Ways to keep handheld device data safe

In today's wireless world, data backup on handheld devices is a crucial task. Learn how to back up data on Tablet PCs as well as other handheld devices.

Providing mobile IT pros with remote access to all business apps may put a company's vital information at risk. Read Security in the Wireless Revolution to find out about today's available wireless systems and the type of security you need to avoid costly and dangerous security concerns.

If you are like most IT professionals, you either cannot live without your handheld device or are supporting users who feel the same way. Handheld devices have rapidly become an extension of our everyday work lives and so it's no surprise that data backup is a critical exercise.

Within the confines of a company's network, data stored on desktops and network devices are generally backed up routinely, but how do you guarantee the ever-changing data stored on the multitude of mobile handhelds you are supporting is getting backed up?

Ongoing education is necessary to ensure that users understand how volatile their mobile information is and how regular backups will help guarantee that sensitive or critical data is not lost.

The first step

While the old adage of backing up data to a tape drive or additional hard drives is still a tried and proven technique, it does not fully address handheld devices and our need for more mobility with our networks.

Without a wireless connection, handheld devices are not directly connected to the standard "backup" system (see Figure A) and can be lost in the overall scheme.

Figure A

This is the standard backup approach in which data from a desktop is saved to a network server and typically onto a tape drive.

The standard "backup location" for handheld devices is a user's local hard drive. Yet this creates a problem when data is swapped back and forth from the desktop to handheld devices. If it was not for the standard "syncing" program that most handhelds feature even the basic address book and calendar information might never get properly saved.

The problem lies in the storing of applications and data files on handhelds, which may not be covered by the standard sync programs, and the data being stored only on the user's local PC. Remember—in the world of handhelds—your backup information is only as good as the last time you synchronized it. An even greater challenge is the syncing and backing up of users who are away from the office for extended periods of time.

Backing up Tablet PCs

Tablet PCs have created a new chapter in support for most organizations. Whether directly connected or truly wireless, backup requirements do not fit into the standard model like Figure A.

Your company may deploy Tablets but if they're "gone" from the network connections for extended periods, you need to pay attention. With the extensive mobility of handhelds, and their unique "part-time" (see Figure B), indirect connections to the user's PC, you can use a process within Windows called "Offline Files" that allows for the backing up of data to the server storage areas, which can then be backed up regularly. This is an extremely important and useful tool to combat lost mobile data.

Figure B

In this scenario, data from a PDA, such as a Tablet PC, must be connected to the network for backup of data.

Dale Priddy, director of engineering services at Absolute Networking Systems, has provided a helpful, downloadable document for using the Windows Offline Files feature as a backup approach.

According to Priddy, the Offline Files feature allows users to keep using network files, folders, and applications when disconnected from the network (Figure C).

"To users, this is transparent; offline, they'll have the same access permissions to the files and folders that are available when they're connected to the network," he explained, adding that "best of all, when they reconnect, all the changes they've made to those files will be made to the files on the network, via offline file synchronization."

Any file or folder that is shared on a Microsoft network can be made available offline, as long as the computer on which it's stored supports SMB-based file and printer sharing. (This includes all Windows 9x/NT4/2000/XP computers.)

Please note, while the downloadable guide document uses XP as its example, the steps and procedure are basically the same with Windows 9x/NT4/2000/XP computers.

Figure C

This diagram illustrates the ideal flow path data will take in using Offline Files to ensure that the handheld device is fully backed up.

Backing up away from home

For road warriors or home-based users you may need to set up an entirely different backup scheme. Some quick solutions include:

  • Using portable, small USB memory sticks and multimedia cards to transfer data for additional safety.
  • In a jam, an MP3 player can be used to back up vital data.
  • Using external Zip drives along with inexpensive auto-backup software.

In today's high tech, global world, data is the new form of currency and value—it can make or break a company. It is a commodity that is irreplaceable and can destroy a company or put it ahead of its competitors. Downtime due to loss of data, recovering data, or rebuilding outdated files can cost thousands of dollars a day or in some cases, thousands of dollars a minute. That's why it's critical that no matter where your data is stored you need to know how to best protect it by backing it up.

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