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Cloud storage for mobile devices

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Understanding mobile issues

As with any IT endeavor, the mobile data problem consists of people, process and technology. Among the emerging technological challenges of mobile backup is the diversity of devices. Users are remarkably creative at connecting devices to the corporate network, with or without corporate blessing. In a company population of thousands of users, a virtual market lineup of devices is inevitable, including every conceivable release of software for each. The possible permutations are almost endless.

On the people side, the full gamut of users must be considered. Although the workforce is becoming increasingly computer literate, IT organizations can’t assume that the literacy will translate into good practices. IT managers are accustomed to engineering systems to peak workloads, not average loads. Similarly, they must design a mobile backup system to address the lowest common denominator of expertise. In other words, it must be usable by the least-savvy user with a minimum of technical support. Even among younger workers who grew up with computers, backup is a far from familiar process.

Process is the key to making any mobile backup offering work. Certainly, it would be simple to supply a USB thumb drive to each user with instructions to copy their “My Documents” folder and any other important files every Friday. It’s a simple solution, and a simple process that nearly any user can handle. Nevertheless, few IT professionals

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would give that approach a chance of success because user discipline in following such a process is almost nil. Moreover, it doesn’t inherently solve the lost and stolen data issue as users must also keep off-site copies (as my colleague learned). Any successful mobile device process will have to be entirely transparent to the user, occur automatically, entail no user intervention whatsoever and fully secure the data.

Follow the data

Considering those requirements, it may seem to be a daunting task to address. The key to getting a grip on it, however, is to follow the data. Although many devices may be permitted access to corporate assets, many of them don’t store corporate data. This breaks the problem into two categories: data access and data storage. Most organizations already have data access standards and any device that can meet the technical requirements may be used. IT organizations set the standards and the onus is on the user to comply. If an access device is compromised, access credentials can be immediately changed.

Thus, the key issue can be narrowed to mobile storage management. Devices that store corporate data are usually issued by the company and can be loaded with a standard image that includes data management components. Devices not issued by the company shouldn’t be allowed to store data. This may be difficult to enforce technologically, but is possible through clearly defined policies and enforcement.

Developing coherent data management policies begins with understanding the nature of the data to be addressed. Here again, it can be simplified by sorting out the possibilities. Most users will store email, documents, presentations, spreadsheets and the like. Any specific corporate applications will certainly fall under the corporate data management and protection umbrella. Similarly, email can be controlled and projected on corporate servers. Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry servers form a corporate messaging platform that makes corporate control simple, but RIM’s market share has been declining steadily. Instead, users are bringing their own Apple and Android devices to access corporate email. This makes data protection at the data center level a “must.”

This was first published in September 2012

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