If you have to back up client devices, you're doing something wrong

At TechTarget's Storage Decisions conference last week in San Francisco, one of the attendees asked me, "What's the best backup solution for mobile devices?" What was weird about that question is that I didn't have a quick answer.

At TechTarget's Storage Decisions conference last week in San Francisco, one of the attendees asked me, "What's the best backup solution for mobile devices?"

What was weird about that question is that I didn't have a quick answer. Since I spend all my time thinking and talking about end user computing, it's rare for someone to ask me a question that I haven't heard before or that I don't have a quick answer for.

So why didn't I have a solution for mobile device backup on the tip of my tongue? Simple. Mobile devices shouldn't need to be backed up!

Today's Android and iOS devices are like the ultimate thin clients. Sure, they have and run local applications, but they are children of the cloud. All the apps on those devices that work with local data have (or should have) some automatically synchronized back-end repository with that same data. All the contacts, emails, calendar entries, and notes? No need to back those up, those are synced with Exchange (or Gmail, or whatever mail provider you use). Enterprise files? In sync with your enterprise file sync (Dropbox or Box or ShareFile or...) Photos? Automatically synced with Photo Stream or Picasa or something similar. Music and videos? Re-download those from iTunes or Google Play if you lose your phone.

In fact every application a user has and the general phone settings are backed up to Apple or Google's cloud, so there's really nothing to "back up" on a phone—at least not in the traditional sense. As long as you have your file syncing and enterprise mobility management strategy in place, you'd use that technology to ensure that the enterprise's data is safe. (In other words, if a user is able to create a Word doc on a phone, the way an enterprise protects that doc is not to "back it up," but rather to ensure that the enterprise has provided a mobile file syncing tool that keeps the user's files in sync between desktop and mobile devices. That solves both the FUIT and backup problems at the same time.)

This applies to laptops too

So understanding why you don't need to back up mobile devices is pretty straightforward. But it also occurred to me that this concept should apply to laptops too. I would argue that in today's world, if you have to backup laptops, then you're not doing something right.

I'm the perfect example of this. I had to rebuild my laptop a few months ago, but it wasn't that big of a deal because I didn't have to back it up or save anything off of it before hand. I could just wipe and load.

In my case all of my files are in Dropbox, my Evernote notes are synced with Evernote's cloud. My mail is on our Exchange Server. All my music is in the iTunes cloud. I can re-download all my local apps from the Mac App Store. Heck, even the OS itself I can stream down from the internet by pushing a certain key combination when I boot.

Sure, I'm a bit unique because I've taken a lot of this into my own hands instead of relying on corporate IT, but the concept applies to everyone.

If you have to backup your users' laptops, why is that? What information is on there that they might lose? More importantly, why is that information only on their laptop? Why isn't it being synced with some kind of cloud service? That's my real fear—that if something only exists on a user's laptop then they won't be happy with it (since they probably want to access their stuff from other devices), so I'd be afraid that having to back up users' laptops means they're not getting the service they need from IT, and so they'd be more likely to go out and find alternative tools on their own.

So at the end of the day, if you have to back up any of your client devices—phones, tablets, laptops, whatever—I'd take a hard look at that and think about what users are doing to get around the fact that their data is only in one place.

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You are lucky, because, its your business to publish your information and you need to stay always online. But some companies would not allow their workers to share all their intellecutal properties with everyone.

The big problem for the IT staff is not to backup client data, but how to prevent users from taking away confidential information with mobile devices.

In the end, 90% of recovery work (e.g. laptop) is application installation, no matter if its from google or local file share.

There is really no matter for mobile backup.


Whilst I agree that you shouldn't have to be backing up the data, what about user preferences? You'll need a proper UEM solution to this for Windows devices (Win8 changes this a bit), and if you can sync user preferences when outside the corporate network then that's a bonus. Being able to restore preferences gets users back to being productive quicker.

Backing up user preferences isn't restricted to Windows desktop devices though, signing into a new iOS or Windows 8.1 device is made so much easier by being able to restore from the "cloud". Now if only it was as easy to provide that type of experience for corporate Windows laptops, we'd have some very happy users.

Don't also forget data that users store outside of their standard locations (i.e. Not protected by redirected folders or synced with ShareFile or the like). It's common to have a policy saying that IT doesn't support user data stored in anything but standard locations, but that doesn't stop users for doing it and IT still gets the blame if that type of data is lost.