Most companies are diligent about backing up their servers and mainframes. But how much vital information are you leaving exposed on laptops and desktop PCs?

Computer viruses. Laptop thieves. Fires. Hurricanes. All have the potential to erase, damage, or destroy valuable corporate information. Too bad most companies don’t have a decent backup plan in place to recover this information when it gets lost.

Sure, corporate IT departments are religious about backing up data on servers and mainframes. If one of these mission-critical machines goes down, backups will ensure that your business stays up and running, with minimal data loss. But there’s a big blind spot in most IT departments’ backup strategies: the hard drive sitting on (or under) your desk.

Stop and think about how much of your company’s business information is tucked away in your desktop PC or laptop right now. Maybe it’s the draft of a proposal, a critical customer’s phone number, an e-mail message, or a spreadsheet. When was the last time you backed up that data? How about the guy in the cube next door, or the sales team, with their laptops?

If you want a worst-case scenario, just talk to David Johnson, the director of technology for Grant Thornton, an international accounting firm. Grant Thornton has about 3,000 employees in 51 different offices, and more than 70 percent of them routinely work on laptops at clients’ offices. A couple of years ago, some employees were wrapping up a big job. They shipped all of their computers and equipment back to the corporate office, but when they got back they discovered that one of the boxes didn’t make it. The shipping company had lost the box, and of course, that was the one containing the computer that had all of the client’s data on it. “Think of all the embarrassment, of having to explain to the client that we had to redo all that work,” says Johnson. (The box turned up a couple of months later — after Grant Thornton had already redone the work.)

It’s a widespread problem. According to a recent IDC report, more than 300 million business PCs have a combined 109,000 terabytes of data that is not backed up regularly — about half of all the data on corporate PCs and laptops. That’s 10 times the quantity of information in the entire Library of Congress.

Part of the problem is the backup policies at many companies, which essentially say to employees, “Here’s some space on the network for you to use. Please back up your important files to the network whenever you can.” The people most likely to follow such policies are those with the most time on their hands — in other words, your least productive employees. The others, the ones who are really accomplishing something and who are likely to have the most valuable data on their PCs, often ignore such policies or follow them sporadically at best.

Grant Thornton now uses a backup system from Connected Corp., that automatically backs up laptops and PCs whenever they’re connected to the network. The software also enables employees to recover data by themselves, quickly and easily, whenever they discover something’s been lost. That’s in line with IDC senior research analyst Fred Broussard’s recommendations. “Backup strategies need to take into account disaster recovery, and the fact that IT and end users can forget that they need to back up,” Broussard says.

Within 30 days of deploying the Connected system, Johnson says, almost 80 percent of employees’ hard drives were backed up; it now covers virtually everyone (the backups contain about 8 terabytes of server data). The software’s recovery feature is used as often as 300 times per month — and it was particularly important last year, when the 9/11 attacks took the company’s lower Manhattan office offline. Although no data from that office was lost, employees had to evacuate the office, leaving everything behind. Fortunately, a backup data center was online within six minutes, Johnson says, and the company managed its data remotely for several months while waiting for the Manhattan office to reopen.

Connected’s software costs $100 per person if you run it yourself, or $150 per person per year if Connected runs it for you as a managed service. Other vendors of desktop PC backup software and services include Storactive, NovaStor, Dantz and enterprise backup heavyweight Veritas. Whichever solution your company chooses, be sure that it backs up data automatically, without requiring employees’ attention, and that it makes data-recovery simple for employees to do themselves. Don’t leave their data twisting in the wind.

Link: Your Company’s Biggest Data Risk? It Might Just Be the Employees.

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