Tech Talk: W. Curtis Preston on endpoint backupDate: Aug 29, 2013
In part three of this three-part interview with SearchDataBackup, backup expert W. Curtis Preston, founder of Truth in IT and backupcentral.com, discusses endpoint backup.
Mobile computing devices such as smart phones and tablets are a big problem for IT administrators. Are there established best practices for backing up enterprise mobile devices?
W. Curtis Preston: It is a real problem, and the problem is the OS itself. So, when you look at an iPhone or iOS, in the backup world, we put in an application that is allowed to have super-user privileges, see everybody's data and back it up. That is the only way it works right. That does not work in iOS. You cannot have one app see another app's data. That is the fundamental problem with backing up an iOS device.
Android has a similar problem, unless it has been rooted. Of course, we cannot have a backup solution based on rooting our phones. So, that's the fundamental problem with backing up true mobile devices is that their OSes are built for stability and security, and backup just runs afoul with that. So, there are some, for example, there are applications that can run at the iOS level that can see things like contacts and music. Let's make sure we get our music backed up! But if you are running, let's say, a client that talks to Exchange, it might not necessarily see that, depending on what choices you have made.
So there are some official things that you can see that are Apple-type things in the Apple world, but then if you do not choose that, then your choices completely go away. My favorite choice for that is to virtualize the apps. There are some really interesting solutions out there. It is like VDI, but on your phone or your laptop. So when you access your Outlook or whatever your equivalent of Outlook is, it is running inside an environment which is really just a copy of the environment, not your own. So you do not have anything to back up because you are really just running a copy that is constantly being synchronized, and any data is stored in folders that are synchronized, such as Dropbox or something like that for a more corporate controlled folder system that is also being synchronized.
Then when you go to wipe the phone, you have a person that wants to leave the company and you want to wipe their phone, the only thing you have to do is wipe that virtualized environment. That virtualized environment can also do things like VPN so that whenever they're in that world, they're not really on their phone they're in this virtual environment that happens to be on their phone, which is really just a copy of their environment back here, and that way you're not really worrying about that. Then you do not have to back it up, and when they leave you just push one button, and they no longer have access to it.
The other is to encourage the use of self-synchronizing services. Things like, I am an Android user and an iPad user. So, my iPad, when I use my email I am using their regular email client, and I am really just using a copy of Exchange. There is nothing happening there. I am a Dropbox user, so there are a number of apps that could write to Dropbox. So when I use those apps, I tell them to write to Dropbox, not to their little special place, which is not being replicated.
That is sort of the thing you have to explain to these users, because they just do not know -- especially younger users. They have been used to flash storage all of their life. It is much more reliable than spinning discs, especially when being moved around, so they do not really think about what happens when it gets corrupted and you lose everything.
The BYOD problem. We can talk about it for hours.
The increased use of laptops as a person's only business computer has created a lot of backup problems. What strategies have you come across for protecting valuable organizational data on personal devices?
Preston: One word: cloud. Earlier, we were talking about the use of cloud computing and one question that comes up is whether or not it is appropriate for the enterprise. Well, no, because if it is enterprise, it is like 300 TB of data. There is no way you are sending that to the cloud, right?
When we talk about the enterprise, the really easy thing to throw at the cloud is mobile and laptop backup for a couple of reasons. One is you do not want to manage it anyways, so pick a managed service provider, and let them manage it. The other is that cloud backups can run whenever the user has an Internet connection rather than just in the office.
Then you don't have issues; everyone comes into work, and now you've got 5,000 laptop backups running at once. If they have a cloud-based system, the backup can happen overnight, getting the backup done without impacting the user.