Data Centers

Road warriors need mobile backups

Frequent travel is no excuse for risking data loss. Here is how your users can keep their files safe when they are away from the office.

Frequent travel is no excuse for risking data loss. Here is how your users can keep their files safe when they are away from the office.


I have one client who's been giving me the runaround. I shouldn't say that exactly. He's very pleasant, and he's not trying to aggravate me, but we have literally the same conversation every 5 to 7 days.

This user, Tom, always contacts me to let me know that he's still having problems with his computer. His system has been troubling him with intermittent shutdowns for a while now—on the order of weeks. I tell Tom what I told him the last time that we talked, that the cursory look I had at his machine didn't tell me very much, and that he needs to leave the computer with me for further diagnostics and possible hardware service. "But this is my primary work machine!" Tom replies. Tom travels a lot, and his laptop goes everywhere with him. I then propose that I could loan him a machine, and he could work from his backup. To which Tom responds, "I don't have a backup." This starts us on our usual merry-go-round. I try to convince Tom that if his data is important enough that he can't be separated from it, it's important enough to back up. Tom retorts that he's never in on place long enough to make a back up. Thus we each dig into our positions and steel ourselves for our next inevitable confrontation.

The importance of backups just isn't clicking for Tom, and I want to figure out how to get him over that. Part of his lassitude comes from the fact that I don't think he's ever suffered an extinction-level event; he's never lost any data before, and thus the idea is only an abstraction for him. He's also kind of a one-man operation. He only comes by when he swings through town, so he's not integrated into any other computing infrastructure. His professional life really does all exist in his carry-on bag. So, I've started thinking about how Tom's backup can travel with him.

Online backup services are an option we're going to discuss. Tom is never far from a network connection, either Wifi or Cellular data. Even if there are instances where his Internet access slows down, he should be able to upload his recent changes to the cloud. If Tom worked with really large files this solution might be less workable, but Tom uses mostly Office documents. We'll make sure to do Tom's first big upload of data when he's visiting and can use our broadband Internet connection.

Mostly though, I'm going to convince Tom that he needs to start carrying a bus-powered external hard drive when he travels. Manufacturers like LaCie and Iomega are making very svelte and durable little drives that are scarcely larger than a paperback, but can hold up to 500 gigabytes of data. Since these drives can draw their power from the included USB cables, there's no annoying wall transformer or AC adapter cord that has to take up room in Tom's luggage. I'm going to propose splitting his drive into two partitions: one will have a bootable clone of his operating system and applications, so he can quickly get up and running with his stuff on another machine, should it become necessary. The remaining available space will be formatted as the destination for regular backups of the user data stored on his computer's internal drive.

Some users may be so mobile that they don't have a desk, let alone an office. These individuals value every minute saved and every ounce shaved. It's our responsibility as their support to help them realize when this behavior puts them at risk. Tom's written off backups in the past because he doesn't think centralized systems can support a user like him. Coming up with these alternate strategies, I'm confident that I can help Tom find a backup solution that's as mobile as he is.

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