As part owner of an IT security consulting firm, I have to admit that I cringed when I was asked to write about backup for laptops. After all, security best practices stipulate that data should never be stored on a laptop. That way, if a laptop is stolen no data will be compromised.
If your organization chooses to allow users to store data locally on their laptops, it's important to consider how remote users are really using their laptops. My experience has been that when mobile users are allowed to store data on their laptops, they tend to rely solely on their own local hard drive. Such users often accumulate a large cache of data that exists nowhere else. If you find this to be the case, then it's important to begin examining techniques for backing up the user's laptops. Otherwise, a dropped, lost or stolen laptop could result in a major loss of irreplaceable data.
As you can imagine, it can be a bit tricky to back up laptops because they spend a lot of time outside of the office. As such, it probably isn't going to be practical to deploy a backup agent to the remote user's laptops and back them up in the same way that you back up the servers on your network. For a backup agent to work, the user has to be connected to the network long enough for the backup to be completed, and that is something that usually cannot be guaranteed.
Laptop data backup solutions: Cloud backup
There are numerous laptop data backup solutions available, but only two approaches are really practical (assuming that the user spends the vast majority of their time away from the office).
The first involves allowing users to perform their own backups. You would train the user on how to use Windows Backup, or a low-cost third-party backup product such as BackupAssist, and then let the user take responsibility for their own data.
Although I have seen organizations that have successfully trained their mobile users to back up their own data, this technique has one major shortcoming. It requires the user to use some form of backup media. This media usually ends up being a USB hard drive. The problem is that if a user is traveling, then they may be tempted to store their backup media in the same bag as their laptop. If the bag is damaged, lost or stolen then chances are that the backup will also be lost.
A better solution is to make use of an automated cloud backup service. Cloud backup services work by deploying a small agent onto the user's hard drive. Any time that the user is connected to the Internet (regardless of what they are doing while connected) the agent will check to see if there are any files that need to be backed up, and will copy those files to a cloud-based data repository. Most of these services are completely seamless, and the user will likely never even realize that a backup is being made.
There are, however, major differences between cloud service providers. For example, some providers will perform automated backups any time an Internet connection is available (which is ideal for mobile users), while other backup services are schedule based. Cloud backup services also vary in the features that they offer. Some providers will retain multiple versions of files and will offer elaborate backup reports, while others are bare bones.
Perhaps most importantly, the price of cloud-based backups can vary tremendously. Most of the providers charge a monthly fee that involves a flat rate, plus an additional amount based on either the amount of data that is transferred or on the amount of storage space being consumed. These types of pricing structures can get to be expensive, especially if the mobile user has a lot of data or works with large multimedia files.
Backup for laptops is a problem for many organizations, but there are solutions available. Cloud backup services can be a good solution, especially if your organization has many remote users who store important data on their laptops.
About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.