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Challenges and alternatives to mobile device backups

While endpoint data protection has always presented unique challenges for IT admins, Brien Posey questions whether those backups are still needed.

Endpoint backups have always presented a unique set of challenges for IT administrators. Historically, issues such as intermittent connectivity and the sheer number of endpoint devices that exist within some organizations have made endpoint backups somewhat impractical. But have we finally reached the point at which endpoint device backups are no longer necessary? Perhaps.

Changes in technology and user expectations may be ending the need to back up network endpoints. Most organizations haven't backed up desktop PCs for quite some time. Those devices have fast, reliable connectivity and it is easy to create policies that force users to store desktop data on back-end servers. The real driver for endpoint backups has been portable devices.

Challenges to mobile device backups

Until somewhat recently, the vast majority of mobile users relied on laptops with considerable storage capacity. But backing up remote laptops can be challenging due to intermittent (and sometimes poor) connectivity. Today, many mobile workers are choosing tablets and smartphones over laptops. As a general rule, these devices tend to have limited internal storage capacity. And depending on the tablet and smartphone, the device may not allow traditional backup applications to access data.

Changes in technology and user expectations may be ending the need to back up network endpoints.

However, since capacity is limited on these devices, many users store data remotely rather than on the device itself. Also, users rely on multiple devices. Storing data remotely is the best way for users to make their data available across all devices -- desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. This decreases the need to back up mobile devices and laptops, because data stored remotely can be backed up using traditional methods.

In spite of these trends, some data will be created and stored on mobile devices and laptops. Remote data is only accessible when the device is online, and there are times when getting online simply is not an option. So, administrators must find a way of providing users with the offline data access they need, but without compromising the security of data and without having to incur the overhead of making regular mobile device backups.

Mobile device backup alternatives

One option might be to take advantage of desktop virtualization, especially if you are already using it for desktops/laptops. VMware View, for instance, offers a local mode that can be run on mobile devices. Another option is to use enterprise file sync-and-share software. File sync-and-share applications automatically establish two-way synchronization between the device and a designated network location. Any data a user creates or modifies on the mobile device is automatically synchronized to the network the next time the user connects.

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.

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Are you still backing up endpoint devices? If so, why? If not, why not?
Ever since we adopted a full cloud based storage system we do not use any endpoint devices for further backing up of data. We have redundancies built into our cloud storage ensuring the files and data are stored in multiple locations in the cloud. This has obviated the need for endpoint devices or hardware based backups. The cloud has become more and more secure and we feel confident in how our system has been built.
Very interesting. Do you allow your mobile users to create new data or modify data they retrieve from your cloud repository? If so, how do you ensure that the new/modified stuff gets replicated to the cloud?
In the interest of keeping data secure and our system safe we do not allow for any modification of data that is retrieved from the cloud repository. We keep failsafes in place that allow access to the data but do not allow for uploading any modified data via the same files. We use a system of company wide policies, IT staff oversight and the use of cloud data tagging apps that prevent such occurrences. Allowing data modifications is bad for quality control and erodes the purpose of having the cloud storage system set up in the first place. We do not see our policies on this changing anytime in the near future.
Wow--I'm impressed with your operation. Are you using any commercial file sync and share apps like Egnyte, Syncplicitiy, Code 42, Druva, etc.? Or is it all home grown?
Although understandable that technology took a while to catch up, this is very welcome and a long time coming.
I think it depends on your data strategy. If, as the article mentions, your data strategy provides a viable solution that allows the users to access their data regardless of device or location, then endpoint backups are no really necessary. However, if your data strategy doesn’t provide that access, or provides a hybrid access, then endpoint backups would make sense. The better strategy, however, would be to work on developing a strategy that meets the current and future access needs (in addition to other needs such as real-time sharing and collaboration), and eliminate the need for endpoint backups altogether.