, offsite backup.
What Can Gmail Users Do To Back Up Their Email?
In addition to simply using Google Takeout for backups, other options that Gmail users could consider for email backup include:
– Third-party backup tools, such as UpSafe and Spinbackup and others.
– Using an email client, e.g. Microsoft Outlook. For example, once set up, the client will download and store a local copy of the emails, and regularly backing up the local machine or the email client’s data will include these emails.
– Setting up email forwarding to another account, although this may be a bit rudimentary for many businesses, and it won’t back up existing emails.
– While a bit tedious, businesses could choose to manually forward important emails to another email address or save emails as PDFs.
– Google Workspace Vault can technically enable Workspace admins to set retention rules, ensuring certain emails are kept even if they’re deleted in the main Gmail interface.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
You may (perhaps rightly) be surprised that Microsoft 365, and Google’s Gmail don’t specifically provide email backup as a matter of course.
Considering we operate in business environment where data is now a critical asset of businesses and organisations, email is still a core business communications tool, and cybercrime such as phishing attacks, malware (ransomware) are common threats, having an effective, regular, and automatic business backup solution in place is now essential, at least for business continuity and disaster recovery. Although Microsoft and Google offer a variety of data retention features, these have clear limitations and are not really a substitute for the peace of mind and confidence of knowing that the emails that are the lifeblood of the business (and contain sensitive and important data) are being backed up regularly, securely, and reliably.
For many businesses and organisations, therefore, their IT support company (or MSP – ‘managed service provider’) is the obvious and sensible first stop for getting a reliable backup solution for their Microsoft 365 emails.
This is because their IT Support company is likely to already have a suitable solution that they know well, and have an in-depth understanding of the business’s infrastructure, requirements, and unique challenges. This means that they can tailor their backup solution to fit specific client needs, ensuring seamless integration with existing systems. Also, their first-hand knowledge of a business’s operations positions them better for rapid response and effective resolution in case of data restoration requirements or backup issues. For businesses, lowering risk by entrusting email backup to a known entity can also streamline communication and support processes, making the overall backup and recovery experience more efficient and reliable for the business.