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Users weigh mobile device backup and recovery options

From laptops to smartphones, not all mobile devices are created equal in the corporate data center.

In the last few years, data backup and recovery vendors have begun offering options to back up mobile devices that are finding their way into businesses in increasing numbers, and some recent offerings add a new level of automation and user self-service for backing up workstation devices. However, these "edge" devices are not always considered critical for centralized backup among enterprise storage and backup administrators.

Laptop backups for the data center

A number of companies sell backup software products that can be deployed within the corporate data center. Among the best known are Asigra Inc. Televaulting, Atempo's LiveBackup Express, IBM Corp.'s CDP for Files, Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec and  Yosemite FileKeeper (now owned by Barracuda Networks).

If I'm a server guy and I have to worry about 20,000 desktops and laptops in my organization, that's a huge management burden for me.
Lauren Whitehousesenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Recently, EMC Corp. re-introduced data deduplication subsidiary Avamar's support for desktop and laptop data backup (Avamar had offered desktop and laptop backup options prior to EMC's acquisition of the company in 2006). This release also included a user self-restore Web interface, integrated with Microsoft's Active Directory for role-based access to backup data, and a file search engine to locate specific data. An IT department can continue to control restores either by policy or by not rolling out the Web portal to users.

In the same week, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. introduced Data Protector Notebook Extension (DPNE), continuous data protection (CDP) software that installs agents on client PCs to save files outside the data center. The agent creates a local repository on the computer and copies saved files there. When users connect to the corporate network, DPNE copies the changes to a central data vault. DPNE also includes a policy server that administrators can use to set user permissions, quotas and so on.

Laptop backup services

Even greater in number than enterprise software products that back up data on laptops are hosted services for the same purpose. One of the longest-standing and best-known players in this space is Iron Mountain's Connected PC backup service, but EMC Corp.'s Mozy service and IBM's cloud backup service based on its acquisition of Arsenal Digital are also contenders in this market.

Mobile device backup offerings

Many smartphones and PDAs come with the option of using a service to sync data on the mobile device to a laptop, desktop, data center server or cloud service, like Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES). Some products especially for backing up data on mobile handheld devices and netbooks are available, usually including security features for data loss prevention and intrusion detection, like Symantec Corp.'s Norton 360 and Sybase's Afaria product. Consumer-level services are also offered to sync mobile devices to local workstations or the cloud; the most widely known of these is probably T-Mobile's Sidekick phone and accompanying cloud service, though not for the best of reasons as this service recently suffered a high-profile outage.

To back up or not to back up?

While products to support the inclusion of laptops into the enterprise backup schedule abound, analyst research doesn't show a majority of the market adopting it. According to a research report on virtual desktop infrastructure published in December 2008 by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), "there are no consistent policies in place for backing up end-user client access devices, with almost one quarter of respondents indicating no formal backup process for desktop PCs and an additional 19% reporting that less than 50% of their desktops are formally backed up. Laptop PCs and mobile devices are even less likely to be protected."

According to ESG analyst Lauren Whitehouse, "The data users are using on mobile devices like Blackberries and iPhones isn't usually original -- it's usually synced with something somewhere else." As for laptops, virtual desktop infrastructures aside, "if I'm a server guy and I have to worry about 20,000 desktops and laptops in my organization, that's a huge management burden for me." Most often, Whitehouse said, employees are expected to back up personal files from their workstation to a central file server which is then included in the organization's existing server backup schedule.

If users do back up mobile devices, it is much more likely to be laptops than smartphones. Highly distributed enterprises, for example, often turn to hosted services for centralized laptop backup that's easier to use than managing a separate backup infrastructure internally. Gary Green, vice president of technology for the National Kidney Foundation, said he suggested remote users try the MozyHome service for laptop backup two years ago, when the foundation centralized IT and required its national headquarters in New York to take over responsibilities that had been distributed among more than 30 remote offices.

"I've used it on my home desktop for a couple of years and liked it, so being a nonprofit, we just pushed everyone in that direction," he wrote in an email to "We know that this is an area that we haven't gotten our arms completely around, although we have made it clear that users should not store files on their laptops, but on their office's servers."

Another user, Tory Skyers, a senior infrastructure engineer for a major credit card issuer he asked not be named because internal policy does not allow him to represent it in the press, said his company also performs some backup of laptops, because "some data is created there, and anything with a spinning disk in it is bound to die at some point," although users are encouraged to send important data to a central file server at the data center. The company is also in the midst of a pilot of the iPhone for business, but Skyers said the mobile devices will probably not be subject to any formal backup plan.

"I don't think we'd back up the iPhones, because it would be redundant," Skyers said. "Especially if you're syncing email from the centralized mail server, all [the data] goes back where it came from."

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