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Backup challenges: BYOD creates data protection difficulties

In the final part of this primer on backup challenges today, Brien Posey discusses BYOD and why it creates data protection difficulties.

The need for faster restores, more frequent data protection, data growth and a variety of other challenges have forced administrators to look for alternatives to traditional backups. The final part of this primer on backup challenges today examines BYOD and why it creates data protection difficulties.

Yet another challenge that administrators are being forced to deal with is the widespread use of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. Protecting data on such devices can be a logistical nightmare for administrators, yet these devices have received such widespread use that they cannot simply be ignored as they often were in the past. This is especially true when an organization has a formal BYOD program in place.

Mobile devices present some significant challenges to backup administrators. For starters, devices such as tablets and smartphones are not connected to the network at all times, and thus must be backed up during intermittent periods of connectivity. Even when a device is connected, wireless bandwidth tends to be extremely limited and there may be costs associated with the amount of data transmitted by the device. Also, any backup processes that are run against the device must be done so in a way that does not interfere with the device's normal operations and device backups must not make the user less productive.

Perhaps the biggest challenge behind mobile device backups is that there is not much consistency across devices. When it comes to backing up servers, an administrator typically has some degree of consistency. For example, all of the hosts might run VMware, while all of the virtual machines might be running Windows. Even in a heterogeneous data center, there are still typically only a few server operating systems in use.

When it comes to protecting mobile devices, consistency cannot be assumed. Even Windows Mobile devices (such as Windows Phone and Windows RT) run an operating system that is not compatible with a typical Windows backup application. In addition to Windows devices, it is likely that users will also have iOS and Android devices as well.

If the goal is to back up mobile devices wirelessly, then you will need software and a backup strategy that works for virtually any mobile device. This already unrealistic strategy is further complicated by the fact that mobile device security features dramatically impact the types of data that can be backed up and how. Devices on the iOS platform, for example, only allow backups of calendar data, photos, contacts and videos (although there are some iOS backup applications that get around some of these limitations by using data export techniques).

Similarly, many of the Android backup applications only work for devices that have been rooted.  If a device has not been rooted, a backup application is still usually able to back up certain types of data such as calendar entries, text messages, contacts, system settings, etc. However, many backup applications for Android only allow backups to be written to a SIM card, which rules out wireless backups.

In spite of these and other limitations, it is not impossible to protect mobile device data. It's just that protecting mobile devices requires administrators to think outside the box and use technologies that have been specifically engineered to overcome the challenges of protecting mobile devices. There are a number of endpoint backup-specific software platforms available and many organizations find that cloud backup is a good fit for protecting mobile data. Also, there is an emerging trend of convergence between mobile backup and file sync and share software. This approach is aimed at protecting data while increasing user productivity.

Check out our entire data protection primer on identifying data backup solutions for today's challenges.

This was last published in April 2014

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