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Cloud data protection for laptops, desktops and mobile devices

Independent backup expert Brien Posey discusses the variety of ways data on laptops, desktops and mobile devices can be copied to the cloud today, and the pros and cons of each approach.

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The first thing you need to know about achieving cloud data protection for laptops and mobile devices is that there are a number of different products for doing so. These products range from endpoint backup products such as Druva inSync, file synchronization and sharing products from companies like CTERA, and traditional backup software products with a cloud backup option. There are also a number of cloud backup providers such as Mozy Enterprise that offer enterprise-grade cloud backups for endpoints.

Cloud endpoint backup products typically involve installing a backup agent on the devices to be protected. This component coordinates the backup process. Every vendor's product works a little bit differently, but there are two main things cloud backup agents do. They keep track of what has and has not been backed up and they monitor the current state of the device's connectivity. When connectivity is available, the agent begins transmitting the data that needs to be backed up. Backups are commonly performed on an ongoing basis when connectivity is available rather than being scheduled, because it is difficult to guarantee that an end-user device will be powered on and have connectivity at a predetermined time. It is common for the agent to include incremental backups so only changes are backed up rather than the entire device, a source side deduplication engine and an Internet bandwidth-throttling mechanism.

One of the most useful cloud data protection features available in many endpoint backup products is a self-service restoration mechanism. In the past, it was necessary for a user to contact the help desk to request a file restoration. This process impacted the user's productivity because they had to wait for the restoration to be performed. It also impacted the help desk's productivity because a member of the help desk staff had to take the time to perform the restoration. A self-service mechanism allows the user to immediately restore a deleted file or revert to a previous version of an existing file without having to involve the help desk. Some other endpoint protection products incorporate security measures, such as remote lock or wipe.

Using a backup application to back up endpoints to the cloud is not the only approach that can be used for protecting end-user devices. Another viable approach is to use enterprise file sync-and-share software to synchronize files with a centralized repository in the cloud. Products such as CTERA, Box or Syncplicity are similar to what is available in the consumer space, except they are specifically designed for use in corporate environments. Unlike consumer-grade products, for example, enterprise file sync-and-share products offer centralized control and a rich permissions model.

Enterprise file sync-and-share products offer a number of benefits. One of the biggest benefits is that most enterprise file share-and-sync applications support a variety of endpoint types. As we all know, the PC is no longer the only type of device used on corporate networks. Although PC use is still common, tablets and smartphones also tend to be heavily used, especially in organizations that have adopted a BYOD initiative. Many endpoint backup products do not yet support mobile devices.

However, it is important to understand that although file sync-and-share allows for data to be synchronized between an endpoint device and a cloud data repository, it does not offer true backup capabilities. Some, but not all, file share-and-sync software allows users to revert to a previous version of a file, especially in situations in which files are being shared among multiple users for collaborative purposes.

If the product does not have this capability, users may run into problems when relying on the sync-and-share product for data protection. For example, if a file becomes corrupted on an endpoint device, and is then synchronized with the cloud copy, the corruption will exist on both sides. So, it is important to evaluate your organization's needs before opting for this approach.

There are some cloud data protection options available that fall somewhere in between file sharing and backup. CommVault Simpana, for example, offers the ability to sync data on mobile devices with a laptop, which can then be backed up traditionally to the cloud (or in-house storage system). While it may not offer the same level of file sync-and-share capabilities that a dedicated product does, the convergence between these two capabilities may be appealing to some users.

About the author:
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and has been responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. Visit Brien's personal website here.

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This was last published in October 2014

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Though I much prefer to use dedicated tools like GitLab or other means for revisioning and change management, I do also tend to keep my most active data synced to Dropbox and iCloud as a matter of course. Not so much for the peace of mind, but for the ability to easily pick up on any platform at any time, and know that it's there and ready to be accessed  (or within a few minutes if its a brand new machine).
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