How to Protect Endpoints for Remote Employees

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Click to learn more about author JG Heithcock.

The worldwide pandemic is forcing employees to work from home in a distributed environment for businesses across the world. According to an April 2020 survey of 25,000 U.S. workers, over half of the workforce in the United States is now working remotely. These are unprecedented times, and complete data protection for those millions of desktops and laptops is more important than ever to ensure businesses move forward.

Remote employees pose a unique challenge to data protection strategies. Their endpoint needs data protection, but with ubiquitous cloud services like Office 365 and Dropbox, those employees often don’t need to log into the virtual private network (VPN) on their laptop to get work done. Without a VPN, these desktops and laptops are behind firewalls and routers with network address translators (NATs), meaning IT cannot connect to them.

Businesses have two approaches to protecting remote endpoints: back up the data on-premise or to the cloud. The right choice for a business depends on the specific network configuration, productivity tools, and data protection suite.

Leveraging On-Premise Storage

Businesses with available on-premise storage can take advantage of lower ongoing expenses by backing up remote endpoints to their existing storage infrastructure. Cloud storage has a low upfront cost, but it can easily turn into a large cumulative expense. On-premise storage is significantly cheaper per GB for a multi-year total cost of ownership. With a VPN, every endpoint is on the corporate network and is able to reach the storage in the office.

If a business does not have a VPN configured, the remote endpoint is behind a firewall and NAT within the employee’s home. This network topology adds a layer of complexity to data protection, but a number of backup solutions can be configured to work around this technical hurdle, enabling the remote endpoint to find the on-premise storage without a VPN connection.

With the remote endpoint connection established, IT administrators can decide which content they need to protect, both in terms of value and speed of recovery in case of data loss.

Protection in the Cloud

For businesses without significant on-premise storage, cloud storage is an appealing option with its low upfront cost and ease of use, and cloud backup is a great fit for remote employees. Their data can be protected directly in the cloud without involving the corporate network. In addition to the large providers, such as Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, and Microsoft Azure, there are new, more affordable alternatives like Wasabi and Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, with prices as low as $0.005 per GB.

A number of data protection solutions support numerous cloud storage providers, allowing IT administrators to choose the best cloud storage for their business and giving them the ability to migrate from the cloud to on-premise storage, should cloud storage prove too expensive in the long run.

Working from the Cloud

Many businesses have switched their workforce over to cloud-based productivity tools, leading to a different set of data protection workflows. Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, and others enable remote employees to accomplish their tasks exclusively from the cloud or stay in sync with a centralized cloud repository using Microsoft SharePoint or Google OneDrive, respectively. With support for file versioning, these tools protect remote employees with cloud backups of their work. Outside of Office 365 and G Suite, file synchronization tools, such as Dropbox and Box, ensure their work documents are protected in the cloud.

With office documents protected and productivity tools available online, IT administrators can focus on how to protect other content that remote workers generate on their endpoints through data protection and disaster recovery solutions. Having an accessible backup will translate into faster recovery and lower downtime. However, if a remote user loses their endpoint, the hands-off recovery process puts the onus on the user to walk through the steps to set up a new computer with the remote help of IT.

Overall Strategy

Every business should evaluate data protection suites for remote employees in the context of how their particular business operates. On-premise storage and a VPN translate into lower operating costs and a consolidated infrastructure for IT to manage, but cloud storage and distributed backup solutions allow remote employees to take advantage of lower capital expenses and self-service data recovery tools. Finding the right solution will ensure a business is able to quickly recover from data loss and move forward following accidents, data loss, and the deployment of a remote workforce.

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