Promise for protecting laptops

The nature of laptops does not lend itself well to traditional backup methods.

Among the multitude of data protection challenges facing IT organizations, arguably the least favorite for IT managers is dealing with laptop systems. Each week we read more horror stories about lost notebook computers and potentially compromised data as organizations attempt to grapple with what is literally a moving target.

Indications are that laptop sales will surpass desktop sales in the next two years, so the situation is likely to only worsen. While solutions to encrypt and even monitor and track laptop systems have been available, there has long been a need to be able to effectively disable low-level system functionality. At a recent developer's forum, Intel offered some hope by indicating plans to introduce chip-level Anti-Theft Technology later this year. Such functionality in conjunction with the right management tools could disable processors and disks rendering a stolen laptop useless.

A less publicized aspect of laptop protection is data recoverability. While the news focus is on the risk of compromised personal information - clearly something that can significantly impact both corporate image and stock price - data recoverability presents a more mundane but equally burdensome challenge to organizations. The traditional approach of urging users to copy information to files servers for protection is simply no longer viable (if it ever really was) as people have become more mobile and less tethered to their offices. Critical information sits on laptops for extended periods before making it to onto a server, if ever, so organizations are faced with the daunting effort of backing up laptops.

The nature of laptops - frequently disconnected and unavailable - does not lend itself well to traditional backup methods and has caused organizations to seek alternatives. If ever there was an opportunity for outsourcing an IT function, this appears to be it. EMC clearly recognized this with its Mozy Enterprise offering. Another of the growing number of options in this space is BeInSync (recently acquired by Phoenix Technologies) extends backup functionality by also incorporating another increasingly popular online storage function - file folder synchronization. This functionality enables not only backup but remote sharing of files as needed.

While there remain hurdles with remote outsourced backup services, including initial data synchronization and full volume recovery, the promise of taking the laptop protection problem off of the IT manager's desk is quite enticing.

Jim Damoulakis is chief technology officer of GlassHouse Technologies Inc., a leading provider of independent storage services. He can be reached at jimd@glasshouse.com.

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