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How to back up laptops

Exploding data growth rates are putting more critical data onto laptops, which are generally not backed up effectively. Here are some options for backing up laptop data.

While most companies have backup and recovery plans for servers, there has been little focus on laptops and other types of disconnected clients. Exploding data growth rates, driven in part by new regulations and Web 2.0 applications, are putting more critical data onto laptops, which are generally not backed up effectively, or backed up at all. The poor state of laptop data protection isn't because of a lack of available products. Options abound in this space, including:

Online backup services

Also known as storage as a service (SaaS), this market has seen a lot of new activity. EMC Corp. and IBM Corp. have gotten into this space, with the acquisitions of Mozy and Arsenal Digital, respectively. Symantec Corp. offers Symantec Protection Network, and a slew of other providers, many of whom base their backup services on products from Asigra Inc. or Robobak, offer products as well. Cloud-based options like Amazon S3 and Nirvanix are also available.

The poor state of laptop data protection isn't because of a lack of available products.

 The advantages to this approach are that it's easy to implement and has no infrastructure startup costs. If you are a small to midsized business (SMB), this approach centralizes your backup data in a single location (the managed service provider) and may offer upsell options, giving you access to services like disaster recovery or archiving. Prices start at $10/month for 10 GB (on a single system). Note that some products support the use of storage capacity optimization technologies like data deduplication for stored data, and may calculate your capacity around pre-optimized or post-optimized capacity.

Data protection software

There are several types of offerings available that fall into this catagory:

  • Commercial file-based backup software. Most of the major backup software vendors offer laptop backup options. There tend to be two types of product designs here: products that leverage periodic scheduled backups, like CA ARCServe Backup for Laptops & Desktops, and products that use a continuous data protection (CDP)-like technology that sends changes back to a backup server (assuming the laptops are connected to the network), like Atempo Inc. Live Backup. Some of the larger vendors actually offer multiple options, e.g., IBM offers a laptop option for TSM, Tivoli CDP for Files, and will likely offer an option using the technology recently acquired from FilesX. While these options are definitely not the lowest priced alternatives for laptop backup, they allow for it to be centrally managed as part of the enterprise's comprehensive data protection solution. Prices here start at $900 for very small configurations, but tend to increase in cost very rapidly.
  • Open-source file-based backup software. Open-source backup products like Amanda and BackupPC offer excellent support for disconnected clients. They have no license fees, but require a disk-based "landing pad." For those who may shy away from open-source products, Zmanda now offers Amanda Enterprise, a commercially backed version of Amanda.
  • Disk-imaging based software. File-based backup products generally require an add-on option to offer bare-metal restore. Disk-imaging-based products like Acronis Inc. True Image, StorageCraft Technology Corp. ShadowProtect, Symantec BackupExec System Recovery, UltraBac and Unitrends Rapid Recovery System and use a disk-imaging technology for data capture, allowing them to copy files and system configuration information simultaneously. This allows them to offer a "single-pass" solution with integrated bare-metal restore. All five of these vendors support laptop backups with their products, with prices starting at $80 for a single-system solution.

For some small to midsized businesses, online backup services offer an easy and cost-effective way to ensure that laptop backups get done without incurring any capital expense. As you scale to 80 to 100 systems, online backup services aren't cost-effective, and you may want to investigate data protection software. While these approaches require some level of in-house expertise, they offer broad functionality and can support environments with thousands of laptops. Not all products are a good fit for Windows-only environments because some require a Unix-based backup server. If bare-metal restore is an issue, then disk-based imaging solutions offer a single-pass data protection option not available with file-based backup software approaches. The good news is if you've decided to do something about the escalating risks of not backing up your laptops, then you've got a lot to choose from with today's offerings.

About this author: Eric Burgener is a senior analyst with The Taneja Group. His areas of focus include data protection, disaster recovery, storage capacity optimization and archiving. 


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