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Anywhere computing opens endless possibilities ... possibilities to data loss. (Storage Networking).

"Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window."

--Steve Wozniak

Increasingly, it's getting tougher for people to throw their computers out the window when they encounter a "gottcha," because they may already be outside. The rapid spread of the new public wireless networks is keeping people plugged in without being plugged in.

Wireless hot spots or nodes are popping up everywhere--coffee shops, libraries, bookstores, airport lounges and even parks. Affectionately called Wi-Fi, it is helping boost notebook and hand-held organizer sales. Technically, the wireless networks are based on IEEE 802.11 (a, b or g) standards.

Looking like a standard PCMCIA memory card--but with a loop antenna--the Wi-Fi cards slip easily into the computer's card slot and will automatically find a nearby wireless node. If you have difficulty locating an access node, free "sniffer" software programs are available to find all nearby networks. Then, you can choose the one you want to connect with.

Open Environment

The same open spirit that started the original Internet more than 10 years ago is rapidly building out the nation's Wi-Fi network. User groups, companies, retailers (theaters, coffee shops, restaurants, malls), as well as governmental and educational agencies are adding nodes in stores, parks, and public buildings.

The high-speed wireless network (top speed of 11 Mbps with higher speeds in the wings) is either free or relatively inexpensive and delivers data to your system much more rapidly than dialup, DSL or cable modems. Obviously, the trend for wireless connectivity is also attracting service providers--Boingo Wireless and T-Mobile are among the earliest and most widely known.

The fact that the gratis sites are as open to you as to anyone else means it can be relatively easy for less than scrupulous individuals to "borrow" your passwords, credit card information and other vital data. For the majority of your work or activity, this is of little concern. When it is, tap into one of the subscription services that deliver some level of security (it is getting better). New virtual private network (VPN) software encrypts your communications, making it difficult to hack as it mixes with the other traffic on the Web.

While we don't expect the free ride wireless service to last forever (someone is paying for the Internet connection you share), it will always be price-competitive--especially considering the speed of sending/receiving data.

Whether you choose the free route, a more secure subscription service, or a combination of the two, wirless on-the-go computing is changing almost everything about the way we conduct business or simply stay in touch.

Stimulates System Sales

For computer manufacturers, integrators and resellers, the Wi-Fi phenomenon has produced the one bright spot on the PC sales landscape. The rapid delivery of high bandwidth, security and quality-of-service makes it enticing to mere mortals.

It is also creating a new area of concern with corporate and IT managers.

The problem is that with higher-performance CPUs and larger storage capacities, the laptop and notebook computer are rapidly becoming users' primary computers, rather than just their on-the-road supplement. At first blush, that sounds good because users can have instant access to the most current information, regardless of their location-in the office, in the conference room, at home, in the airport, in their hotel room, or in a client's office. The problem is, and the operative words are, "current information."

Areas of Concern

Contingency Planning Research points out the obvious:

* There has been a dramatic increase in the volume of data stored on PCs (even in the corporate office environment). Because of the extremely low cost, storage capacity has increased 80 percent over the past 12 months and will increase more than 50 percent in the coming 12 months.

* Corporate users have traditionally resisted hierarchical storage management (HSM), preferring to retain "their" data on their systems. Forty percent of corporate users resist or circumvent centralized storage.

* Less than 30 percent of all PC users back up their data.

* The Internet has opened systems to the world, meaning that any and all data is available to others.

* Thirty-one percent of users are susceptible to virus attacks and 56 percent are vulnerable to exposing private data online.

* Even users who utilize virus protection software are only protected from existing viruses. There is no protection for new viruses, which usually require 2-3 days for antivirus firms to research and block.

If you feel this is discouraging, consider the notebook or laptop computer user:

* Notebook and laptop computers are five times more likely to be stolen than desktop systems. The IRS lost or misplaced more than 2,300 laptop computers over the last three years.

* Fifteen percent of all laptops are stolen every year.

* Because of heightened airport security, the number of laptop and notebook computers lost, misplaced, stolen or forgotten at airports has increased more than 80 percent in the past 12 months.

* Notebook hard drives are 10 times more likely to crash than desktop systems.

* Today, an organization's most current customer data is in the field, not in the office, and the cost of manual recovery is prohibitive.

While insurance can be purchased for the replacement of notebook or laptop hardware, there is no insurance that can replace the data.

Added Care, Protection

Users need to understand that these mobile systems aren't invisible, nor are they invincible. While it is impossible, we would almost recommend that anyone who receives a portable computer also receives an orientation on how and why they need to protect the corporate data they will be carrying with them around the country and the globe. Any portable PC can be configured to require a password before the user can access any data on the system. This ensures at least some data protection.

To protect users from virus-inflicted disasters, the leading PC antivirus firms have automated their products so that scheduled updates are carried out without the user's intervention.

While these steps do protect the systems from outside theft or attack, they do not protect the individual's and the organization's most valuable asset: the data. There's simply no substitute for an economical, easy-to-use, reliable backup and disaster recovery solution that will protect the individual's and organization's most valuable asset!

Tailor Protection

Only full, incremental and differential backup scheduling can protect vital information from the top mobile PC disasters.

New automated backup solutions are available that provide both drive image and file backup. With convenient features such as the ability to exclude and include files, users can bypass or select specific file types from multiple folders for backup. Advanced solutions such as NTI's Backup NOW! enable unattended backup across multiple drives and multiple media.

The advanced solutions also incorporate the ability to produce a bootable disc for fast, reliable disaster recovery.

Traditionally, backup software only backed up hard drives to tape. The new breed of software backs up mission-critical data to virtually any medium: tape, MO, USB pen drives, Zip, Jaz, floppy, DVD, CD and even other hard drives. In addition, advances have been made to allow users to carry out backup across multiple media or multiple discs.

Since CD writers are generic to almost every notebook and laptop computer (internal or external), and the media is almost as economical as paper, CDs provide an excellent backup and recovery medium for mobile users.

For best protection, incremental or differential backups, backup should be carried out on a daily basis and full backups should be made at least every other week.

A World of "Ifs"

Some. users only focus on the incremental or differential backups. This would be fine if your hard drive never crashed, if viruses never worked their way into your OS and application software or Most people forget that it can take hours to reinstall the OS and all of their applications. Returning your settings and configuration (forget about the raw data) to their previous conditions can take days...weeks...and will probably never be quite the same.

Once you have made your latest CD full backup, put these discs in your suitcase when you travel (obviously, the backup in the bag with your portable PC is of little assistance if the bag is stolen). Data recovery specialists often recommend that you keep 2-3 sets of your backups with you (for example, the newest in the suitcase with your clothes, the next older in another safe travel location and the oldest with your computer).

Looking at the various backup disc sets, it may look like paranoid overkill until you lose or have your notebook/laptop stolen, the hard drive crashes, or a very persistent virus corrupts your entire system. With any luck at all, you will never have to use the sets of older backups and can reconstruct your system m almost no time, except for the most current data. Usually, the amount of lost data is less than 2-4 MB--a difficult but "tolerable" loss compared to attempting to recover 10-30GB of files.

Rapid Mobile Growth

Wi-Fi usage is becoming increasingly popular (Gartner Group estimates that usage will grow to more than 1.9 million in 2003, up from 700,000 in 2002) as hot spots triple across the country. Today, there are about 3,300 nodes in the U.S. Individual and corporate users will find it even more attractive as next-generation 54G versions (54 Mbps, 5X faster than current Wi-Fi speeds) become more widely available and the set up for each new location becomes faster and easier.

Quality of service (QoS) was a major concern during the early days of the Internet and is for the most part a non-issue. The same holds true for Wi-Fi connectivity. Communication security options are readily available and appear to work extremely well. The weakest link in the protection of data continues to be the human factor.

As people increasingly extend their working environment to parks, coffee shops and airport lounges, IT management will have to focus more of their attention on helping people understand that they are carrying the company's most valuable resource with them. Mobile users need to provide the same level of protection to the notebook-stored data that they would give company-private file folders they would lock in their desk drawer.

New backup/recovery software automates much of the protection process. Used in conjunction with CD writers and CD media, the software provides the added level of data protection people need as they extend their work hours and work environments.

Putting off planning your backup and disaster recovery program just as you get up to leave your coffee and croissant and watch your notebook PC slip from your hands will be a little late. Fortunately, there are firms that specialize in recovering data from a damaged system. It only takes time and money.

Today's new backup/recovery software, combined with your notebook or laptop CD writer, can make data protection as natural as a second cup of coffee.

Bill Tanner is product marketing manager at NewTech Infosystems Inc. (Irvine, Calif.)
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Article Details
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Author:Tanner, Bill
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Previous Article:The future of CD-RW and DVD in corporate IT. (Storage Networking).
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