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Synology DiskStation Office 365 Backup Review

Synology sent me a new DiskStation to review after I’d acquired an older one myself to look at it’s ability to back up Office 365 data (or Microsoft 365 Data as the Office 365 name seems to disappear). Being a Microsoft MVP in Office Apps and Services category, so I was very interested to see how it worked.

After reading up on and seeing that it was a completely free piece of software available as part of owning a DiskStation, I was hoping this would be a good solution at an incredibly low price – buy your DiskStation and disks, some time to set it up, and you’re done. To me, that’s already a very appealing offering, along with Synology having a good reputation for maintaining and supporting their hardware several years on – which was proved by the 7 year old DS1813+ I set up a few months ago.

I’ve left the new Intel-based DiskStation 1618+ – Quad Core CPU and 4GB RAM (expandable) running for about a month now, backing up my Microsoft 365 tenant’s data. I ticked ALL the options to see how it went. This tenant is just for me, so the data set is smaller than most tenants – but I do run a few live things through it like email and OneDrive. There’s also a little SharePoint Online data from Micrsoft 365 Groups and Teams I’ve played around with.

Here’s what the dashboard looks like now:

Some useful information there around what’s being backed up and how big it is. You might notice there’s a few errors on the summary. I drilled into those and each was because ‘The Microsoft Server is busy’, and a few minutes later it would try again successfully.

This is likely because I used a backup option to get incremental changes, rather than at a set time. Maybe I’m hitting it too much and getting blocked occasionally.

I know I’ve gotten ahead of myself here, so let’s go back to how to set this up. Assuming you have yourself a Synology DiskStation of some sort that supports ‘Active Backup for Office 365‘ – and which models are those? Here’s the list:

  • 20 series:FS6400, FS3600, FS3400, RS820RP+, RS820+, DS920+, DS720+, DS620slim, DS420+, SA3600, SA3400, SA3200D
  • 19 series:RS1619xs+, RS1219+, DS2419+, DS1819+, DS1019+, DVA3219
  • 18 series:FS1018, RS3618xs, RS2818RP+, RS2418RP+, RS2418+, RS818RP+, RS818+, DS3018xs, DS1618+, DS918+, DS718+, DS418play, DS218+
  • 17 series:FS3017, FS2017, RS18017xs+, RS4017xs+, RS3617xs+, RS3617RPxs, RS3617xs, DS3617xs, DS1817+, DS1517+
  • 16 series:RS18016xs+, RS2416RP+, RS2416+, DS916+, DS716+, DS716+II, DS416play, DS216+, DS216+II
  • 15 series:RS815RP+, RS815+, RC18015xs+, DS3615xs, DS2415+, DS1815+, DS1515+, DS415+
  • 14 series:RS3614xs+, RS3614RPxs, RS3614xs, RS2414RP+, RS2414+, RS814RP+, RS814+
  • 13 series:RS10613xs+, RS3413xs+, DS2413+, DS1813+, DS1513+, DS713+
  • 12 series:RS3412RPxs, RS3412xs, RS2212RP+, RS2212+, RS812RP+, RS812+, DS3612xs, DS1812+, DS1512+, DS712+, DS412+
  • 11 series:RS3411RPxs, RS3411xs, RS2211RP+, RS2211+, DS3611xs, DS2411+, DS1511+, DS411+, DS411+II

From the DiskStation desktop, open Package Center and follow these steps:

This was a very easy setup to do – I took screenshots of every step involved, but it barely needs an explanation for anyone who’s an admin of a Microsoft 365 Tenant.

The program will then go off and start backing up what you told it. The ‘Activities’ section of Active Backup for Office 365 will show any backups running, and you can also use the inbuilt ‘Resource Monitor’ to see upload/download speeds, disk utilization etc.

It’s also worth noting that the backup you created has an ‘account discovery’ option where it’ll find any new accounts created and automatically add them to the backup, which is great for not having to change backup settings each time you have a new user start.

Running a backup is great, but how do you restore the data? There’s a second app you’ll need, ‘Active Backup for Office 365 Portal’. Launching this will take you to a web interface where admins can browse all data, and users can browse just their own (user access can be disabled if you prefer).

On this web interface, you can then find the file(s) you want to restore, and restore them. You also get a nice timeline down the bottom so you can move backwards and forwards to see a snapshot of a certain time.

Although Mail, Calendar, Contact, and Site (SharePoint) support searching across all backups for names and contents, at the time of writing this isn’t possible for OneDrive backups. It’s worth being aware of this – if someone requests a file restore you’ll need to know exactly when from. I don’t see this as too much of an issue though, as OneDrive has great version control natively, and an automatic recycle bin – so you’d probably rely on the native solution for finding a file, but still it’s worth knowing this existing limitation.

That was the only slight negative I could find while testing. Everything else just worked, was quick to browse and restore, and incremental backups appeared to be on the DiskStation within several seconds after creating a new file in OneDrive.

Again, this is an incredibly cheap Office 365 backup solution. Some may question if you need to back up Office 365 at all. You could set up infinite retention against all content, so why take a backup? To me it’s a definite grey area, and partly depends how much you value the data. Microsoft may never lose your data, but will it be available 100% of the time? What if that important document is in your OneDrive and hadn’t synced down, and there was an outage? We’ve seen a few outages lately, including ones that have broken authentication – your data is still there, but you can’t get to it. In that scenario, having a local copy of something time sensitive could be worth it. Considering the relative low cost of buying a Synolgoy DiskStation – your disks are probably going to cost more than the unit itself, I consider it a pretty easy sell.

Microsoft Briefing Emails Are Coming

More Microsoft driven emails will be hitting your user’s mailboxes if you’re a Microsoft 365 Customer.

The last ones I wrote about were MyAnalytics, and now we have Microsoft Briefings. The first I heard about this was an admin email I received, which I think is a good idea that Microsoft are following, probably from feedback when they rolled out MyAnalytics and many IT Admins were caught unaware:

So, as you can read above, Microsoft Briefings reads what the users are up to, and presents it to them in hopefully a useful fashion to catch emails they might have missed that sound like they need actioning, will give some ideas on how someone can be more efficient and healthy etc

I received my first email today, and here’s how it looked:

I blurred out the email that I’d already actioned, and marked it as completed. Just like MyAnalytics, these emails are only visible by someone who has access to your mailbox – the emails that turn up don’t traverse the internet like other emails; instead, Microsoft are popping them up straight into the mailbox. You won’t find any mailflow trackings of these.

A user can opt out if they don’t like them, or an admin can follow the documentation to pre-emptively disable this on a user by user basis. There appears to be no org-wide setting to disable, so if you need to disable it, make sure you include it as a provisioning step for new users too. See the update at the bottom of the page.

There’s also a portal users can use to unsubscribe:

Once the magic Microsoft switch is set to ‘on’ for your tenant, users will get an email every day that they have some sort of content to be in the briefings email – if there’s no content, there’s no email.

Just like MyAnalytics, I recommend communicating this soon to your company that the emails are coming. Some people might not like it, but preparing staff for a something that can help them should help with adoption, rather than an out of the blue starter email.

I’m keen to see how effective the Briefings emails will be and how much value they provide. I think it’s a good idea, and as long as it works as the box describes, should add value for staff at the start of each day to remind them what they’ve got going on, and potentially pick up something they forgot to action.

Update 17th June 2020

Microsoft have listened and acted quickly – you can now toggle this feature on or off at the tenant level. To do so, go to the Microsoft 365 admin center, and under Services > Org settings, the Services tab contains the item ‘Briefing emails (Preview)’. From here, there’s your tickbox to turn it off or on.

Blocking ActiveSync with Conditional Access

Microsoft has announced that they’re continuing the path away from Legacy Authentication, with the decommission of legacy auth to EWS on Exchange Online on October 13th 2020. Instead of waiting for that looming date, there’s a bunch of security reasons to only have Modern Authentication for Microsoft 365.

I’ve already written up on Protect Your Office 365 Accounts By Disabling Basic Authentication and Blocking Legacy Authentication – Conditional Access vs Authentication Policies – but when I migrated from Authentication Policies to Conditional Access, I didn’t realise ActiveSync wasn’t included as part of blocking Legacy Authentication, even though it connects without MFA.

The guide from Microsoft on how to block Legacy Authentication doesn’t actually mention ActiveSync, so it’s easy to miss like I initially did! You’ll need to block ActiveSync altogether as far as I know, as it doesn’t support MFA.

Although I still think Conditional Access is easier to manage than Authentication Policies, there is one caveat; even with an ActiveSync block in place via Conditional Access, too many attempts by a user will lock their account briefly. This might cause problems or require work to get those users to clean up whatever device is trying to log in. With an Authentication Policy I don’t believe this happens because it’s blocked earlier in the sign-in process – you won’t see logs, and the account can’t get locked.

There is of course, a checkbox around ActiveSync, and a way to block it using Conditional Access, but I had mixed results in blocking it successfully until I did it exactly this way:

Create a new Conditional Access Policy and set these options:

Users and groups > All Users
Cloud apps or actions > Select Apps > Office 365 Exchange Online
Conditions > Client apps > Tick both ‘Mobile apps and desktop clients’ + ‘Exchange ActiveSync Clients’
Grant > Block Access

In the Users and Groups section, you can narrow this down from ‘All Users’ for testing or for a gradual rollout.

The user experience is interesting on this one – they can still sort of authenticate, but instead of getting their emails, they will see a single email advising that their access has been blocked:

On top of this, you can use Azure AD to audit who might be using ActiveSync before you put any sort of block in place. As per usual, there’s a good Microsoft article on Discovering and blocking legacy authentication which can walk you through this, but in short:

Via the Azure Portal, go to Azure Active Directory > Users. Under Activity, go to Sign-ins. Click Add filters, and choose Client App > Tick the three ‘Exchange ActiveSync’ options and press ‘Apply’. You’ll see the last 7 days of sign in attempts using ActiveSync, which should give you an idea of how many users are using it, and who.

Blocking Legacy Authentication, plus blocking ActiveSync will give you a much more secure environment, protecting from account attacks.

MyAnalytics is Coming (for the rest of us)

MyAnalytics is an extension to Microsoft 365 which provides productivity insights. It looks at what you do over email, OneDrive for Business and Skype for Business Online/Teams, and collates the data to present it with statistics.

The documentation for how this product works is quite good and worth a read. There’s privacy considerations in any product that’s scraping data, but they seem fairly well addressed. Two main points are that the data for MyAnalytics is processed and stored in the user’s Exchange Online mailbox, and nobody but the user can see this data (including system administrators).

MyAnalytics has been around for a while, but mostly for Office 365 E5 / Microsoft 365 E5 customers so many people have not heard of it, or have no experience in it. Microsoft are changing who gets access to this data, and are currently rolling out Digest emails to E3, E1 and Business customers.

If you have the feature already turned on, then your users can probably already access their dashboard at and start checking it out.

MyAnalytics is controlled by a license under the Microsoft 365 product. Many people probably have all the components on, and therefore although users have had access to this product, it hasn’t really been visible. The Welcome email comes first, and it seems to be rolling out right now to Targeted Release users in Microsoft 365.

Beyond just turning MyAnalytics on, there’s a few admin controls available at the tenant level and user level. You’ll need to consider items like ‘should users be opted-in by default, or opted-out’ if there are concerns around data scraping – even though this all lives in your Microsoft tenant, there could still be staff that are not comfortable with this.

Nascar use MyAnalytics if that helps you point to another company using it:

As you can see, I’ve linked to a bunch of Microsoft documentation around this rather than rewriting what they have – always nice to see quality doco!

It’s worth checking out MyAnalytics now and deciding if it’s something you want – at least check the state of your settings before users start getting Welcome emails!

Update 20th September

The product group have advised me on one extra tip – disabling the ‘Weekly insights email‘ option at the admin end will actually disable the Welcome email too – documentation to be updated shortly.

Converting a user mailbox to shared in Exchange Online Hybrid

This is a useful process a lot of companies follow when an employee departs: Instead of deleting the mailbox, or continue to leave the mailbox in place and pay for licensing, it’s possible to instead set it as a shared mailbox and keep the data there for free.

There are some catches to this, such as the maximum amount of data is 50gb. You also can’t delete the user’s account, but it can be disabled and moved.

Setting the mailbox from User to Shared in Exchange Online is easy (from

In the admin center, go to the Users > Active users page.

Choose the user whose mailbox you want to convert.

In the right pane, choose Mail. Under More actions, choose Convert to shared mailbox.

…but there’s two tricks I’ve found when doing this in a hybrid environment. First, says to update the status of the mailbox for Exchange On-Premises:

If this shared mailbox is in a hybrid environment, we strongly recommend (almost require!) that you move the user mailbox back to on-premises, convert the user mailbox to a shared mailbox, and then move the shared mailbox back to the cloud.

That’s a tedious process to do just to make it shared. As they point out, you can change some AD attributes locally to get around this, but there’s still some scenarios where it might get set back as a user, have no license, and end up getting deleted.

This other article on however, mentions the main way of getting around this: by setting the account’s msExchRemoteRecipientType and msExchRemoteRecipientTypeDetails attributes to the corresponding values that would match it’s state in Exchange Online:

Set-ADUser -Identity ((Get-Recipient PrimarySmtpAddress).samaccountname) -Replace @{msExchRemoteRecipientType=100;msExchRecipientTypeDetails=34359738368}

This 1 line command will set the attributes correctly, you can check via PowerShell or the Exchange Management Console to see that the mailbox will now show as ‘Shared’.

Update 3rd March 2020: Last time I tried the above, it didn’t work. The good news is that as long as you’re on Exchange 2013 CU21 or later and Exchange 2016 CU10 or later, you can just use the command:

Set-RemoteMailbox -Identity user -Type Regular

This fixed the on-premises status of the mailbox, even though I’d already moved it online. So, worth trying first before doing anything, as it should correctly do both if you Thanks Arttu Astila for the tip! /End of update

The other problem I’ve seen is if a mailbox is Unified Messaging (UM) Enabled, and converted to Shared. You’d think that it would either just lose it’s UM status, or let you configure the UM settings after the fact; but neither are correct. If it’s holding onto an extension number as part of UM, even in it’s Shared Mailbox state it will continue to hold it, and block any other account from using the extension in the future.

To get around this issue, the account will need to both be changed back to a user account from shared, and given a license that supports UM. If you try to disable UM on the account with either of these requirements, you’ll see an error like these:

User is already disabled for Unified Messaging.

License validation error: the action ‘Disable-UMMailbox’, ‘Identity’, can’t be performed on the user ‘Test User’ with license ‘BPOS_S_Standard’.

With all of the above, changing a user to a departed mailbox in a hybrid environment with Unified Messaging should be:

  1. Disable Unified Messaging on the user
  2. Set the attributes of the AD account as shared
  3. Set the Exchange Online mailbox as shared

It should work well if you do things in the right order, but it’s easy to not be aware of this and get things into a mess.

There’s also the scenario where you might create an account, give it Office 365 licenses and have a mailbox automatically created before you did it on-premises, or used Exchange On-premises to create the mailbox remotely.

You can fix that by using this script from Adaxes (doesn’t need their software!) which will tell on-premises Exchange about the mailbox and create the record.

I’ve come across another blog that goes into some of this but I haven’t needed to change the license status, but it’s worth mentioning in case there’s a scenario you hit where you do.