Planning to recover from a disaster is an absolute must for any company, regardless of its size. The ability to bring a business back online after an event such as a ransomware or malware attack, flood, tornado or even (God forbid) another 9/11 type of attack — and to do so in a timely fashion with minimal data loss — should be the goal of any disaster recovery plan.
Disaster recovery planning is a tedious and complex process. An easy way to incorporate it in the 21st century is through Office 365 cloud services, which are in use within many businesses.
Traditionally, IT departments and other internal working groups, such as human resources and executive leadership, work together to develop the best possible solution for their disaster recovery needs.
Their plans focus on alternate data centers, server backup and recovery, and restoring network communications to various business locations, among other things. The strategies are geared toward restoring the company as a whole, but not necessarily addressing the needs of an individual user within the organization.
The problem: Ineffective disaster recovery
The recovery options available to an end user after any sort of data loss are determined by where his or her data resides. Typically, data either is stored on a remote or mobile computer not always connected to the enterprise LAN, or on a computer always connected to the enterprise LAN.
The ability to recover lost or corrupted data can sometimes be troublesome or just plain impossible. Let’s look at a couple of hypothetical scenarios to help illustrate potential problems in restoring lost or corrupt end-user data.
The IT department provides end users with an external storage drive and configures their local backup tools (Windows backup or Windows File History) to use said drive for data backups. Additionally, or instead of that, IT provides end users with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection and configures their local backup tools to use their VPN for backup to a network share.
These aren’t always the best solutions because they rely heavily on end users, who aren’t trained for IT support, to maintain their own backups. Not to mention, connectivity issues will occasionally surface in their VPN software or failures will occur in their external storage drives. When either scenario happens, data backups don’t, and all bets are off as to the reliability and recoverability of end-user data.
The IT department configures end-user LAN-connected computers in one of three ways to be able to address data backups. The first is to have all end-user data stored on a personal network share. This share is then backed up by a backup server and stored on a backup and recovery medium of some sort.
The second is to store all end-user data on the user’s computer and have local backup tools (Windows backup or Windows File History) configured to back up data to a network share. This share is then backed up by a backup server and stored on a backup and recovery medium of some sort as well.
The third way is to again store all end-user data on the user’s computer but to have remote backup agents installed on the computer as well. Backups are performed remotely by a backup server and stored on a backup and recovery medium also.
Although all of these are perfectly viable, albeit cumbersome, backup solutions to use, they don’t always provide effective recovery options. Anyone who’s worked with backup and recovery tools within a business knows the ability to recover data is only as good as your most recent reliable backup.
That means if data was corrupt when backed up, it will be corrupt when it’s restored. IT would have to progressively move backward through its backups to try to find an uncorrupted copy of any required data.
If a recovery is of a time-sensitive nature and IT must iterate through multiple tapes and backup jobs spread over a significant time span, it could be costly both financially and legally for the company.
For the end user who just needs to have last month’s budget spreadsheet restored from backup today because it was accidentally deleted from his or her drive last week, the process is the same as just mentioned.
Unfortunately, the end user may not get his or her budget file today and maybe not tomorrow or the next day either — simply because of the complicated recovery process IT must undertake to get this one file.
Typically, there’s no means within a business that would allow the end user to recover his or her own file when, how or from whatever date and time desired without IT involvement.
The solution: OneDrive for Business
An integral part of Microsoft Office 365, OneDrive for Business provides a single place in the cloud to store, manage, share, work from or, if you so choose, sync your work files to your local computer for offline access.
You can update and share your files from any device with OneDrive for Business and even work on Office documents with others simultaneously using real-time collaboration. You get 1 terabyte of storage space with each subscription.
Access to files can be in a web browser, directly from Office 365 ProPlus desktop programs, in the OneDrive sync client folder in Windows File Explorer, in the Office apps for iPad, iPhone, Windows Phones, Android phones, and in Android tablets.
As with any document management solution, the ability to recover accidentally or intentionally deleted documents is critical. OneDrive for Business provides a multilayered, self-service-oriented document recovery solution.
This is accomplished by using the OneDrive versioning, site Recycle Bin, second-stage Recycle Bin, files restore feature, Windows Recycle Bin and Microsoft support. All document management and recovery tasks within OneDrive, except the Windows Recycle Bin and Microsoft support, are accomplished in the web browser.
The following describes the self-service recovery options available. Enterprise IT staff may also use these tools to assist end users with data recovery operations, if so required.
- Version history would be used, for example, when a desired document has become corrupt or when a document creator wishes to start over at a given point in the document creation process. Versioning allows the OneDrive for Business owner to quickly recover a document. By default, OneDrive for Business versioning can store a total of 500 major versions of every file. However, versions of documents are only created when a document is edited and saved in OneDrive.
Site Recycle Bin, also known as the first-stage Recycle Bin, is built into OneDrive for Business in the cloud. Its sole purpose is to temporarily capture documents that have been deleted by the OneDrive for Business owner.Deleted documents will be stored in the site Recycle Bin for 93 days from the date of the original deletion. If the site Recycle Bin becomes full, it will begin moving documents to the second-stage Recycle Bin. This is done using the First-in, First-out (FIFO) method. Also, if documents are deleted from the site Recycle Bin or the bin is emptied, the documents will be placed in the second-stage Recycle Bin.
Site collection Recycle Bin, also known as the second-stage Recycle Bin, is the next component of the document recovery safeguards that are accessible to the OneDrive for Business owner. Any document placed in the second-stage Recycle Bin will stay there the remainder of the allotted 93 days from the original deletion date. At the end of that time, files will be purged form the second-stage Recycle Bin
Files restore is a complete self-service recovery solution that allows end users and, if needed, administrators to restore files from any point in time during the past 30 days. If a user suspects his or her files have been compromised, he or she can investigate file changes and go back in time to any second in the last 30 days only. Both users and administrators can rewind changes using activity data to find the exact moment to revert to.
Files restore uses the previously mentioned version history and recycle bins to restore OneDrive, so it's subject to the same limits and restrictions as they are. When you use the files restore feature, your OneDrive will be restored to its previous state before the first activity you selected. If you change your mind about the restore, you can undo it by running files restore again and selecting the restore action you just did.
Microsoft support (Service-Level Agreement (SLA)) — If a document is required that cannot be recovered using the methods outlined in items 1 and 4, Microsoft Office 365 support may be able to help. For that to happen, IT must open a support request with Microsoft.Microsoft completes OneDrive backups every 12 hours, and those backups are retained for only 14 days. Microsoft support typically cannot recover a single file and is only used for restoring an entire OneDrive for Business site collection when all other options have failed.
Windows Recycle Bin — Any document deleted from the local OneDrive for Business sync client folder will be moved to the Windows Recycle Bin. At the same time, the file will be deleted from OneDrive for Business in the cloud and moved to the site Recycle Bin. If the file is restored to its original location from the Windows Recycle Bin, it will be synced to OneDrive for Business in the cloud.
Likewise, if the file is restored to its original location in the cloud from the OneDrive for Business site Recycle Bin, it will be synced to the local computer.
If you had any doubts about whether to move to OneDrive for Business within the enterprise, these features should be enough to make you pause and consider the benefits. OneDrive empowers end users to take control of their data and manage it in the way that’s best for their daily work life.
The software’s user-oriented file recovery features reduce the amount of man-hours required by IT staff to assist in recovering missing or corrupt data and free IT workers to spend their time on other more pressing matters.
With OneDrive for Business, there are no backups to maintain, and access to user data doesn’t require a connection to the enterprise LAN via a VPN. Data is always accessible in the cloud no matter where the user happens to be.
DISCLAIMER: Microsoft does not consider OneDrive for Business Sync Client to be a backup solution for end-user data stored in OneDrive for Business in the cloud but rather a tool to allow for short-term offline access to OneDrive for Business data. OneDrive for Business in the cloud, not local copies of OneDrive data, should be the source of truth. Third-party cloud backup solutions should be investigated for OneDrive for Business data backup.