Limitations to SharePoint Online Backup and Restore

Jasper Oosterveld

by Jasper Oosterveld on 8/5/2016

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Article Details

Date Revised:

Applies to:
backup, Libraries, Lists, Office 365, restore, SharePoint Online, site collections, sites

A couple weeks ago I tweeted a question, asking for a link to the SharePoint Online Service Agreement. I was looking for information about the backup and restore options performed by Microsoft Office 365 Support. We are currently working on a large intranet portal within SharePoint Online. A major part of the implementation is the information architecture. I have to create the site structure and decide between site collections and / or sites. One important factor in the decision is the backup and restore process. I really needed an answer to the following questions:

  1. What are the restore options from MS Office 365 Support? Do they restore only site collections? Or sites, document libraries & lists, documents & items?
  2. How do they restore these items? In place or as additional content with a different filename?

To be honest, I was having problems finding a clear answer to these important questions! I decided to submit a service request with Microsoft Office 365 Support. I received the following reply:

If for some reason data can’t be recovered through the GUI, we provide backup available on the server. For this you need to log the request up to 14 days after accident occurs. This way we can restore files/folders/libraries/main site collections and sub site collections. Basically most items under a site collection. The restore is made by overwriting the existing data. Any duplicate entries are not lost. Duplicate items are restored with the number 1 in the end and it’s up to you which one you would like to keep. The restore can’t be done on a separated location.

Wow, this is important stuff. First of all, you are always going to receive a backup with old data. This results in being stuck with duplicate files with a number 1 in the end. That’s very time consuming to get everything sorted after the backup. You don’t want to restore a complete site collection for just one library or item right? I asked a follow-up question:

“Do you always restore a site collection? No matter the type of content we would like to restore, for example a document library.”

I received the following answer:

If a restore is needed for a document library under a main site collection, then the whole site collection will need to be restored. If the library is placed under a sub site, then we can restore just the sub site. So it’s advisable if you are planning to have multiple libraries, to spread them under sub sites.

Again, very important! Only site collections or sites are restored. Never lists, libraries, items or documents. The good thing is at least that sub sites are also being restored and not only the site collection. This information is very important for governance and compliance purposes. You have to tell your customers, or your own company, about the backup and restore options, basically limitations, within SharePoint Online. If you really need to have longer or more granular backups, you have to look into third-party solutions. I don’t have experience with one so I can’t recommend any. Try and search on Google. Please leave feedback in case you have a recommendation.

I hope the above information is helpful for everyone with the same questions I had. I want to thank a selection of people for providing information: Maarten Eekels, Marco Faasse, Rene Modery, Trevor Seward and Juan Carlos González. Thanks guys!

Updated Note Maarten Eekels provided valuable input:

There is some time between submitting a service request and actually restoring the site. The 14 days is a hard limit. So don’t expect to be able to go exactly 14 days back when you submit the request. Backups occur every 12 hours, so it is not possible to go back just one hour or so (unless you are lucky and that backup ran one hour ago).


TechNet SharePoint Online Service Description

Manage the Recycle Bin of a SharePoint Online site collection


You can find Jasper’s original blog here: SharePoint Online backup & restore

Note that in the comments in Jasper’s post, a few companies are suggested with potential backup solutions.

Also, you should look at Tony Redmond’s article on IT Unity, No Good Answers for Office 365 Backups for limitations you’ll see for other Office 365 products.

Topic: Business Solutions

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