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Cloud storage for mobile devices

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It’s debatable whether data protection or encryption forms the foundation of solid mobile data management. Most organizations address data protection first. However,

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it’s one thing to suffer lost productivity and intellectual property, and quite another to put the organization at risk for monetary loss, regulatory fines and public embarrassment for lost confidential information. Organizations with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or financial information stored on mobile devices will definitely want to make encryption a high priority. Data encryption techniques are generally transparent to users and are one of the easiest ways to keep the bad guys from accessing sensitive data.

The other critical data management component is a backup agent that facilitates automatic backup to a hosted data center whenever the user connects to a network or the Internet. The backup agent will usually be deployed as a standard part of the system image build for any corporate-issued device. The agent can be pre-configured to back up certain directories, drives or entire systems. Although some organizations may choose to back up entire systems to facilitate bare-metal restore, most organizations today are primarily concerned about the data. If an entire device is lost or fails, it will be replaced with a new one, usually by a corporate support group. This will include a new image with up-to-date drivers onto which the data is recovered automatically by the backup/restore agent.

Although the basic functionality of backup agents may be similar, the way they work can be quite different. Some may deduplicate, compress and encrypt data. They may facilitate point-in-time recovery, document versioning and continuous data protection. Some will provide file-level backup while others operate at the block level or even the byte level. Each of these capabilities comes with pros and cons, so IT buyers need to determine which is best suited to their workload mix.

Considering cloud services

Commonly known services such as Barracuda, Carbonite, Mozy and others offer cloud-based backup capabilities that make laptop backup simple without impacting corporate IT infrastructure. Although these services are most frequently used for personal and small business backup, corporate offerings are also available. Recently, Mozy began offering support for Apple and Android devices. This service is aimed at two use cases: file access from smartphones and tablets, and photo access and sharing.

Cloud-based file sharing services are evolving for both personal and business use. Examples include Egnyte and Mozy Stash. The real use for these services is convenience, not data protection or data management per se. They’re designed to facilitate syncing between same-user devices or file sharing without data transfer within workgroups (i.e., using a link). Although file-sharing services move the data onto managed storage where it may be backed up, backup policies and data retention policies aren’t key features in their value propositions.

One product with interesting advances for corporate users is Druva Inc.’s inSync backup service. Designed originally for laptop backup, inSync offers deduplication, block-level backup and a hashing algorithm that avoids sending blocks already stored in the primary location. However, inSync goes a step further by tracking sensitive files by device, making discovery or security possible regardless of the device type or location. It also allows data to be deleted remotely in the event of a lost or stolen device. With its incorporated data encryption, inSync makes it very difficult for data thieves to find anything useful.

12-step program?

There is no 12-step program for IT organizations that are in denial about the risks of mobile data loss, but perhaps there should be. Like backup and recovery that has evolved into a more holistic data protection undertaking, remote and mobile backup protection is becoming more-inclusive mobile data management. Organizations mustn’t ignore it, but given the easy-to-implement and cost-effective cloud offerings available, they don’t have a reason to ignore it anymore.

BIO: Phil Goodwin is a storage consultant and freelance writer.

This was first published in September 2012

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