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How the Internet of Things will impact backing up data

Brien Posey discusses ways the Internet of Things will impact backing up data, including data growth and the difficulty of protecting information on nontraditional computing devices.

The Internet of Things has the potential to be very disruptive with regard to backing up data. For those who might...

not be familiar with the term, Internet of Things refers to nontraditional computing devices being assigned IP addresses and connected to our networks. Such devices can be anything from VoIP phones to security cameras to Internet-connected coffeepots.

The most obvious way in which the Internet of Things is likely to impact backing up data is that data may be created much more rapidly. Most connected devices produce data, and that data may need to be backed up. Depending upon the number and type of devices that are connected to your network, the sheer volume of data produced can be staggering.

Internet-connected devices will make data retention policies more important than ever. Using automated policies to cut through the clutter will be the only way to purge unnecessary data, while retaining useful data. To put this concept into perspective, imagine an organization that manages traffic cameras. It would be impractical for such an organization to retain all of the footage that all of their cameras produce. Instead, such an organization would probably use an automated workflow to move data related to violations to a location where that data can be backed up, while purging the remaining data that is not of interest. This is just one example of how automated workflows will be needed to help deal with the quantity of data produced by Internet-connected devices.

Beyond data growth, there are a couple of other aspects that must be taken into account. One such aspect is device-level internal data storage. Some network-connected devices store data internally rather than writing the data to a back-end server. Administrators will have to answer several key questions about such devices.

Some of these questions include:

  • Does the data need to be protected?
  • Can my backup software read data from the device, or will some other procedure have to be used?
  • Does the existence of the data pose any risk to my organization?

To give you a more concrete example, consider what happened to Affinity Health Plan of New York. In 2010, the CBS Evening News acquired a network-connected photocopier that had been previously leased by the company. The copier was equipped with an internal hard disk and contained protected health information for over 300,000 people. The Department of Health and Human Services fined the company $1.2 million for allowing the data to be exposed.

Although there is probably no need for backing up the contents of a digital copier, this incident serves to illustrate the fact that network-connected devices can sometimes contain substantial amounts of data. For example, some security systems are equipped with hard disks and store everything from video data to employee door-access logs. IT pros must identify the devices that store data internally and then determine if that data needs to be backed up, and how to do so.

Another aspect of the Internet of Things trend that is sometimes overlooked is that some devices maintain a complex set of configuration data. Even if the device does not store business data on internal media, there is probably at least some amount of configuration data stored within the device's firmware.

Once again, it is up to the IT staff to determine what configuration data needs to be protected and how. Take a VoIP router, for example. Such a device probably contains extension number mappings, normalization strings, dial plans, auto-attendants, and possibly even verbal recordings used by the menu system. If an incorrect modification were to be made to such a device, it could be very difficult to return the device to its previous configuration.

Network-connected devices that maintain complex configurations almost always contain a mechanism for exporting the configuration data. Administrators must come up with a plan for storing exported configuration data in a central location that is regularly backed up, while also making sure that the configuration data that they have on hand is current. The organization will also need a plan for evaluating the backup needs of any new devices that make it onto the network.

About the author:
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and has been responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. Visit Brien's personal website here.

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This was last published in November 2014

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There's also the issue of legal discovery in connection with all those devices, and having legal holds on the data. Boy, could that be a mess.
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It will certainly be a huge challenge for IT departments to sort through all of the data for the devices that are connected to their network. The task will be made even more complex because IT departments will need to determine which of those devices are supposed to be connected to the network, and which are “shadow devices” that an employee has brought into the office and connected to the network without IT knowing about it.
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