Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Backing up your Road Warriors

Around the home office backup strategies can be pretty straight forward. Your machines aren't really moving around very much, and they are always accessible via your local network. But what adjustments are you going to make for your ‘road warriors’ be they sales, executives or otherwise? The answer isn't all that simple, and there are a few concepts to consider when drafting up a disaster recovery plan. 

The first question you’ll want to ask yourself is what exactly you should be backing up. Your user requirements are going to be the heaviest influence on your decision here. Do your users require only a few sets of files backed up, or are you going to require that the OS and applications are backed up as well? There are solutions that can do file level, OS (image), and application/system state level backups well, but in your choosing a path this answer is critical. I might suggest for road warriors that the best method would be a both a file level and system state backup as the chosen route as this will give you protection against file corruption and accidental deletion, as well as a semi quick recovery from OS problems.

So you may very well have some idea as to how you’d like to back these laptops up, but where are you going to store them? The question breaks down to three choices: stored with the user, stored with a third party off site, and stored at your home office. There are pros and cons to each of these options, and each have a plethora of products to serve the need.

The first option mentioned is the ideas of having the user carry around an external device that backs up the laptop for them. The upside to this approach is in performance, as the user will be backing up to a local target instead of having to rely on the bandwidth of whatever establishment they may be located. Also, a lot of the external drives available now give you some sort of built in encryption which is of great import for the user on the go. The downside to this is that you are decentralizing the backup process and effectively losing control of it. If the user’s backups aren’t in line with retention policies set there isn’t really an easy way to know or correct it. Let us also not forget the inconvenience to the user in having to lug the device around, and have it plugged in often enough to get a decent backup set to work with.

If that doesn’t serve your needs there are also a number of products that allow you to back up to a third party owned off site location over the internet. These solutions give your user a more hands off involvement in the process as it occurs while they are completing their daily activities. The process also gives you a decent disaster proof backup as it is stored away from the user and in a controlled environment. Depending on the product your options for central management may vary, and I will get into that in greater detail on the next post discussing specific products. The downer to what sounds like a good option is that you don’t own the infrastructure your data is sitting on. Personally, I’m not very trusting with my data so I view this as a negative, as a larger more public environment tends to serve as a more obvious target for data breach.

The last option (my preferred) would be to set up storage at your head quarters, or an offsite location that you control and back up to it over the WAN. This method provides you total control of your data and the surrounding infrastructure, and still gives your user the hands free appearance of your backups. You are now also able to make use of central management solutions in order to maintain the proper retention periods and to track success and failure the same. I’m a fan of this option as it seems to avoid the risks of a third party company being involved, particularly if the data in question is sensitive, and allows for maximum control of the client machine and data.

The most important thing of all regardless of what solution you choose is that the backups occur and that the restores are as painless as possible for the end user. In the next article I’m going to discuss specific products that my research has found to be effective, easy to manage, and simple to use that you might be able to take advantage of for your disaster recovery plans.

Ryan Koch
3X Systems