Be honest, does data backup excite you? For most people, the answer to that would be ‘no’. Instead, data backup is often associated with long, drawn-out processes, a topic not so attractive for a Salesforce admin. It seems that professionals carry around their own versions of the same deep-seated fears, and even horror stories.
CRM data is the lifeblood of our business, so data loss or corruption doesn’t bear thinking about – however, we are tempting fate, we don’t want to leave it until it’s too late. A new-found urgency should change that mentality, with Salesforce announcing their plans to retire their data backup recovery services, which has shone an unwelcome spotlight on the state of data backup in a typical Salesforce org.
There are alternatives that warrant your attention. I had the pleasure of assessing one such provider: Spanning Backup. As part of this review, I investigated its features, ideal use cases, setup effort, and the potential impact that adding this product to your Salesforce Stack could bring. Even if backup doesn’t get your heart racing in excitement, you will feel at ease handing this responsibility to a team that are excited by backup everyday.
First, I thought it would be useful to give an overview of data backup in relation to Salesforce.
State of Salesforce Data Backup
The reality is that vast numbers of people in the Salesforce ecosystem are unaware of why Salesforce standard backup is insufficient – well, perhaps this number has reduced following the news earlier this year that Salesforce are retiring their data backup recovery services. Salesforce will no longer provide their recovery services as of July 31st, 2020, which has sent many admins and data specialists in a frenzy.
Nevertheless, Salesforce has always recommended engaging a third-party vendor, but there has always been a lack of education as to ‘why’ and the differentiators between Salesforce’s service, and the service offered by third-party providers. Spanning stepped in to take on that education.
With the end-of-life date a matter of weeks away, if now isn’t the right time to look at data backup alternatives, then when is?
Salesforce’s world-renowned security will protect your org’s data from external malicious forces – “Salesforce can add as many .9s to their SLA as they want but that’s all about availability. It doesn’t protect you from human error. Salesforce won’t protect you from yourself”, said Shyam Oza, Director of Product Management for Spanning. In short, you may be a well-intentioned admin or avid superuser, but you are not immune to mistakes when performing migrations, making customizations, or updating small or large data sets.
Spanning Backup’s mission to save Salesforce customers from themselves has spread far, now serving over 1.4 million Salesforce users. Functionality and value for money has attracted organisations of all sizes – “An application must be scalable to meet the demands of all our customers from small to large. One of the larger orgs in our user base has over 27,000 active Salesforce users!”, Shyam pointed out.
Let’s take a tour of Spanning Backup’s features.
Monitoring backup jobs are time-consuming. Double-checking the date, time, storage location, and the dataset is likely to drive you mad.
An app’s interface is the first thing I look at. In the shoes of an admin, would I be able to keep a close eye on my backups, and deduce what’s happening at a glance?
First off, Spanning is ‘native’ to Salesforce, meaning that it’s built on the Salesforce platform. Simply put, the two integrate very well. This also means that there’s no need to leave Salesforce to track backup status (and you don’t feel like you are in a 3rd party tool).
The Spanning Dashboard
Every good tool provides feedback to its users. The Spanning Dashboard is comprehensive, clear, and colourful, allowing you to see:
- A summary of your latest backup, with quick actions to back up again, or perform a restore.
- An activity stream in ‘Recent History’, and monitor/control how Spanning is consuming API calls.
‘Comprehensive Protection’ Explained
Spanning offers ‘comprehensive protection’, but what does that actually mean?
Spanning allows you to back up your standard and custom objects (as you would expect from a leading backup provider) – but also metadata, files, and Force.com apps.
I’m guessing you have extended your Salesforce org with customizations left, right, and center? ‘Comprehensive Protection’ means that Spanning will pick up all customizations, even those buried deep in your org.
We live in an on-demand era, where we expect to perform functions with one-click with tools that work reliably.
You can initiate a backup with one-click from Spanning (in addition to scheduled daily backups).
Having the most up-to-date org snapshot to backup instantly means you can restore quickly in the event something goes wrong – business continuity, no disruption. An Admin can make an on-demand backup before they make any configuration changes or mass imports (enough to give any Salesforce pro the jitters)!
The on-screen progress reassures you the backup cycle has completed. I find there’s something strangely satisfying about watching the object record totals rack up!
Moving on from backup and on to restore, in other words, how you can reinstate a backup to roll your org back to its original state.
Using Spanning for data restore opened my eyes to two things:
- Restoring data is a headache in general. It gets complicated when you’re asked to restore data without rolling-back any org customizations that have happened since (an interrelated set of changes and horrendous consequences), and
- There’s a wide range of options for restore. Something I had not given much thought to, however, now presented with the choice, I see how a savvy organization would put each into use.
I will walk through the Restore Settings to show you the control that I, personally, never imagined possible.
How ‘deep’ to go? Search for and select exactly which data, which fields and how ‘deep’ to go (whether to restore child records), as you see below:
Two actions at once (restore and upsert): take advantage of the “Overwrite field values” setting, giving Spanning specific instructions on which fields to restore with the data in the backup, and which to upsert with something different:
You’re allowed to be picky: Spanning allows you to get granular. I want to restore an account record to last month, for example. Using the date filters, I can compare field values on the selected date vs. the current state, and select/deselect what’s relevant. It reminds me of the Salesforce record merge interface:
To think that what I’ve shown you is ‘run-of-the-mill’ record restore. Next, I cover a major Spanning unique selling point – metadata restore.
Metadata goes a step deeper than object data (the data stored in Salesforce records).
Do your palms get sweaty when I tell you that metadata backup is not included in the Salesforce weekly data export function?
Spanning supports 17 types of metadata. As this is key, I have listed the types here: Dashboards, Reports, Email, Layouts, Objects, Permission Sets, Profiles, Roles, Triggers, Workflows, Classes, Pages, Flows and Flow Definitions.
Here’s what metadata restore looks like in Spanning. I’m able to pull in the Profiles, Page Layouts and Objects from my org to select for backup. The collapsible, organized interface does wonders to detangle the fabric of metadata:
Monitor and control how Spanning is consuming API calls, accessed from the dashboard:
2. Use Cases
Spanning is a tool that brings more use cases across the organization, as you realise that it can fulfil needs you, and your users, never knew you had. Here are a handful of use cases often not on our radars but guaranteed to be popular.
It’s easy to accidentally map the wrong field when using the Salesforce Dataloader – forgive yourself! The culprit import file will contain the Salesforce IDs of the affected records, so upload this straight to Spanning’s restore flow. Define the desired restore settings, and Spanning will take care of the rest.
Admins can give users self-restore capabilities – a fantastic differentiator. Rest assured, Spanning always respects the Roles and Permission sets defined in your Salesforce org; which records users can view/update from Spanning mirrors those in Salesforce.
No more nerves before a sandbox refresh.
The ‘Compare Metadata’ tab gives a direct comparison between customizations deep within your production org and sandbox. Color-coding tells you if something has been added (‘Only in one’) or modified (‘Changed’) – invaluable!
Cross-org Restore & Sandbox Seeding
Cross-org Restore means you can restore data into a different org (instead of production).
Leverage this to insert data into a Sandbox for rigorous testing, anonymising fields with ‘Random Values’ if appropriate. When saved as a preset, you and your developers have the ability to refresh this data fast.
Three words surface frequently in Spanning’s customer feedback: ‘Peace of mind’.
‘Peace of mind’ can be interpreted differently by each team in your organization, which means the potential impact Spanning can have is eye-opening. Let’s see the impact that Spanning can have for different personas around your organization.
Admins: Alleviates Workload
Spanning is an admin-centric tool for many reasons. Using Spanning is more efficient for Salesforce Admins who continue with manual data backups using the Salesforce weekly data export function – individuals using this method will be blown away.
There’s a known fact that Salesforce metadata had to be exported using a separate third-party app – and now this applies to all data (with Salesforce retiring their data backup recovery services). What if you are using a tool that handles both data and metadata backups, simultaneously? Spanning is able to free Admins from additional processes by doing ‘two birds, one stone’ (two data types, one backup).
Users: Empower Superusers with Record Restore
Empowering users for low-level record restore in a safe way (see ‘User Self-restore’ in the Use Cases section). This also alleviates Admin workload and reduces the number of distractions caused by low-level tasks.
As we will see in the Setup section later, Spanning is a plug-in-and-play app. My thoughts as I reviewed the app was that Spanning can have a transformational impact in a short space of time.
My thoughts were echoed as I was skimming through AppExchange reviews. Mentions of short time scales ‘using for a month, everything has gone well’ / ‘3 months, very happy’ showed how fast customers were gaining value. This seemed to maintained over time: ‘one and half years down the track…’, one contented customer shares.
Legal: Compliance is Sorted
Spanning logs all activities that are run through it. The legal department will breathe easy knowing that no backup, restore, or export will go unaccounted for. Knowing which data was backed-up/restored, who accessed it, and when that access occurred, could save your skin down the line.
When I used to think ‘backup’, visions of long, drawn-out installs, neck-deep in code came to mind. I’m pleased to report this hasn’t been the case with this assessment. This tool receives an AppAssessor-approved setup status of: Painless.
Getting started with Spanning has been well thought out. Once you get into the practical setup, the Setup Guide covers the process meticulously. Most configuration will be enabled as default, leaving you only to check and verify.
If you have worked with connected apps, and know how to navigate profiles, then assigning the Spanning Connected App to the correct profiles will be a breeze. Finally, granting VisualForce Page Access completes the setup. I estimate it took 30 minutes (which included some poking around!)
It may be hard to measure the precise ROI of ‘peace of mind’ across your organization, but there’s a modest price for it!
For what Spanning is capable of, it’s a great value solution, even for a cost-conscious business. This is a transparent cost, covering unlimited storage of all your Salesforce data. In a hyper-audit era, it’s protection that’s a form of insurance, too.
As my investigation comes to a close, I see no reason why Spanning does not qualify as the default choice for set-and-forget Salesforce backup.
This native Salesforce AppExchange app is easy to work with start to finish, with an intuitive interface, and unparalleled Salesforce integration. This tool brings up more use cases across the organization, as you realise it fulfils needs you, and your users, never knew you had.
I will leave you with a next step – that you take time to look at Spanning, particularly during their limited time offer. Although I have repeatedly referenced the value of this tool, this review is the tip of the iceberg – you will discover plenty getting your hands on the tool itself.
With Salesforce’s data backup recovery services end-of-life a matter of weeks away, if now isn’t the right time to look at data backup alternatives, then when is?