First Look – Hands on with Veeam’s Office 365 Beta

Hands-down, one of the new features I was most excited about with Veeam’s Next Big Thing announcement was the Office 365 integration. I know I’m not alone in this one either, as doing a quick Google for terms like ‘Veeam Office 365’ shows that this has been a demand from customers for a while now. To be specific, Veeam is introducing a backup product that will protect your hosted Exchange Online email.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get access to the beta, and I thought I would go over what I have seen so far. Please note that screens and features may change between now and when the beta is released. Expected launch is Q4 2016.

INSTALLALATION & CONFIGURATION

Installalation is dead simple: you get an MSI file for the Office 365 component and another one for the Exchange Explorer component. I’m not sure if the second component will be ‘bundled’ once the product is available for GA, but regardless, both install files combined are less than 10 MB. Now that is efficient!

Setup is literally one of those ‘Next … I agree … Here’s the license file … Next … Next … Finish’. I’m not going to lie, I was expecting something bigger – the whole thing took just over one minute to install in my homelab. I’m not at all disappointed in the simplicity, just rather surprised how straightforward it actually was.

Veeam Office 365 Organization SetupOn the configuration side of things,tasks are just as simple. You go to Organization and add a new organization. After that, you’ll need to log on with Office 365 credentials that are part of the Admin group (specific permissions should be available in the User Guide when released). Veeam will reach out to Office 365 using Microsoft’s EWS API, and if all goes well your organization will be connected. That’s it!

Setting up a backup job is just as easy: right-click on your organization –> Backup –> give it a name –> select the mailbox or mailboxes –> set the schedule. Of note is that during the install, you will not be prompted for a location where you want to setup your repository. You can adjust this by clicking ‘File’ (or whatever that menu icon in the top left corner is called) –> Options. Note that you must disable all jobs prior to changing the repository location.

Veeam Office 365 OptionsAlso in the Options section, you can adjust the retention period. Currently, it is a drop-down with pre-determined time periods. I’m not sure what the design reason is for this vs. letting a user choose for themselves. The other interesting thing to note on this window is that you can control when the retention policy is applied. This differs from Veeam B&R in that when running a backup job there, the retention policy is applied at the end of the job.

On the Folders tab, you can select which items to exclude from the backup. This might be handy for skipping something like Sync Issues, but I think in my organization I’ll be backing up all the other items. Sadly I have seen many occasions where the Deleted Items folder is in fact used for filing.

USABILITY

I did some basic tests with this; one thing that I like off the hop is that it performs a backup of the mailbox, not just the email messages (see my note above about exclusions). A big complaint that I have experienced with regards to Outlook and restoring data is related to items such as calendars or notes. All too often folks use their calendars to reconstruct their past days for things like expense reports or time sheets. The fact that Veeam will back this data up is awesome.

Veeam Office 365 BackupBackups run smoothly and I did not run into any issues. When the job is running, you’ll see a familiar interface with some basic statistics. One stat that I hope they do include is some sort of progress counter compared to either the total size of the mailbox, the total number of items in the mailbox, or both. When I kicked off my first job, I had no idea how large the mailbox was. I waited for a bit, saw that it wasn’t finished, and opted to call it a night. In the grand scheme of things it’s not like knowing the progress will make things go quicker, but from the IT side of things, we’ll be able to plan our time better (e.g. I’ll do something else for an hour while this wraps up).

As for restore options, there are a few different routes you can take. First off, you can restore the latest backup, or from a point in time, just like in Veeam B&R. There are also some useful eDiscovery options available to search for things like deleted items only, or modified items only.

Veeam Office 365 Restore OptionsOnce the Explorer window get’s loaded up, you’ll be able to drill down to the item-level to select what you would like to restore. There are plenty of restore options as well: restore to the original mailbox, new mailbox, export to PST, export to a .msg file, and mail the item to someone via SMTP. Definitely no shortage of options.

There is also an Advanced Find feature that can be used. This one is nice as it pulls the attributes from Exchange, so you can do things like look for keywords in the Hobbies attribute. You know, in case you actually use that field.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I like it … it’s super simple to use, it covers all the basics, and in true Veeam style, it just works. Of course, there is always room for improvement. I would like to see some more stats when performing the job (e.g. total size and / or a total number of items) so that we can get a feel for how far along a job has gone.

All in all, I thought that there would be more to say about the product, but in true Veeam fashion, they took a task, executed it very well, and stayed focused on it. As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll see improvements and additional features added, but for a V1 release, I think this product is rock solid. Next up, I would love to see OneDrive for Business / Sharepoint integration, and judging by reactions online, a lot of other folks want that too. Who knows, maybe we’ll see something like that at VeeamOn 2017.

I would also be interested in seeing how this ties into Veeam Availability Orchestrator (if it even does). I’ve outlined some thoughts on what I hope to see from the product, but I have an amendment now. In a perfect world, VAO would be able to sense an Exchange outage (either local or O365) and migrate mail to the other location in that event.

This might be some ‘pie in the sky’ dreaming, but say my Hybrid O365 environment is down. It would be interesting if I could push a button in VAO that would a) restore my latest O365 backup to an on-premises server and b) adjust DNS so that all the proper records (MX, SRV, AutoDiscover, etc.) point to the local servers. You would need to be running some pretty tight backup schedules to avoid much in the way of data loss, but then again, some organizations might be willing to give up 5 minutes of email vs. 60 minutes of email downtime.

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