The changing face of iPhone data backup and recovery

iPhones can boost end-user productivity, but they also create backup headaches. Learn how to manage iPhone data backup and recovery in this tip.

What you will learn in this tip: Although Apple iPhones can boost end-user productivity, they can create some unique headaches for backup administrators. Learn about the best way to manage iPhone data backup and recovery processes for your business in this tip.

Data backup administrators have found iPhone data backup and recovery can be challenging. One of the leading contributors to the difficulty in backing up the iPhone is the complete lack of enterprise-class backup software for the iPhone. The ironic part is that Apple has produced an iPhone OS Enterprise Deployment Guide, which is in its second edition. Even though this guide contains a section on backing up the iPhone, Apple's solution is essentially to deploy iTunes on the user's desktops and allow iTunes to automatically back up the phone to the desktop.

Needless to say, this is a less than ideal solution for backing up iPhones in a large organization. One problem is that the backups are not centralized. They are stored on each user’s individual desktop. However, the bigger problem may be the requirement to deploy iTunes. Deploying iTunes could introduce additional support issues into the environment, expose the organization to issues related to copyrighted media and negatively impact user productivity.

Some organizations are approaching the problem of backing up the iPhone differently. Rather than actually performing a backup, administrators are implementing policies to prevent irreplaceable data from being stored on the devices.

iPhone data backup solutions aren't perfect

There are a number of different software publishers that offer device management software, which is designed to lock down the iPhone and control which features users are allowed to use. For example, Zenprise offers an enterprise iPhone/iPad management suite that can perform the initial provisioning of the device for use in the enterprise, as well as any necessary software deployments. More importantly though, the software contains numerous security policy settings that can be used to control to what degree the device is locked down. Of course Zenprise is not the only software publisher to offer such a suite for the iPhone. Apple provides an entire list of software publishers that offer similar products.

In many ways, the idea that if you do not store any data on an iPhone, then the phone does not need to be backed up makes sense. After all, administrators have used this same approach for managing enterprise desktops for many years. Enterprise desktops are almost never backed up. Instead, all of the data is stored on network servers. If a problem occurs with a desktop, then that machine is simply re-imaged with no concern for data loss.

iPhones and iPads tend to be used while users are on the go. Because of this, they may be used more similarly to laptops than to desktops. It is often unavoidable for road warriors to have to save some data onto their laptops, even if they only do so temporarily. The same could potentially hold true for iPhones and iPads as well.

Unfortunately, right now there aren’t any good, enterprise-class backup apps for the iPhone and iPad. But these devices have been so heavily adopted in the enterprise, so it should only be a matter of time before the major backup vendors offer a solution. In the meantime, organizations that need to back up iPhones and iPads but do not want to use iTunes do have a couple of options.

One option is to provide the end users with an idiot-proof hardware backup solution. For example, Clickfree offers a product called Transformer for iPod that plugs into a PC’s USB port and automatically backs up the iPhone any time that it is plugged in.

Similarly, Iomega is offering a charging cradle called the SuperHero that automatically backs up the iPhone to flash memory any time that the device is placed on the charger.

Another solution is to use a cloud-based backup service. Right now, most of the major cloud backup providers offer limited iPhone support that usually comes in the form of synchronizing the iPhone to some other device. However, Jungle Disk offers an app for iPhone and iPod that allows some types of iPhone and iPad data to be backed up to the cloud. The app also allows the iPhone to access data that has been backed up to the cloud. I expect to see other cloud backup providers to offer similar capabilities in the near future.

The proliferation of iPhone management software leads me to believe that developers of enterprise software are finally beginning to take the iPhone seriously, and it will only be a matter of time before an enterprise grade backup solution is introduced. In the meantime, there are several other ways in which iPhone data can be protected.

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.

This was first published in February 2011

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