Why OneDrive is not a True Backup Solution

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OneDrive vs Cloud Backup

What is OneDrive?

OneDrive is a cloud storage solution provided by Microsoft for Microsoft 365 users. OneDrive allows users to store files to access them from multiple devices or share them with other users. OneDrive works with a sync client application that synchronizes files to the cloud. However, is it safe to rely on OneDrive as a backup solution?

In general, it is not recommended to rely on OneDrive as a backup solution.

OneDrive vs. Cloud Backup

Many Microsoft 365 users often consider and rely on OneDrive as a backup solution. However, this approach can put their data at risk.

A common misconception is that it OneDrive is a backup solution. However, OneDrive is not a true backup solution. Rather, it is a synchronization service meant to make your files accessible to you, the user, on various devices anytime and anywhere. Essentially, OneDrive is most useful for staff who are not stationed in one office location but either travel frequently for work, work from home, or work on-the-go and may want to access their work from alternate devices such as a different home laptop, tablet/iPhone, iPhone or smartphone.

OneDrive for business allows you to leave your office computer/laptop behind but still access your files (text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, etc.) anywhere and anytime via a web browser, as long as you have access to the internet. OneDrive is therefore not a backup service in the traditional sense. Rather, it is intended to store and access/share files. As soon as you make any changes to files stored on OneDrive, the changes are immediately updated/synchronized across all devices that may be accessing them (laptop, tablet, smartphone).

The difference between Synchronization and Backup

Let’s find out the difference between synchronization and backup using common scenarios with OneDrive. But before we do, let us first understand what synchronization means.

How OneDrive Synchronization Works

When you configure the OneDrive sync app to synchronize files in a selected folder, after adding new files to this folder or making changes to an existing file, the new file or edited file is synchronized to the cloud within seconds – as long as there is an internet connection.

Synchronization is beneficial when you need to work on the same files from different devices, for instance, on a tablet/smartphone or home computer and a work computer, and you always need to access the latest version of those files. In this case, the latest changes made on your home computer are synchronized to OneDrive; therefore, when you access the same file from your computer at work, the updated files are synchronized from OneDrive to the local folder on your work computer by using the OneDrive sync app.

An alternative way of using OneDrive is to use OneDrive’s web interface to access files stored in the cloud. You may later continue to edit files on the home computer after changes made on your work computer are synchronized.

Important: Files not stored in OneDrive’s sync folders (Window’s default Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders) are not synchronized. This is often an inconvenience for users who don’t store their files on Windows C drive - the standard user folders in the Windows operating system.

These use cases can help you understand the sync vs. backup comparison better and why you need to avoid synchronization in cases where a backup is required.

Scenarios Where OneDrive Can Be Used as Backup

Scenario 1

You have accidentally deleted a file on your laptop, the changes have been synchronized to OneDrive within seconds, and therefore, the file is also deleted in OneDrive on the cloud. You can try to recover the deleted file from the Recycle Bin on your laptop (or Trash in Mac). It is also usually temporarily available on OneDrive’s Recycle Bin accessed on OneDrive via the web interface.

Scenario 2

You have made and saved changes to a file on your computer. The changes have been synchronized to OneDrive within seconds, but you quickly realize you need to undo the changes and revert to the earlier version of the file (for instance, Word, Excel, PowerPoint). If Version History or versioning is enabled, you can restore an earlier version of the file that does not contain the latest (unwanted) changes and delete the most recent version with the unwanted changes. This process may take a few moments but spares you the agony of having to create the entire document from scratch.

Scenario 3

If your work computer’s hard disk crashes and files cannot be read, or you have lost your laptop, you can restore the latest versions of the files from OneDrive if they were synchronized. In this scenario, files stored in OneDrive on the cloud can be used as a backup, and you can copy these files to a new computer or laptop.

So far, so good. OneDrive is nailing it as backup… but wait! There are scenarios where OneDrive will not help you as backup. Let’s take a look at these in the next section.

Where Cloud Storage Works Better Than Cloud Backup

• Remote file access

• To share files with others

• For files that are frequently accessed/updated

Where OneDrive Fails the Test of a True Cloud Backup


Scenario 4: File deletion

In scenario 1 above, even if the option of retrieving your accidentally deleted files from the Recycle Bin or Trash is available, if your Recycle Bin is emptied after deletion, or if the web-based OneDrive Recycle Bin is emptied after deletion – the file is permanently lost. It cannot be recovered.

In contrast, a true cloud backup service will keep copies of each iteration (version) of your files. In this scenario 4, cloud backup would be more useful.

Scenario 5: Corrupted Files

If a file you are working on on your computer is accidentally corrupted. OneDrive will still synchronize that change meaning the synchronized copy of the file in OneDrive will now also be corrupted.

In such a scenario, true cloud backup will aid in the recovery of documents in the event of file corruption.

Scenario 6: Transfer of large amounts of data

You cannot copy many files (a large amount of data) to OneDrive’s synchronized folder on a computer and proceed to sync this data to the cloud. The process would be too slow and may not complete successfully.

This is another scenario where cloud backup is better for copying large amounts of data to a different storage location.

Scenario 7: Files encrypted by ransomware

If a file on your computer is infected by ransomware, it may be encrypted and then renamed, say from mybucketlist.docx to corruptbucketlist.Thimble. OneDrive synchronizes this immediately. In your OneDrive folder, you will no longer find the file mybucketlist.docx anywhere – not even in the Recycle Bin. Renaming the file circumvents the versioning history and recycle bin features –complicating the chance of recovery of any previous versions.

Recovery after ransomware

While it is not entirely impossible to recover files from OneDrive after a ransomware attack, it can also be complicated, tedious, and time-consuming if you’re dealing with multiple infected files. Here’s why.

The threat of a ransomware attack has grown significantly in the last couple of years. If your computer is infected by ransomware, all the data therein may be encrypted – except the operating system files.

As described above, when ransomware encrypts files on your computer, the encrypted files are synchronized and will appear encrypted files (corrupted) on OneDrive cloud. Hidden among the names of encrypted files in OneDrive, you can attempt to use the Version History feature to recover previous versions of files – you may need to repair the file-naming with some additional steps. NB: In this case, OneDrive uses the Version History feature not for backup protection from malicious efforts but rather as a convenience mechanism against unwanted edits and accidental deletion. This misses the scope of true Backup Services which are intended to protect you from yourself, as well as to protect you from others.

Another shortcoming of OneDrive in this scenario where is where you need to recover multiple files as OneDrive has no bulk rollback feature. Therefore, if you have hundreds or thousands of files, in practice, this process is time-consuming and needs a lot of effort to recover multiple files or folders. If you need to recover thousands of files, recovery with versioning is not very practical. OneDrive lacks a bulk rollback or restore feature because it was not intended as a backup solution. Rather, OneDrive is intended as a service to allow for file synchronization across multiple devices to allow access to files from anywhere.

This is another scenario where true cloud backup will aid in recovering files in the event of a ransomware attack. True cloud backup services provide bulk-rollback functionality and bulk file export functionality if an entire device has been compromised.

Kaluari Cloud Backup (Backup as a Service)

Get in touch with us for your automated cloud backup solution, and spare yourself the devastation of days of downtime after losing critical data – accidentally (fire, floods) or through malicious attacks such as ransomware.

Kaluari Cloud Backup (Backup as a Service) is an all-in-one data protection solution that supports backup of files data held on physical machines, databases, ERPs and entire virtual machines.

Kaluari BaaS allows you to backup and recover your data rationally. It allows you to:

• Schedule and automate your backup process.

• Schedule incremental backups

• Specify retention period (i.e., how long you would like the data that is backed up to be held)

• Select what you want to back up (you’re not limited to data held in specific folders as with OneDrive sync).

• You can store as much data as you like.

• Specify the frequency of backup as per your organization’s defined backup strategy.

• Restore files in bulk (bulk rollback feature).

• Set as many recovery points as you need.

• Set restore points.

• Allows for granular recovery, i.e., perform restores at a specific point in time of all data or restore only certain selected files.

• Will help you to implement the 3-2-1 backup strategy – your offsite copy will be on Kaluari cloud.

Your data will be encrypted in storage and in transit to Kaluari cloud for a better level of security.

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