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Consumerization may undo all your good deeds

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If you’ve been struggling with protecting data at your company’s remote locations, look out, it’s only going to get worse.

“User” is probably the single word that causes storage (and IT) pros to slap their foreheads and roll their eyes in frustration more often than any other. Users -- you can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em -- will drive you up the wall with unreasonable requests and send you halfway to the loony bin with their sloppy, storage-devouring bad habits. They’re unreasonable, unreliable, unrelenting and unrealistic, but they’re also you’re raison d’être. No users, no storage, no you. So be nice.

But of course you’re nice. You’ve patiently explained good storage manners, and done your best to fulfill requests. You cleaned up after them and fixed what they broke. You know storage is your job, and that your company counts on you to find a home for its data and to make sure it’s comfy and safe.

That hasn’t always been easy, especially considering how dispersed a company’s data can get with remote/branch offices and mobile/home-office workers. In a lot of companies, storage departments are just beginning to get a handle on the situation, using new backup tools or new features of traditional backup apps designed for remote data protection, cloud backup services and WAN optimizers that can shoot remote site data back to the data center where it can be cared for properly.

Those efforts represent a real attempt

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to reverse what in most companies was a longstanding “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” attitude toward remote data. Part of the reason is good corporate data governance. Who knows how much valuable IP can be culled from all the data floating outside the data center walls? And for many companies, compliance and legal diligence mean all that data in the wild can no longer be overlooked.

So while it might have taken awhile, you’re beginning to round up all that stray data. Case closed, right? Not by a long shot: The storage is about to hit the fan.

If “user” makes you want to whack your head in exasperation, the word “consumerization” may just cause you to knock yourself silly. Whether you think it’s just more marketing hype or a real threat, it’s going to play havoc with data storage systems.

If you haven’t heard, consumerization is the practice of letting employees use their own computing devices -- smartphones, tablets, Dick Tracy two-way wristwatch radios, two cans and a string -- to do company business. And they’ll continue to use those gadgets for personal stuff, too. So your company’s confidential price lists will commingle with “Angry Birds,” and accounting’s monthly close will sit next to stupid dog trick videos. Welcome to the 21st century.

A lot of people are trying to make consumerization sound like some sort of inevitable cultural evolution, and that refusing to be swept away by it is to be a Luddite in the land of the enlightened. I think that’s a lot of hooey. Consumerization is getting attention because CFOs and other money minders see it as an opportunity to save some money. It’s not new, either; companies have been all too happy to let their employees foot the bill for their cell phone use for years. Smartphones, tablets and netbooks just expand this model from voice communications to full-on mobile computing.

Sounds like a quick and easy way to cut IT budgets: Get employees to foot the bill and save two bits or maybe even a buck.

With a potential onslaught of personal computing devices tapping into corporate data resources, all your remote data protection efforts might just be for naught. This is a big problem that has the potential to become a huge problem.

Once upon a time, this would have been avoided by just saying “no.” Employees would have been told they can’t walk off with company data in their pocket and, if they did, there would be consequences. Serious consequences. But the rules have apparently changed, so now it’s up to the storage guys to figure out a way to batten down the hatches even when the hatches don’t appear to be holding back anything anymore.

Smart storage managers are teaming up with their security colleagues to find technology solutions that might address the problem before it gets too big to handle. And they’re meeting with business unit managers and the legal department to help define or redefine the rules governing how corporate information can be handled. Those involved in these kinds of efforts might feel like they’re just swimming against the tide, but they’re doing something. What are you doing?

BIO: Rich Castagna is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.

* Click here for a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the April 2012 issue.

This was first published in March 2012

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