Preparing for SharePoint Online Content Recovery


Understanding the backup and restore capabilities of your team as well as the services offered by Microsoft will allow you to define how you can best support content restores. 

This post from a Microsoft Support Technician identifies the services Microsoft makes available for content restores.  In the SharePoint Online Service Description, you'll find Microsoft's official word on their support for backing up and restoring content.

Its up to you to understand the capabilities of your team and how their skills, tools and knowledge of SharePoint Online can support content recovery.

Supported Content

Carefully consider the content that will be deployed into your SharePoint Online sites. 

If you are deploying mission critical content into SharePoint Online, be sure to understand the business impact that a restore will have on this content and that this content may have to be rolled back to a previous state.

The risk of deploying any content to a cloud service, is that you are giving up at least some level of control over the content.  Considering that you don't have control over where the content is stored, without a third party product or service, you are fully dependent on your provider for recovering lost content.

Identify, govern and communicate the content you will support for deployment into SharePoint Online.

Proactive Preparation

Preparation is a critical part of being able to respond to the needs of your business.  Like any other solution, you must understand the requirements the business has of the system.  Don't overlook requirements the business may have for restoring document content from SharePoint Online. 

Here are a few content restore scenarios to consider when thinking about what your business may be faced with:

Item Level Scenarios

  • A document goes missing
  • A file becomes corrupted
  • An item is accidentally deleted

List and Library Level Scenarios

  • A list or library is deleted
  • List or library settings / configurations / customizations are changed

Site Level Scenarios

  • A site is accidentally deleted
  • A content type / workflow or other customization is deleted
  • Items are deleted from a Gallery
  • Complicated Security or Permissions are removed

Site Collection Level Scenarios

  • A Site Collection is Deleted
  • Custom Master Page, Page Layouts, Themes or CSS are Deleted
  • Custom Solutions are Deleted

Planning Site Collections

The lowest level that Microsoft will restore content for a SharePoint Online customer is at the Site Collection level.  This means that when a restore is requested, all content currently active in a Site Collection will be replaced by the requested backup.

Be strategic in how you deploy Site Collections into SharePoint Online.  This article identifies the boundaries and limits for Site Collections and other areas of SharePoint Online.  

  • Before creating a Site Collection, qualify your decision using these guidelines:
    • Create Site Collections when you need a boundary for managing content of a similar purpose. Examples of this is where a Site Collection is dedicated for content such as Teams, Apps, Records, Communications Portal and Social purposes.
    • Create a Site Collection when you need to create a strict security boundary for content that needs to be administered in a highly secure way (HR and Finance content are examples of this).  You might have different Site Collection Administrators and controls on the content you are storing in these types of Site Collections.
  • Consider that having content divided between many Site Collections can add difficulties when multiple Site Collections need to be restored at once.  Deploy Site Collections sparingly.
  • Keeping all of your content in a Single Site Collection will force you to roll back all content to the restore point - having a greater impact on the business.

Responding to Content Recovery Requests

In any event, how your team responds to these types of incidents is critical.  If your team is well trained in the Office365, and SharePoint Online features, there is a lot they can do to respond and recover content quickly and easily on their own.

Tactics for Resolving Content and Configuration Issues

Security and Compliance Center
  1. Identify when and how the issue occurred
    1. Use the Security & Compliance center > Audit Log search
    2. This records all user activity in your SharePoint Online
    3. From here you will be able to determine when the issue occurred
  2. Troubleshoot the issue yourself
    1. For Content Issues, have users check the List and Site level Recycle Bins
      • Content is stored in the Recycle Bin for 90 days (by default)
      • After this period of time, the content is moved into the Site Collection Recycle Admin
    2. As a site Collection Admin, you can access the Site Collection Recycle Bin as well.
      • Once content is moved into the Site Collection Recycle Bin, it will stay there for another 30 days
      • Under the default settings, a piece of deleted content should still be recoverable from the Recycling Bin for 120 days
    3. Version history (if its been activated) can be used on a list or library to recover previous versions of a file.
    4. If a custom Workflow, Content Type or Configuration is deleted or removed, you may need to recreate it manually - is there a copy in your Development or Test Environment that you can refer to?
    5. As a SharePoint Online Admin, you can recover deleted Site Collections as well.  Read all about how to restore a Deleted Site Collection here.
  3. Know When to Escalate
    1. If the content you are missing is valuable enough, consider if it is worth contacting Microsoft or using other Tools.

How Microsoft Can Help

Microsoft takes a backup every 12 hours.  These backups are kept for a period of 14 days. Microsoft restores at a Site Collection level, not at the subsite or item level.  A Site Collection Restore replaces all of the content currently in the Site Collection with the backup.  Consider what this may mean for your business:

  • When you realize you need content restored by Microsoft, don't delay contacting them.  Once the 14-day period has passed, the restore you need may no longer be available. 
  • Considering that Microsoft takes a backup every 12 hours, if the item you need to have restored was deleted 1 hour after the last backup, a restore will roll you back to the point of the last backup.  Consider the impact to the rest of the business - how much other important work will be lost. 
  • Understand that your users of the Site Collection will face an outage while the Restore operation completed.  The amount of time the restore will take is dependent on the volume of content being restored. 

The Value of Third Party Backup Solutions

A third party solution may offer you more control over backup and restore capabilities than what is offered by Microsoft.  Why to consider using a third party tool:

  • More ability to perform more granular restores
  • Setup your own backup / restore schedule
  • Store content backups in the cloud or on premises

Third party solutions offer more flexibility and additional recovery options.  However, these solutions come with a price tag and a cost of ownership to consider.