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Mobile device management requires strict storage, security policies

IT administrators must acknowledge the importance of mobile devices as business tools and develop mobile device management policies to support and restrict their use.

Apple Inc. has sold more than 26 million iPhones over the last year, 14.7 million smart phones were sold in the U.S. in the second quarter of this year alone, and Cisco Systems Inc. has sold more than 4 million Flip video cameras since 2007. Because these small devices and their gigabytes of memory are also proliferating in your organization, your corporate data storage strategy needs to include mobile device management.

Storage experts say you better be prepared to support or restrict these devices from accessing, uploading and downloading to and from your organization's storage network.

"There is a common misperception that storage admins and IT in general don't have to worry about these devices," said Greg Schulz, founder and principal analyst at StorageIO Group, an IT industry advisory and consultancy firm. "The reality is that they do need to be thinking about them, either from the context of how to control, restrict or limit them, or how to enable them without compromising [the network]."

iPhones, small video cameras and personal digital assistants (PDAs) have larger storage capacities than you might think, and can generate huge amounts of data quickly. "A [cell] phone isn't just a phone," said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), an IT research and consultancy company. "It's a data collection, capture, creation and transmission device."

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The 4G iPhone introduced in June 2010 has a 5 megapixel camera, shoots high-definition (HD) video and has 32 GB of memory. The Cisco Flip has a 16 GB memory cache for its HD recordings and can hold up to four hours of video.

"In the laptop world, the traditional area of [data storage] concern was documents," Duplessie said." In the cell phone world, the area of concern is multimedia. Someone always has a phone with a camera. We can create content, really big content, really easily."

StorageIO Group's Schulz said IT administrators need to recognize these devices for what they are."First and foremost, you have to be aware that these [devices] are a form of computers," he said. "While they may not fall under the purview of the storage manager, they are storage devices nonetheless."

A number of cell phones, PDAs and video devices now allow users to mount them as drives on laptops and PCs. "This is the next wave of distributed computing," ESG's Duplessie said.

Securing mobile devices is another big concern. Cell phones and PDAs can hold data critical to an organization, and can also be lost easier than desktops and laptops. How many of your friends and family have asked you to resend contact information because they lost their cell phones? Lost devices could have your company's fourth-quarter projections or a spreadsheet with the social security numbers and phone numbers of every employee in your organization.

Another concern is the impact on bandwidth. Most mobile devices usually don't directly connect or place data on a network. They're synched to another device, such as a PC or laptop. The PC, laptop, shared folder and directory data may be backed up or replicated to an offsite disaster recovery (DR) resource. However it's done, the mobile device data can consume large chunks of bandwidth and storage capacity quickly.

So how do you deal with these potential headaches? Be proactive, StorageIO Group's Schulz said. Acknowledge the roles mobile devices play in the lives of users at your organization, and develop policies and procedures regarding their use and support.

Schulz said some of the companies that have recognized the importance of mobile devices are figuring out how to help their employees use these tools. "Some are looking at [mobile device use] rather holistically," Schulz said. "In other words, it doesn't matter if it's an iPhone or a USB drive, they're recognizing and acknowledging that workers have these and that they can be productivity tools. If they support [the devices] in some shape or form, and put policies and procedures and restrictions in place, people aren't going to circumnavigate [them]."

He suggested establishing policies regarding data types and directories that the organization will and will not support. That way, mobile device users will know where to store iPhone data to comply with company policies and not risk losing the Flip camera videos of their sleeping babies. You also need to ensure that your back-end infrastructure can handle large file transfer spikes so when everyone uploads their weekend camping videos at 8:30 am each Monday, for example, the system can handle it.

Schulz also recommends crafting mobile device guidelines and best practices to show users that you understand their need to use these devices. They might be less likely to covertly drain your computing resources, and may even turn to you for resources and guidance.


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