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Mobile backup: There’s an app for that

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Users may be carrying a significant amount of their company’s intellectual property on their smartphones, tablets and other ultraportable devices -- and that data needs to be protected.

First, a little math. Consider an organization with 5,000 employees, 20% of whom are knowledge-based workers with a reason to have corporate data on their mobile devices. Then assume that each worker is carrying 20 GB of corporate data on their devices. With a simple calculation, we can determine that this hypothetical organization has 20 TB of potentially unprotected data stored on mobile devices.

No organization would stand for a 20 TB hole in its data protection strategy inside its data center, yet such holes are routinely ignored outside the data center. Ironically, the data floating around outside the data center is at even greater risk for loss. It’s easy to see how quickly small amounts of data across large numbers of devices can add up to a significant problem.

What’s a mobile device?

To start addressing the issue of data protection for mobile devices, let’s determine exactly what devices should be included under that term. Laptop PCs would represent the most significant repository of mobile data and, too often, they’re overlooked as containers of valuable corporate data. Rapidly gaining ground as data repositories are tablets and sophisticated smartphones, which we’ll refer to as “ultraportable devices.” These devices have internal

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flash storage typically ranging from 8 GB to 64 GB, and many have secure digital (SD) card expansion slots, providing significantly more storage capacity. And you can expect the capacities of these ultraportable devices will continue to expand dramatically.

Organizations must recognize the potential risk these devices represent. Most have well-defined policies that prohibit the use of corporate devices for personal tasks. But this line is routinely crossed, whether the nonconforming activity involves personal email, calls, text messages, or document creation or editing.

Ultraportable devices make enforcing the line between personal and business use even more difficult. Users are increasingly employing personal devices they’ve purchased themselves for business-related activities and personal tasks. Examples include iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android-based smartphones that people use to connect to their business email accounts. iPads and other tablets may also be used to view, send and receive business email using Web browsers, and may be used to edit and store documents. Sales reps may be able to download price lists, proposal materials and other sales documentation using any Web-enabled device. It’s becoming increasingly impossible and impractical to prohibit the mingling of personal and business use of ultraportable devices. In many cases, it’s a company’s executives driving the move to allow tablets to access corporate resources. And if it’s OK for the boss, others won’t be far behind.

It’s not unusual for a knowledge-based worker to have a laptop, tablet and a smartphone. Thus, in our earlier fictitious company example, 1,000 knowledge workers might be toting around as many as 3,000 devices, all with corporate data stored on them. To deploy a backup solution for this scenario you must address a high volume of devices with low volumes of data per device. Bandwidth is rarely a problem, but deployment, standardization, support and updates make it a challenge.

The deployment of ultraportable devices is growing exponentially, so the question is, how can IT managers get out in front and address the issue proactively? The good news is that it may be easier than you might think. The bad news is that it may be more complicated than some think it will be. Let’s dissect the issues and see why this is a good news/bad news issue.

This was first published in December 2011

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