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Ensure remote backup system protection amid coronavirus pandemic

Don't let a pandemic ruin priceless enterprise data. Here's how your organization can safely preserve and back up remote data generated by employees at home.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces many employees to work at home, off-site locations are suddenly generating massive amounts of critical enterprise data. Storage managers worldwide must now make sure that essential data created by remote workers is brought back under enterprise control and fully backed up.

When a workforce is suddenly dispersed across multiple locations, implementing a safe and reliable remote backup system becomes both a complex and challenging task, particularly for smaller businesses with limited IT resources.

"With teams suddenly working across a range of networks, possibly on unsanctioned devices and in distant locations, the importance of having a sound backup strategy in place ... is dramatically increased," said Amrit Singh, product marketing manager at cloud storage and backup provider Backblaze, which is based in San Mateo, Calif.

Backing up remote worker data is as important as preserving the data generated by on-premises workers, according to Zachary Bannor, a data engineer at tech consulting firm SPR, based in Chicago. "It's integral to understanding and ensuring data provenance, validity and the source of truth ... irrespective of a worker's physical location," he said.

As workers shift from secure, protected in-office environments to many different endpoints, the risk of data loss increases, and a remote backup system becomes paramount. Personal computers and mobile devices are much less likely to incorporate adequate data protection capabilities.

Oussama El-HilaliOussama El-Hilali

"Therefore, it should be a high-priority task for IT teams to ensure that their remote workers are fully equipped with the right solutions to securely back up the data they generate while working remotely," said Oussama El-Hilali, CTO of backup and disaster recovery firm Arcserve, based in Eden Prairie, Minn.

What to do in backing up remote data

Given the urgency of the situation, organizations lacking an established remote backup system should select a secure "works out of the box" approach, according to Singh. "Find a solution that's easy to deploy across your entire organization, requires little to no interfacing with the end user, has robust support and backs up everything," he said. "Choose a solution without hidden costs that scales predictably as your organization grows so that you're certain of how it will affect your budget going forward."

Rob Emsley, director of product marketing at Dell Technologies, which has headquarters in Round Rock, Texas, observed that a fast, easy way to reliably back up remote user data is with a centrally protected file sync-and-share cloud service.

Backup administrators need the ability to manage and back up data -- on premises or in the cloud -- from a single-user interface.
Rob EmsleyDirector of product marketing, Dell Technologies

"IT and backup administrators should always be in charge of setting policy for data backup, even if the process is delegated to other individuals," Emsley said. "Backup administrators need the ability to manage and back up data -- on premises or in the cloud -- from a single-user interface."

It's also important to remember that many off-the-shelf business applications -- such as ERP, CRM, HR, email and collaboration tools -- operate on enterprise infrastructure platforms. Such products often provide a built-in ability to mirror or protect data in use, in transit and at rest.

"With the combination of enterprise-level technical architecture, the disaster recovery and business contingency provisions, there's likely no additional backup needed," said Craig Wright, managing director of IT management consulting firm Pace Harmon, which has headquarters in the Washington, D.C. area.

What not to do

Eric Harless, a backup specialist at IT management software provider SolarWinds MSP, which has headquarters in Morrisville, N.C., suggested steering clear of backup technologies that haven't been optimized for use by remote workers.

"For example, appliance-based backup devices that centralize backups at your corporate office may require an active VPN connection for backups to run," he said. "Local snapshot and image-based backup solutions may require a local or network disk target for backup storage, and there's the possibility of being compromised by ransomware if they remain attached to an infected computer or network."

Minimize the use of thumb and disk drives in your remote backup system -- even if encrypted -- since such devices are prone to theft and failure, not scalable and practically impossible to control, Wright said.

Take your time

Don't rush backups and never compromise security.

"Segregate your backups if possible, and don't intermingle temporary backups of employee PCs with backups of corporate devices," Harless said. "Finally, resist the urge to back up an entire disk or volume when protecting data stored on home PCs. You'll likely just be wasting valuable time, bandwidth and storage protecting items such as personal music libraries."

Next Steps

Guide to business continuity planning during coronavirus

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