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Putting a solid data backup and recovery plan behind mobile devices

Data storage departments have been challenged by the daunting task of backing up growing numbers of mobile devices. Here's mobile data backup solutions for enterprises.

Like the old woman who lived in the shoe and had so many children she didn't know what to do, data storage departments have been challenged by the daunting task of mobile data backup. Challenging? Yes. Important? Definitely.

Consider the case of Nanette Lepore, a high-fashion designer and founder of an eponymous clothing brand. Although the core IT operations are run out of offices in New York City, many aspects of business operations are widely distributed and mobile. In fact, according to IT director, Jose Cruz, Lepore more or less runs the company from her iPhone.

So when that piece of hardware went missing a couple of years ago, panic set in … and for good reason, it turns out. Some of the data on the device ended up doing the rounds with scam sites based in Nigeria. "That was when we decided we had to do something," said Cruz.

Automated backup solutions for mobile data

One key piece of the company's response was implementing a Continuous Data Protection (CDP) appliance from SonicWall. The SonicWall Continuous Data Protection is a disk-based backup and recovery solution with automated backup. With SonicWall Continuous Data Protection, mobile device users that connect back to the main office over VPNs have their previously changed files backed up as soon as they make the connection, and all new file changes are backed up as soon as the file is saved. CDP does not backup iPhone files that are created or stored on the iPhone itself, however, if the iPhone is sending email messages using Microsoft Exchange, then the email messages are backed up once they reach the Exchange server.

Cruz said his company also looked at cloud-based backup but opted for the on-site approach because they viewed it as a "mission-critical" application. "If our main server goes down, I have redundancy and that gives me great peace of mind," said Cruz.

Disadvantages of cloud backup

In fact, said IDC analyst Laura Dubois, many firms, particularly banks and financial institutions, are staying away from cloud backup, even for mobile devices, and opting instead for self-hosted backup options. "The advantages to a cloud offering are that the data gets offsite, which is a plus for disaster recovery purposes [and] you avoid both capital expenditures and operating expenditures," she said. Indeed, according to Dubois the cloud is often a lower cost alternative than on premises options. On the other hand, she notes, "With in-house you are in control of your own data and service-level agreements and there is no risk in security or data compromise from non-company employee.

Jim Smid, data center practice manger for Apptis Technology Solutions (ATS), an IT and communications solution provider and VAR in the federal marketplace, agrees. "The benefit of 'in house' is from a control perspective," said Smid. Data is kept completely under the supervision of the data center team and encrypted throughout the process. "Of course, this benefit comes at the cost of increased management overhead and infrastructure, so weighing this against a cloud-based solution gets down to what's important to the individual customer," said Smid.

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse said there are a lot of non-cloud offerings available, though so far, most of the emphasis has been on backing up mobile PCs rather than PDAs or phones. She divides the leading non-cloud backup products into three categories:

  • File-level backup, in which specified files are backed up regularly, is provided by products such as EMC Corp. Retrospect, Iron Mountain Connected PC, UltraBac UBDR Workstation and Yosemite Backup.
  • Image-level backup, provides a complete image of the entire system -- including operating system and apps. Examples of image-level products include Symantec Corp. Backup Exec System Recovery and Acronis True Image.
  • Continuous backup, usually just for specified data files, automatically backs up data and tracks different versions of files. Vendors in this space include Atempo LiveBackup, IBM Corp. Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) CDP for Files and Yosemite FileKeeper.

"There is no real right answer in choosing between file, image and continuous backup," Whitehouse said. Some businesses might find that image-type backups can reduce the time needed for a help desk to get a user back in operation while others could see similar benefits from continuous backup.

Whitehouse noted that products also vary considerably in the degree of management controls they provide for IT administrators, so in addition to determining what style of backup your organization needs, it is also important to assess how a product will fit with your organization's infrastructure and style of operation.

Typically, added Smid, actual backups are automated based on policies pushed onto the individual devices to keep user overhead to a minimum. "This can be augmented by the ability to request a backup at any time when securely connected to the central data center," he said.

Regardless, though, the options available lower the risk and worry associated with sprawling mobility and return a measure of peace of mind to storage pros.

About this author: Alan Earls is a Boston-area freelance writer focused on business and technology, particularly data storage.

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