Cloud services are becoming increasingly common amongst businesses of all shapes and sizes, allowing for increased productivity while reducing on-premises infrastructure costs. As a result, Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange Online are now a common pairing that offers a hosted platform by which organisations can access their business data from anywhere in the world whether it’s from a workstation or mobile device.
Whilst there’s no denying that there are a number of benefits when moving to Office 365, it’s important to identify the risks involved and consider any changes that may be required to your business practices. Here are 4 areas that your organisation should be definitely be considering when making the move to a cloud-based platform or hybrid solution:
1. Prepare for outages
One common misconception about a cloud-based service is that it will be available 100% of the time. In fact, over the past few months there have been two notable service outages with Office 365, both in December 2015 and January 2016, which caused a lack of connectivity for customers around the world. Both of these disruptions left many users unable to access emails for lengthy periods of time, which in some cases could have a serious impact on an organisation’s reputation and/or ability to function. It’s wise to consider that this could happen again in the future and ensure that you have a failover process in place should your cloud service drop for an extended period of time. We’re not talking a survival kit with spare pens and paper, but rather a tested alternative that could potentially be adopted within your organisation in the event of an emergency. This could be as simple as keeping copies of critical documents locally so your business can still carry out basic functions or meet required objectives.
2. Beware of retention policies
It’s worth taking a moment to consider potential changes when it comes to email retention. With Office 365 Microsoft has since introduced the option in Exchange Online to extend the amount of time items can be retained past the standard 14 days. This is implemented via the use of a custom retention period, which can be set by your Office 365 administrator for deleted items and can be tailored to suit your business requirements. If you take advantage of a managed service then it’s worth checking with your provider in case you’ve got the default period applied and require a different setting. You can also make use of the Exchange Online Retention Policy Tags for default folders and Messaging records management (MRM) to maintain compliance wherever required. A relatively simple area to check, but down the line it will help to prevent items getting accidentally deleted because of an incorrect policy that needed updating.
3. Backups, backups, backups
Just because you’ve got all your data in the cloud, it doesn’t mean that you’re immune from data loss. Common scenarios that could lead to data going missing include data corruption, errors when synchronising or from accidental deletions. Other reasons could include malicious attacks, whether they are external or internal. If a hacker or rogue employee deleted critical business information from your cloud environment, for example, it may not be possible to get that data back if you have not backed up accordingly. What’s more, if you read the fine print, cloud service providers are often not responsible for recovering lost data in these scenarios. It therefore pays to back up your cloud data regularly to safeguard your business against irreversible data loss. It’s advisable to keep two backup systems running, preferably with one being off-site, in order to properly safeguard your business continuity and mitigate downtime should disaster strike.
4. Update your disaster recovery plan
Another major area that is often overlooked is to review and update your disaster recovery (DR) plan. It’s no doubt that as a result of your migration to the cloud your processes and policies will have changed, so be sure to revisit your DR plan and ensure it covers any alterations to your infrastructure, paying close attention to your backup procedures. We’d also strongly recommend including a reputable data recovery companies’ contact details within your plan. You’ll want to be sure that they have experience of working with any type of storage media, major industry partnerships and 24/7 availability, as disaster doesn’t wait until between 9am-5pm to happen! It’s unlikely that you will need them, however, it’s much like an insurance policy; it will give you peace of mind that there will be someone you can call for help should disaster strike and it will save you valuable time choosing them in advance.
When upgrading to any cloud-based platform it is imperative to plan ahead for any eventuality. With all the productivity features on offer with Office 365 and Exchange Online in particular, it is very easy to get caught up in the midst of things and forget about disaster recovery. However addressing these areas, though not extensive by any means, should allow you to cover some your bases and mitigate the chance of a data loss occurring. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll also be able to bounce back quickly if you were to lose data from your cloud environment.
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Mikey has been with Ontrack for 6 years and is the Partner Program Manager, based out of the Epsom, UK office. He is a regular contributor to the Ontrack blog, usually writing about how different types of data storage technologies work. Outside of work you’ll find him either with a guitar in his hands or learning about rocket science.