Laptop backup strategies: How to cope with laptop backup challenges

Lauren Whitehouse, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, discusses the variety of ways to address laptop backup today in this Q&A.

Lauren Whitehouse, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, discusses the variety of ways to address laptop backup today in this Q&A. Learn about what's the best laptop backup strategy for your organization, tools for backing up laptops and whether or not desktop virtualization is a good solution for backing up laptops. An mp3 recording of this conversation is available below.

Listen to the laptop backup strategies FAQ

What are the challenges that companies face when performing laptop backup?

Lauren Whitehouse: There are a lot of endpoint devices, and in the case of laptops specifically, they are not always connected to the corporate network. Enterprise Strategy Group research has found that typically you see more desktops than laptops, especially in smaller organizations. But, in larger organizations, nearly half of the endpoint devices are laptops. Typically, data on these devices is underprotected. Usually that is due to an organization forgoing laptop backup altogether. That could be a budget issue, or the company doesn't consider the data to be "at risk." In other cases, there's just too much data to protect. Once all of those desktop images were captured and moved to the IT environment, infrastructure and bandwidth challenges could emerge.

There are also some organizational issues that present challenges. Many organizations have different groups that are responsible for endpoint backup and endpoint recovery. I know that sounds kind of kooky, but it's common for the desktop operations or help desk to be responsible for backing up data and the server group or backup administrator is responsible for recovering data. So, with no one group responsible, it's hard for anyone to take ownership of the problem.

How are organizations addressing laptop backup challenges today?

Whitehouse: Most of the time, the endpoint user is responsible for backing up their own stuff. That could mean that the endpoint user goes out and buys a USB drive and installs some kind of backup utility on their computer. Or, they could opt in for a backup Software-as-a-Service offering. Or, they may have to manually copy anything they want backed up to some corporate network share. The benefit to this approach is that endpoint users are self-sufficient not only with backing up their data but also when it comes to restoring their data.

The downside of this approach is that IT really loses all control over data copies. Will that matter to a lot of companies? Maybe not. But if a company has compliance, audit, privacy, or e-discovery matters that they are responsible for, this might be somewhat risky.

Another approach we see is one in which IT maintains total control. That means that endpoint devices are incorporated into some kind of corporate IT-controlled backup process. That could mean that an agent could be installed on the system that allows that system to be backed up using a server-based backup tool. Or, it could be a batch program that executes and automatically collects the data and stores it on a network share which is then backed up as part of that server-based backup process.

There are a few issues with this approach as well. IT maintains full control, but sometimes it is inconvenient for the endpoint user. For example, I'm sure many of us have had our virus protection software kick off right in the middle of working on something important and your system can't operate at peak performance. The same type of thing can happen with an agent-based backup process. It could also be inconvenient to have to log onto the network at a certain point in time. Often times if you are a remote or mobile worker, and you are infrequently connected to the network, you may miss your backup altogether. Then, you are at a disadvantage should you have some kind of disruption on your system.

Are there other options available in the market today that might mitigate some of the issues that you outlined?

Whitehouse: There's probably more laptop data backup options than most people have time to sort through these days. And that can be either good or bad. Good because there's a lot of choices. But bad because there's a lot of choices and it can be confusing to navigate all of the different options. I think the most interesting option for this use case is backup Software-as-a-Service. And, I don't mean that end users go off and sign up for a specific service. This would be more of an IT-controlled process. So, the corporate IT group signs up for a service and they offer it to all of the company's end users. That's going to provide IT with the control that they want, but it's also going to provide the endpoint user with some autonomy to make sure that their data gets protected.

So here, IT plays sort of an administrative, policy role in the process. They determine what gets backed up, how frequently and how long that data is retained, and they maintain access to the data. But, it doesn't overburden the IT infrastructure because you are outsourcing.

On the user side, there is some flexibility. They can defer the backup to occur at a more convenient time, for example. It also allows them to have self-service on recovery. So, if you accidentally delete a file you don't need to put in a helpdesk ticket and wait for a few days, you can just go recover the file yourself.

Then, there is another class of products that leverage the concept of continuous data protection (CDP). These products save data incrementally on a continuous basis on their local system. Then, when the laptop is connected to the corporate network, the data on the laptop is synchronized with the corporate backup set. Again, this offers IT control and end-user self-service for recoverability.

The difference between these two options boils down to cost and immediacy of the data. With the CDP-type products, end users can recover data without being connected to the corporate network. In that case, they have multiple recovery points available right at their local system. Often times you can just go into Explorer and see the last four versions of a file that were backed up.

What about desktop virtualization? It's my understanding that desktop virtualization requires a significant investment in storage hardware, so maybe it's not something you'd adopt specifically for getting around laptop backup, but what are the pros and cons there?

Whitehouse: Desktop virtualization is an interesting application of technology to solve data protection issues at endpoints. With desktop virtualization, you are centralizing those desktop images at your central IT location. Data at that central location is more efficiently managed by IT and IT maintains control.

But, as you suggested, it's a big undertaking. This is a major infrastructure shift and often times a cultural shift for organizations. Culturally, not all employees are going to be well suited to checking in and out of their personal endpoint image. Remote and mobile workers, for example, are most often disconnected from the corporate network.

Then, as you pointed out, you also have to consider the cost. If a company is planning on implementing desktop virtualization, solving the endpoint backup problem could be a bonus, but it most likely wouldn't be cost-effective or feasible for a company to deploy desktop virtualization to solve backup and recovery issues.

This was first published in October 2010

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