Security, management remain challenges in laptop, mobile backups

Security and management are the top IT priorities for mobile devices. Mobile backups tag along for the ride.

Finding products that can manage laptop and mobile backups remains a challenge, even as those devices proliferate in the workplace.

Traditional Backup software applications are built for server-based data, and have been slow to adapt to protecting data on endpoint devices. To solve the challenge, vendors are trying to make security and backup work together, and are  also incorporating file sharing.

Backup expert Brien Posey, a former CIO and network administrator, said he's actually seeing a trend moving away from laptop and mobile backups. "What I'm running into a lot is organizations want to prevent data leakage as much as they can and encourage employees not to store data on devices," he said. "People are connecting applications through the corporate network rather than [storing] information on their devices, so if the device is compromised, data isn't lost.

"For example, there's a Windows 8 feature that's a next-gen VPN where the user doesn't have to do anything. When the user connects to the Internet, if it's set up, you have access to the corporate network so you can use these resources. Some organizations are using that tunnel to back up the laptops. It was designed for patch management, but it's being used as a channel for laptops."

Posey said security has been the chief concern of mobile device management, which has emerged as a hot-button topic over the past 18 months.

"Before that, there were no good products to do cross-platform management," Posey said. "You maybe had support for one device and limited support for another device, but only now are we seeing products that make cross-platform management possible. Backup hasn't really caught up yet."

File sharing is often seen as a workaround to protecting data on Apple devices, which are popular with end users, but are difficult to back up. File sharing allows access to the data from other devices, but the data is not actually backed up.

"So many people have mobile devices and want to use them for crazy things, [and] IT is scrambling to catch up, looking to impose a layer of security and prevent data leakage by finding out what's on the network to cover themselves from a licensing or auditing standpoint," Posey said. "Management is an absolute must."

Greg White, director of product marketing for backup software vendor CommVault,  said file sharing is not enough to protect data on mobile devices. He said a combination of backup and sync could be the answer.

"Broadly speaking, in the market, there's a convergence that has started in some areas and will accelerate with file sync and share and backup," he said. "File sync and share is not really backup. Backup can do sync and do some other things, but not all of the things with a full collaboration-type platform. We'll start to see those things come together more in the future."

CommVault has taken steps to provide mobile device backup with its Simpana software, but CommVault Senior Product Manager Matthew Rubin said it is a challenge.

"Most people don't realize [that] operating systems are designed with security in mind; it's difficult for third-party products to access the entire file system," he said. "It's very difficult for a third-party vendor such as CommVault to put an app on a device."

Some products work as a jailbreak to crack the iOS and isolate the files. Jailbreaking removes manufacturer restrictions from a device such as an Apple iPhone or iPad and replaces the operating system with a customer kernel. Users can then install programs not available though the manufacturer's usual channels. Still, jailbreaking comes with it's own issues.

"It's kind of one of these 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situations," Posey said. "The problem with that is it undermines security and a lot of organizations don't want to do that. You're basically taking down the walls that are intended to protect the consumer. Reducing the security on the device [to] make it easier to back it up. Is the trade off worth it? It kind of depends on who you ask."

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