How to Prevent Orphaned Data During Work Force Turnover

Facing tough economic choices, businesses across America have collectively laid off hundreds of thousands of employees lately. But without the proper preventative measures in place, important business data could have been lost or left behind on a variety of distributed devices. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Chris Winter explains how to identify your company's exposure to potentially orphaned data, as well as how to deploy centrally managed solutions that allow for reliable, flexible and easy data recovery.

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Within the last six months alone, hundreds of thousands of employees have been laid off from their jobs. Each one of those departing workers may have left behind important business data, applications or intellectual property-orphaned on desktops, remote workstations, mobile laptops or PDAs. Legacy backup approaches are not enough. The following are some important steps businesses should take to safeguard against orphaned data.

First, businesses should take steps to identify and locate all potentially orphaned data on distributed devices. Second, they should establish a comprehensive backup policy for that data. Third, businesses should establish centralized control over enforcing that policy. Finally, technology should be deployed that is able to reliably, flexibly and easily recover that data under any circumstances.

Let's take a detailed look at all of these steps:

Step No. 1: Identify potentially orphaned data

Over half of all business data now resides on laptops and other distributed devices. These devices are often in transit or located at the edge of your network or beyond. They are at distant offices, partner sites or employees' homes and not under the constant watch or control of IT. Even in the best circumstances, data can be orphaned if these devices are lost, stolen, broken, corrupted or simply never backed up. During work force turnover, even if IT manages to get distributed devices back, disk drives are often pulled, stacked on a shelf or left in a drawer forgotten, reformatted or recycled.

Before any work force turnover takes place-and while it's still not too late to set up an adequate recovery process-IT should establish an inventory of distributed devices that likely contain mission-critical data and applications. Defining an inventory of distributed devices can help identify potentially orphaned data and ensure that data is regularly and thoroughly backed up.

Step No. 2: Establish comprehensive policy

Businesses with legacy tape or CD-ROM systems are often lucky to capture a reliable backup of their central server once a night. If they are really lucky, they might also back up shared folders from networked desktops that are actively connected to the server at that time. But even then, restoring the data is difficult and sometimes impossible.

Nightly backups are inadequate for retaining minute-by-minute transactional data. And versions of any business-critical file should be retained every time it gets updated. Worse still, remote laptops and other mobile devices usually only make contact with a central server sporadically (and not during backups scheduled in the middle of the night), so data residing on these distributed devices frequently fail to get included in collective batch backups on legacy systems.

Any effective policy to prevent orphaned data should require continual, multi-versioned backups whenever distributed, remote or mobile devices are connected to the network-even over dial-up or VPN connections.

Step No. 3: Centralize enforceable controls

For too many companies large and small, the policy for centralized backup control is like a faded note on the back door saying, "Remember to back up your PC files to the network before you go home." A business owner might assume that data will be manually backed up at the end of the workday by a certain employee. But that employee, instead, actually intends to rush off to pick up the kids at soccer practice.

Backups are the responsibility of IT and should not be allowed to fail just because a user forgets or ignores the need to transfer files manually. To centralize control back into the hands of IT management, backups should be driven by established IT policy. IT should use technology that enforces backups to run automatically and transparently, without relying on the actions of individual device users.