Hot Spots: Remote workers, stand up and be counted


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There are plenty of products that can make it easier to work remotely, but you have to let the folks in the data center know what you need.

Over the past 18 months, I've heard plenty of technology vendors talk about "solutions" for remote office/branch office (ROBO) and small office/home office (SOHO). Their pitches catalog the challenges ROBO and SOHO workers face trying to back up data, access corporate file servers, collaborate with co-workers and secure PC data. They're preaching to the choir.

I work from a home office, but for this article I'm going to play ROBO cop and assume that a remote-office employee is one who works in a branch office or from a home office. Like many other small- to medium-sized businesses, Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) has a relatively small IT department, but we run email, CRM, Microsoft SharePoint and a few corporate file shares. When I moved in 2005 from ESG's corporate offices in Massachusetts to the heart of Silicon Valley, I didn't realize how much my productivity could be affected by being distant from the centralized, local IT infrastructure. Gone was the instant downloading of files to our network drive and backing up to a networked storage system over a fast LAN. Suddenly, I was responsible for my own data protection, and I had to deal with VPNs and Internet connectivity performance issues when getting files from the corporate file share.

Protect that remote data
I'm currently

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using approximately 40GB on my hard drive, and I have to confess that I have no idea what all the files are, when I last accessed them or how big they are. I have two great fears. The first is losing my laptop when I put it through the airport X-ray machine and someone runs off with it while security ponders whether my toothpaste is dangerous. I'm also really afraid of some virus or other malware infecting my secure wireless network and making its way onto my PC. For every Google and YouTube entrepreneur there are hundreds of people who would delight in delivering a little piece of nasty code to crash your system.

Recently, ESG completed research on remote-office IT challenges and resolutions. When the research data revealed that less than 40% of remote-office employees backed up their PCs, I was flabbergasted. I'm apparently in the minority because I back up my files every night to a network share in my home office. (That's right, I have networked storage at home.) I send my files over a wireless network to a disk system and sleep well at night knowing that my data is somewhat protected. I also use an application from a reputable vendor to create an image of my machine so I can do a bare-metal restore--but I probably don't do this imaging consistently enough to ensure a successful recovery. I don't back up my PC data to ESG's corporate office because it would take forever, so I'm responsible for protecting my own data. Because many remote employees can't easily access corporate network file shares, they store many of their files locally. That's why it's imperative for businesses with ROBO/SOHO employees to do whatever is necessary to ensure those remote PCs get backed up. Whether they mandate employees do it, outsource it or run them from central IT, PC backups shouldn't be optional.

If I was working out of an ESG branch office rather than a home office, the first purchase I'd recommend would be a WAFS/WAN acceleration product to improve data sharing for the sole purpose of protecting my laptop. Right now, there are gaping holes in my data protection strategy--such as copying my data to another facility in case some disaster (this is earthquake country) impacts my home office. I've repeatedly asked vendors for help with this situation, but outside of installing a WAFS system, I've yet to hear any practical ideas. That's why I'm a big believer in the online backup service providers that target ROBO, SOHO and consumer users.

This was first published in April 2007

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