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SaaS Data Recovery: Are Your Cloud Files Really Safe?

Picture of Dale Shulmistra

Dale Shulmistra

Data Protection Specialist @ Invenio IT

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SaaS data recovery

Losing data from a SaaS application can create a headache for your IT teams, not to mention a drain on the company’s bottom line. If the loss is great enough, it can cause business-threatening downtime, potentially disrupting your operations.

So, how do you prevent it?

The first step is implementing a dependable SaaS backup solution. This ensures you’ll have access to a backup copy of your cloud data in the event of a disaster.

But how you recover that data is equally important.

Simply having a backup is one thing. Being able to restore it neatly back into the SaaS application is another.

Here’s why it matters.

A typical example of SaaS data loss

Imagine a scenario in which Jim from the Sales team has been storing all his files in OneDrive (sales contracts, customer notes, PowerPoint presentations – everything). Under normal conditions, this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. OneDrive and Microsoft 365 enable teams to work smarter and more efficiently by leveraging the cloud. So Jim can collaborate and access his files from anywhere: at home, at work, during client meetings and so on.

But, unfortunately, Jim accidentally deleted a year’s worth of work within OneDrive – all because of a few accidental taps on the smartphone app.

“No worries!” Jim assures his boss, because he knows that Microsoft 365 allows you to restore deleted data from the recycling bin.

But sadly, it’s too late. He deleted the data months ago, so he’s missed the 90-day period to restore the data. It’s gone – permanently.

A glimmer of hope?

As it turns out, Beth from IT had been preparing for situations like this. Last year, she integrated a third-party SaaS data recovery solution that automatically backs up M365 files.

This provided a new glimmer of hope for Jim (and his entire team, which desperately needed those deleted files). But when Beth recovered the backup, their hopes were dashed.

All the data was dumped in a giant, messy ZIP file with none of the original folders left intact. Even the file names were changed to non-descript letters and numbers. It was not clear which files were which or where they belonged.

Over the next few weeks, Jim and his teams are forced to tediously go through every file to find what they need and piece their data back together. But the whole incident is a costly mess – all because of a simple mistake (followed by disappointingly ineffective SaaS data recovery). 

SaaS data restoration vs. data recovery

While it’s true that some other SaaS applications may provide a backup in an emergency, the ability to restore these backups into the application is sometimes very limited.

That’s the key difference between backups that provide data recovery and those that offer full data restoration.

  • Data recovery, in this sense, refers to a barebones process of merely recovering raw data from a backup – i.e. via a compressed file exported from the application.
  • Data restoration refers to not only recovery but also the process of restoring the data back into the application, so that it appears as it did originally, with little to no manual effort needed.

Don’t get us wrong. A raw data recovery is not useless. On the contrary, it’s an essential last resort for SaaS backup. If you have zero other backup options available to you, it’s still better to have some form of data recovery than to have no backup at all.

However, for a much faster and painless recovery, then you absolutely want full data restoration.

What data restoration looks like

Let’s look at another example of a popular SaaS solution: Google Workspace.

Like Microsoft 365, Google Workspace is a robust cloud-based collaboration solution that is designed to take a ton of important integrated data—emails, files, calendars, tasks, activities and so on—and display it neatly on screen in a way that’s easy to understand and navigate.

But when you take away the interface, things are much more complex.

You’re left with all these different data points, each mapped to different categories, locations and other datasets. And that’s basically what you see when you export a backup directly from the application: a mess of Zip and Tgz files, CSVs and so on.

Data restoration goes beyond a mere export by putting the data back where it belongs in the application. So for example, if an employee left your company months ago, but the data needs to be used by a new hire, a full data restoration is critical. It fully restores the entire account, including all user data across the entire suite of services: Gmail, Calendar, Slides, Chat and so on.

The problem with raw data recovery

In an interview highlighted by Dell, Jeff Erramouspe, general manager at Spanning, explained how raw data recovery falls short in comparison to backup tools that provide full restoration:

“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.”

Putting that data back into the right places, manually, can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, Erramouspe said. It’s a painstaking and time-consuming process, which eats up your IT resources and ultimately costs the company money.

Additionally, manually importing the data comes with a lot of risk for error. If the data isn’t restored in the right places, it creates costly inaccuracies across the application.

What about individual files in M365 and Google Workspace?

Same story.

Even if you’ve lost a single file in Google Drive or Microsoft 365’s OneDrive, it’s not a matter of simply recovering the file. Which version? From what date? With what file structures or sharing settings?

All of this granularity needs to be taken into account. And the only way to ensure 100% accuracy is to use a SaaS backup solution that fully restores everything (the file and all associated metadata) into the app, and into the appropriate user’s account, so that it appears exactly as it was before the file was deleted.

Can Microsoft ever be at fault for losing my data?

Not likely. But it is likely that you will.

SaaS providers like Google and Microsoft go to great lengths to safeguard your data. It’s unlikely that their platforms will lose, delete or compromise your data.

The real threat is you and your users.

Human error is the single greatest cause of data loss within SaaS applications. In a survey, 47% of companies said their employees had accidentally deleted SaaS data in the previous year.  17% had accidentally overwritten data. Others lost data when users closed the browser before saving, or when rogue employees deleted data on purpose, or when third-party applications overwrote data.

See a pattern? In each of these scenarios, an end user was ultimately at fault.

Additionally, another common cause of SaaS data loss is user licenses being accidentally allowed to expire. Someone resigns from the company and their M365 license is not renewed. But the company forgets to retrieve the employee’s critical files before the license expires, resulting in permanent deletion. That’s a huge disadvantage to the new hire or other team members that needed those files. This too is a form of human error, stemming from lax company policies about how SaaS data is retained and transferred to other employees when someone resigns.

In each of these scenarios, you can’t blame the loss on Microsoft or Google. Your SaaS applications don’t know that these data deletions are accidental. The software is simply working as designed, responding to the user’s commands (or lack thereof). This is why it’s ultimately your responsibility to back up your SaaS data: so that when accidents inevitably happen, you have the ability to restore it.

Restoring the file versions you needed

One of the benefits of managing documents in Google Drive and OneDrive is the ability to view version history. You can see how documents have changed, when they were changed and by whom. And reverting back to any of those versions is a snap.

But when you delete the document, this flexibility putters out pretty quickly. In OneDrive, you do have the ability to restore the document for a limited time, but only the most recent version—not the previous versions. Additionally, after the default retention period ends, the file is no longer able to be restored. It’s gone for good.

A good SaaS backup solution will ensure you have not only a backup copy of the document, but also its version history, allowing you to restore the exact copy you need.

What to look for

Full data restoration is an important function to have in a SaaS backup solution, but there are other features you should be looking for as well.

Popular SaaS applications aren’t just limited in how the data is recovered. They’re limited in how the data is backed up, how often and how long it’s retained. These limitations will ultimately hinder your ability to maintain continuity when data loss occurs.

An ideal SaaS backup solution is one that:

  • Backs up all data within the SaaS application: Platforms like Google Workspace and M365 contain a lot of data, across their many different services. Look for a SaaS backup solution that protects all data, across the entire suite, rather than a single service such as OneDrive.
  • Performs backups automatically: You and your IT teams should not need to manually back up your SaaS data or set a reminder to do it. It should happen automatically, reducing the risk of missed backups and freeing up your team’s schedules for more important tasks. For M365 backup or Google Workspace data, make sure that backups happen automatically, at least once a day.
  • Gives you control over backup frequency and retention: As with traditional disaster recovery systems for local data, every organization has different backup needs. Larger businesses with more users will naturally produce more data in M365 and should back it up more frequently. The best SaaS backup solutions are those that give you control over how often those backups occur (and how long they’re retained).
  • Restores data seamlessly back into the application with little to no manual work required: If you’re evaluating different backup products, be sure to confirm how the SaaS data restoration works. What does the recovery look like? Is it just a big data dump, or is everything restored back to where it was so there’s little downtime or productivity loss?
  • Maintains iron-clad cloud security & reliability: If your SaaS backups are being stored in a third-party cloud, be sure to use a reputable provider that takes security seriously. Find out what security measures are in place at the data center. Also, ask for uptime reports to confirm the availability of the cloud service and ensure that your backups will be recoverable when it matters most.
  • Keeps you in compliance with regulatory guidelines for handling data: If your organization must comply with regulatory requirements (such as HIPAA for healthcare orgs), make sure that your SaaS backup does not push you out of compliance. Confirm how your data is stored to ensure that procedures are in-line with regulations.

How Datto & Redstor back up your SaaS data

Two recommended solutions for backing up your SaaS applications are Datto SaaS Protection and Redstor. Here’s a quick rundown of both:

1) Datto SaaS Protection is a cloud-to-cloud SaaS backup solution, meaning that it backs up data from your SaaS provider’s cloud and copies it to Datto’s cloud (also referred to as “direct-to-cloud backup”).

Datto SaaS Protection is currently available for Microsoft 365 backup and Google Workspace. It’s an ideal solution for any business that keeps critical data within these platforms, as it provides automatic backups (up to three times a day) and full data restoration.

  • For M365 backup, Datto SaaS Protection protects email, contacts, calendar entries and more, including all data within Microsoft Exchange, Tasks, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and OneDrive.
  • For Google Workspace, Datto SaaS Protection, protects all data with Gmail, Calendars, Contacts, Drive and Shared Drives.

2) Redstor is another solid direct-to-cloud SaaS backup solution that can back up several additional SaaS platforms, in addition to local servers, endpoints and virtual machines.

In terms of SaaS backup, Redstor currently backs up the following platforms:

Redstor can also backup cloud environments, including Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) and Azure Kubernetes (AKS).

Data restoration in Redstor & Datto SaaS Protection

Both Datto SaaS Protection and Redstor make SaaS backup seamless, especially when it comes to recovery. Both interfaces have powerful search features that make it easy to locate missing data, files and folders. When you find what you need, it only takes a few clicks to restore those items back to the user’s account or to the administrator’s own computer.

Even if a SaaS application were to go down for an extended period, you can still access your backup within Datto SaaS Protection’s independent interface.

So whether Jim from Sales has just deleted large swaths of data again, or OneDrive itself has experienced an expected outage, you know your data is safe in Datto SaaS Protection and ready to be restored at a moment’s notice.

Added protection against malware and cyberattacks

As more businesses transitioned to cloud productivity apps over the last decade, it has opened the door to a wider array of threats. Beyond human error, data within SaaS applications can be compromised by malware, phishing attacks and other malicious activity.

In response to this, Datto has rolled out an additional layer of protection for its SaaS backup solution, called Datto SaaS Defense. Datto SaaS Defense provides advanced threat detection for Microsoft 365. It actively scans M365 for signs of compromised data within Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams. It can detect ransomware, malware, phishing attempts and business email compromise (BEC) – including even zero-day threats that have no known antivirus signatures.

So for example, if an MS Doc has been weaponized, or a phishing email is disguised as a message from a coworker, Datto SaaS Defense blocks it automatically.

Datto SaaS Defense is available as an add-on to Datto SaaS Protection (referred to as Datto SaaS Protection +), combining the benefits of SaaS backup and SaaS threat detection into a single solution. Redstor, too, uses its own AI-powered, malware detection technology, which neutralizes threats before they become attacks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is disaster recovery for SaaS?

SaaS disaster recovery refers to the process of backing up and restoring data within software-as-a-service applications. Since SaaS data is typically not protected by traditional on-prem disaster recovery solutions, independent cloud backup tools are needed to ensure that critical files can be recovered after accidental deletion, cyberattack and other threats.

Examples of disaster recovery solutions for SaaS are Datto SaaS Protection and Restor, which provide automatic backup for Microsoft 365, Google Workspace and other SaaS applications.

2. What is SaaS backup?

SaaS backup is a form of data backup that is designed specifically for software-as-a-service applications. Unlike traditional backup solutions, which primarily protect local files, SaaS backup creates copies of data stored in cloud-based services, such as Google Drive, Gmail, Microsoft Exchange and others.

3. Are cloud-based services backed up?

Most cloud-based services have limited backup capabilities. Typically, users can only restore deleted files for a pre-determined retention period of 30 to 90 days, depending on the provider. After that period, the data is permanently deleted. Organizations using third-party cloud services are thus advised to back up their cloud data with independent backup tools.

Conclusion

SaaS backup has become a vital tool for businesses that are storing more data in cloud-based collaboration suites, such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. Since these platforms have limited built-in backup capabilities, an independent backup solution like Datto SaaS Protection or Redstor is strongly recommended to prevent data loss from accidental deletions, human error, cyberattacks and other threats. Beyond just backup, this solution enables a quick and seamless SaaS data recovery, allowing administrators to fully restore all data back to the user’s account with original configurations and file structures intact.

Take a closer look at today’s best SaaS data recovery solutions

Request a free demo of Datto SaaS Protection and/or Redstor to see how they can protect your critical data in Microsoft 365, Google Workspace and other SaaS platforms. For more information, contact our business continuity specialists at Invenio IT by calling (646) 395-1170 or emailing success@invenioIT.com.

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