Remote laptop backup remains a challenge for many organizations

This tutorial outlines remote laptop backup challenges and endpoint backup options, as well as best practices from experts in the field.

As workers rely more on laptop computers and other mobile devices, remote laptop backup is proving to be a growing problem for organizations seeking ways to protect data in the event equipment is lost or stolen.

“There’s just so much more valuable data running around on everybody’s mobile machines and mobile devices. Because of the mobility of the workforce, the dispersion of the important intellectual property within your corporation, companies are more and more asking, ‘So, I understand all this data is out there. What happens to it if something gets lost or stolen?’” said Karen Jaworski, the senior director of product marketing i365 (a Seagate company).

In this tutorial on remote laptop backup, learn about different endpoint backup options, how some companies are dealing with laptop data protection, as well as best practices from experts in the field.


In a study of 140 IT managers in the U.S., remote laptop backup software vendor Druva Software reported that 89 respondents said their organizations didn't have a laptop backup policy. Of those, 27 told interviewers that they didn’t think laptop backups were needed, while another 29 said they understood the risks but didn’t have a good solution.

Twenty-five other respondents said they had more important priorities than remote laptop backup, while the remaining eight reported either the process would be too complex or would hurt productivity during work hours, according to Druva. And of the 140 managers polled, more than three-quarters of them believed the financial cost of a lost laptop would be less than $10,000.

According to an Intel-sponsored study released in September by the Michigan-based Ponemon Institute, a review of 329 private and public organizations estimated the average cost of a lost or stolen laptop at $49,246 per unit. It also reported that, based on survey data, those organizations lost a combined $2.1 billion during the preceding 12 months due to lost laptops.

“But it is not the replacement cost that should have companies concerned. Rather it is the data and the risk of a data breach that can have serious financial implications for companies. The cost of a data breach, as we determined in the 2009 study, represents 80% of the total cost of a lost laptop compared to 2% for replacing the computer,” researchers wrote.

Editor's tip: For more information about the state of remote laptop backup, read this article about how remote and mobile data backup is often seen as "backup's last frontier," and how different technologies and tools can be used to address the problem.


According to Lauren Whitehouse, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, the task of backing up laptops falls to either the endpoint users or corporate IT. When endpoint users handle laptop backup, that usually means backups are done when it’s convenient for employees and won't disrupt their work. But leaving it to users has some issues—backups could be stored on media outside of IT’s control, and users may not be motivated to always follow corporate backup guidelines on preserving data.

Relying on IT for remote laptop backups allows policies to be set on what kind of data is archived, when the backups occur, where they are stored and for how long. In addition, processes like data deduplication can help backups operate more efficiently by deduplicating data across endpoints. But centralized backup may not always be effective with laptops if the devices aren’t connected to the network during a scheduled backup time, and bandwidth constraints when a device is operating remotely could slow backups and data recoveries. End users often have to file a help ticket with IT to restore data as well.

Another endpoint backup option is cloud backup, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), in which a third-party provider offers on-demand resources on a subscription basis. Administration can be handled by the endpoint user or backup administrator, and users can perform self-service recovery. But like server-based backups, the device must be connected to the network for backups to be conducted, plus an organization would have to transfer their data to another party to manage their backup needs.

Another option, hybrid local/centralized backup, provides local backup copies on the endpoint device (even when disconnected from the network), which are then synchronized with a central repository after a network connection is available. While it benefits the needs of both IT and the end user, it is a less efficient method to back up data because two repositories for backup will be created using this method, according to Whitehouse.

In a recent Q&A with, Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at, indicated that many companies aren’t prepared when it comes to backing up their laptops.

“Unfortunately, the most common approach companies are taking is not to deal with the problem. Burying your head in the sand seems to be the most popular solution,” he said.

He also noted that ideally backup solutions should be completely automated and transparent to users without over-prioritizing the process. “Backups are important, but when your sales guy gets to the Marriott, and pays $12.95 for the crappy Wi-Fi, he wants to check his email, he doesn’t want the backup application to completely take over the laptop. You got to look at software that strikes that balance,” said Marks.

Editor's tip: For more information about remote laptop backup tools, read this case study about how some organizations are dealing with laptop data protection.

Remote laptop backup best practices

Rachel Dines, an analyst for infrastructure and operations for Cambridge, Mass., based-Forrester Research, said that part of organizations’ move toward protecting data may be motivated by a past problem.

“I think a lot of companies have experienced data loss because of lost devices or broken devices, and as soon that starts happening on a consistent scale and begins to impede productivity, that’s when they’re starting to realize that investment has to be made,” said Dines.

“It’s very reactionary, and that’s what you tend to see in this space in general in backup and disaster recovery—it’s a very reactionary area. People don’t want to invest in disaster recovery until there’s actually a disaster, the same thing with backup,” said Dines.

She said there are good tools now available to address this issue, noting that the market and the solutions have gotten ahead of end-user adoption.

“[Remote laptop backup] doesn’t have as widespread adoption as it should in the enterprise and in SMBs. But it’s a hot topic right now. I’m getting a lot of questions from our end-user clients on PC backup and what product to [use] and the best way,” said Dines.

Editor's tip: For more information about remote laptop backup best practices, listen to this podcast about developing better laptop backup strategies.


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