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Backup for remote and mobile devices

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The problem of properly backing up remote site servers and mobile computing devices has been with us a long time. But with a workforce that's getting more mobile, it's time to get a handle

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on remote backups.

Remote data centers and mobile users represent the last frontier of backup and recovery. And that frontier spirit is often reflected in the way many companies rein in backup and recovery of remote and mobile data. Remote data centers, as well as users of laptops or other mobile devices, are often left on their own to make do with inferior methods (or none at all), while the "big" data center enjoys a modern day backup and recovery environment. But with so much data being created and carried around outside the main data center, it's time for a change.

The root of the problem

Remote data centers often use standalone backup systems with limited connections to the corporate backup system. And because they typically deal with smaller data sets, remote centers often use less-expensive software and hardware. So, while the central data center may be running an enterprise-class backup product backing up to a large target data deduplication system or tape library, remote data centers often have workgroup-class backup products feeding backups to small autoloaders or even individual tape drives.

Likewise, the corporate data center is likely to have a contract with a media vaulting company to ensure that backups are taken off-site every day. Even better, the data center may be using a deduplication system that replicates backups off-site immediately. Remote data centers, on the other hand, often have backup systems that may go unmonitored, with backups that may end up in the backseat of someone's car if they leave the premises at all.

Mobile data backup is in even worse shape. Many companies don't have a policy for backing up mobile data at all other than instructing mobile users to copy important data to a file server. That's more about ignoring the problem than having a viable backup policy in place.

The typical mobile computer user simply doesn't think about backing up their data on a regular basis. And requiring mobile users to synchronize their important data to a file server also ignores one basic fact -- they're mobile and there's a good chance they don't have the bandwidth to synchronize large files or lots of smaller files.

Given the increased mobility of today's workforce, a significant amount of what your company considers its intellectual property may reside solely on unprotected remote devices.

Why mobile backup is so hard

Unfortunately, there are reasons why remote and mobile backup data sets have typically been handled so haphazardly. It's important to understand these reasons before attempting to fix the problem.

The main reason why both remote and mobile data sets aren't treated the same way as data in the corporate data center is the most obvious one: because they're not in the corporate data center. Slow connections between remote sites or users and the central data facility mean the remote systems can't use the same backup software used in the data center. Those backup applications expect quick connections to servers in the data center and tend to perform very poorly when trying to speak to remote servers. Bandwidth limitations prevent the software from transferring large amounts of data, and latency creates delays that cause chatty backup apps to make a lot of roundtrips between the backup server and client.

This was first published in March 2011

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