Eric Harless, Head Backup Nerd, N-able

Is the SaaS experience leading to cloud backup complacency?

Eric Harless, Head Backup Nerd, N-able talks about how services like Microsoft 365 are making people complacent about backup.

Upgrading to a new phone is no longer a painful experience. We’re now used to services being backed up automatically to the cloud and our profiles and data downloading automatically. Download Spotify and that playlist of 1980s hair metal classics is still there. Open Gmail or or even Google Photos and it’s the same experience from any browser or device. Netflix remembers how far through the latest boxset you are when switching from phone to laptop. Even games platforms like Steam automatically carry your saved games across devices.

This makes for a great user experience, but is it warping how we think of SaaS? Managed Services Providers (MSPs) may find that they have a tough time selling their customers on the idea of backup for their cloud services, such as Microsoft 365. It’s in the cloud, right? Doesn’t that mean it’s already backed up, like my playlists and photos?

Why do businesses need backup for Microsoft 365?
Anyone installing Microsoft 365 on a new laptop may be fooled into thinking it works just the same way as all of these other applications. Install Outlook, login, and boom—all of your emails are just there. But there’s one key difference. These applications are being hosted on the cloud, but it doesn’t mean they are backed up. Just as if you lose a Spotify playlist, it’s a pain to put it back together again. Loss of vital business data could have wide-ranging effects, from loss of revenue to compliance fines.

Microsoft guarantees a certain level of service uptime, but it does not guarantee your data. Microsoft 365 data is susceptible to many of the same problems as an on-premises installation, such as:

  • Accidental deletion—If something is dragged to a recycle bin, it will be stored for a number of days, no more than 30. Then it’s gone. If that data was vital, this could be disastrous.
  • Employees leaving—Microsoft recommends sharing mailboxes when an employee leaves to make storing and retrieving information easy. But not every employee departure is one that will give the IT department a great deal of time to set this up, and miscommunication can mean this is missed completely. When that user subscription goes, so does the data.
  • Sabotage—A lack of backup data spells trouble if an employee goes rogue and deletes critical data. If this isn’t caught in the initial 30 days that data is gone for good.
  • Hacking—Microsoft 365 accounts can be susceptible to leaked lists of username and password combos, and cloud services are increasingly seen as good targets to steal data or hold it to ransom.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s some of the most common ways where data can be lost from a Microsoft 365 account. And if something goes wrong, the customer most likely won’t turn to Microsoft for help, but to you, their MSP. Can you help? It depends…

The MSP’s perceived responsibility
If a customer suffers a loss of Microsoft 365 data, then their first port of call likely won’t be Microsoft, but their IT support. If there is no backup, then there is a chance that Microsoft can help, but unfortunately support becomes a relay with the MSP acting as the go-between from the customer to Microsoft. The MSP has really no control over timescales or even whether a solution is possible. The customer will simply have to wait, even if the data loss is critical.

That doesn’t mean the MSP will not be held liable by the customer, even if it is completely blameless. All the customer sees is that they lost data and IT support was unable to help.

MSPs should not let their customers use cloud suites like Microsoft 365 without explaining the need for backup. If they do not proactively get this message to customers, they are putting these customers at risk.

Getting the message across… or not
It is an MSP’s responsibility to make sure that their customers have the relevant protection in place to protect their data and therefore their businesses. This is relatively straightforward when it comes to patching, anti-virus, and the backup of on-premise data. But MSPs may have to go the extra mile to show that backup of cloud data is just as critical.

Or maybe not. Some MSPs have chosen to make cloud backup a standard part of every managed services contract, a condition of being a customer. Whether an MSP decides to do this depends on its customer base, and there should always be a good amount of transparency to make sure that this is not a “hidden” cost.

What about customers who are using Microsoft 365 without backup? It’s time to have a conversation with them about their data and how important it is. What is the most important data being held? What happens if it disappears irretrievably? What would it mean for the business’s reputation and its bottom line?

Even if the data is recoverable by Microsoft, will their timescales be acceptable? Customers should consider what downtime would cost them per minute, per hour, even per day. Is that loss acceptable? How does that loss compare against the cost of backup?

MSPs must make sure that their customers are not making incorrect assumptions about the cloud products they are using. By being proactive, MSPs can avoid a far more awkward conversation when disaster strikes.

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