Hot Spots: Protecting the unprotected


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No question, enterprise organizations are careful about protecting their storage assets. Backing up storage area networks (SANs) and network-attached storage (NAS) is a nightly operation, and storage security is becoming a critical piece of the overall security puzzle. Protecting information assets is so important that much of the storage industry is focused on this space. Larger vendors such as EMC, IBM, StorageTek and Veritas earn huge chunks of their revenue with data protection products and services, while data protection startups such as FilesX, Neartek and Revivio are gaining attention in data centers.

While terrorist threats, regulatory compliance and security have ignited the data protection market, there remains a dramatically underserved piece of the information infrastructure: corporate laptops. The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) estimates that a mere 20% to 25% of enterprises provide data protection services for these mobile PCs. Many companies that claim to offer laptop data protection simply mandate that users move critical files to corporate servers. That's hardly a 21st century solution.

The dangers are real
Why is laptop exposure so pronounced? Because when it comes to laptop data protection, many firms still don't get it. Storage managers often adopt a "what's the big deal" attitude, assuming that critical corporate data is stored on the back-end Symmetrix, while laptops remain the domain of PowerPoint

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presentations, rogue applications and MP3 files. That type of thinking isn't only outdated, it's also dangerous. Laptop data protection is paramount for three reasons:
  • Laptops contain critical data. In recent years, laptop computers containing sensitive data from organizations such as the Australian Department of Defense, GMAC Insurance and Wells Fargo Bank have been stolen. While petty thieves probably grabbed these laptops, public exposure of this data could put companies--and potentially countries--at risk. What's more, if companies don't have backup copies of the information stored on their laptops, they'll face additional problems as they try to rebuild lost data based on older versions and human memory.
  • Laptops are always at risk. Unlike SANs that live in locked data centers, laptop computers are mobile and are more likely to be damaged or stolen. According to computer insurance firms, laptop theft is a billion-dollar industry that's growing. Even when laptops are stationary, they're easy to compromise. Disgruntled employees can easily grab a laptop on their way out the door, while a third-shift IT administrator could walk into the CFO's or CEO's office, reformat the hard drive on their laptops and destroy all the system data.
  • Lots of laptops mean lots of data. Suppose a company has 10,000 employees and 25% of them have been issued laptops. If the average laptop has a 40GB hard drive, that's a total of 100TB of unprotected data. Yes, some of this capacity will be unused or contain non-critical data, but much of it will store data that needs to be protected.
As PC prices continue to decline, many companies have opted to provide laptop computers to all employees, thus exacerbating the threat to laptop-resident data.

This was first published in September 2004

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