Windows 10 Backup tools and the MSP: irreplaceable or irrelevant?

Nick Cavalancia

With all the buzz around Windows 10 and its new features and functionality, MSPs like you are working to understand how it changes your business model, your processes, your service offerings, and your revenue.

[caption id="attachment_5312" align="alignright" width="350"]Windows-10Stanislaw Mikulski /[/caption]

Backups are no exception – especially given that most of your focus is largely on servers and the applications and data they host. Even your customer may be reluctant to add workstations to the backup strategy, giving any “free” backup and restore functionality found within Windows 10 a foothold to enter the conversation as a potential solution to your customer’s desire to still have workstations recoverable, but not as part of an ongoing provided service.

So, is there value in the Windows 10 backup offerings, or should you be refocusing your customers on bringing workstations into your larger DR strategy?

To uncover the answer, let’s first cover a few backup features and tools found in Windows 10 in what I believe to be the descending order of importance to an MSP:

  • System Image Backups – creates an image file of the entire system, including: OS, applications, settings, and user files. This can be backed up onto an external disk, onto multiple DVDs or on the network. There’s some work needed to make this usable, as you need to access the System Image Recovery tool through the Advanced Startup Options feature that requires a USB-based recovery drive created using the Recovery Drive Creator. While the end result is useful, it just feels like a mouthful getting there.
  • Windows Backup – this is nothing more than the Windows Backup and Restore feature from Windows 7. Since you have System Image Backups, you’d probably use this to backup specific sets of files, folders, and libraries pertinent to the user of the machine.
  • OneDrive – while usually looked at as a separate service, it’s integrated into Windows 10, so it’s worth mentioning. OneDrive can be configured to replicate just about any file(s) you want into the cloud.
  • File History – This is a remnant from Windows 8 that allows files stored in Libraries to be wither recovered (in the case of deletion) or rolled back to an earlier version.

While an impressive set of tools and features, there are some drawbacks when you consider your data protection, disaster recovery, or continuity strategy.  First off, these are per-machine, decentralized answers to recovery-related problems. Sure, for a one-off “I lost my (file/folder/machine)” scenario these are great options. But for any kind of service you’d provide where the recovery demands go past one or two machines, you know you’re going to be wanting a solution in place that performs the recovery for you.

Then there’s the issue of storage of all this Windows 10 solution backup data. You already use a cloud- or hybrid-cloud-based backup solution that includes some level of encryption to protect the customer’s critical servers, applications, and related data. So, now it’s ok to host workstation images on USB drives that can grow legs?  And what happened to centrally managing the backup data? If the collective user data gets stored in multiple OneDrive accounts and you need to recover an entire location, you possibly have no access to that information whatsoever.  Not good for an MSP.

The reality is these backup tools are great for the home user, and the very small DIY small business owner. MSPs providing more than just backups, but true recovery of a customer’s business operations, need to rely on solutions that provide the capability of recovery in any disaster situation, while meeting agreed upon SLAs, RTOs, and RPOs.

I commend Microsoft for providing what I actually believe are some pretty cool toolsets with even surprisingly unexpected functionality. They just aren’t the right fit for an MSP.