Mike Styer, NetAppMike Styer, NetApp

Bring your own device (BYOD), the business policy of allowing employees to use personal mobile devices for work purposes, is gaining increasing traction and adoption. But, make no mistake: for midsize businesses, BYOD is the new way to spell risk. And often, that risk could be substantial, looming over companies already racing to keep pace with their expanding data, storage and infrastructure needs.

Regardless, advocates and detractors are split nearly down the middle. With social and mobile already blurring the lines between work and home, breathless adoption of each new mobile platform and the continuing need to drive greater efficiency and business results, it is highly unlikely that BYOD is going away anytime soon. Not without a serious, highly public business disaster, that is. Which could-slash-will happen!

As more and more employees use their own devices for work and their work devices for personal use, breaches and ethical lapses in judgment are pretty much certain. For many organisations, it is not whether it will happen – it is when, and how much damage will ensue. That will be entirely determined by how conscientiously a company has prepared itself and what safeguards have been put into place.

Think of how much time and human and capital expense most midsize businesses have invested in creating a secure network to protect their private and proprietary information. Now, imagine that information being left, via a mobile device with password protection turned off, in a taxi. In a bar. In an airport returning from a highly competitive pitch for a new client. Imagine an employee’s personal laptop contracting a virus that quickly spreads throughout the organisation – even into the server.

This danger is particularly high for midsize businesses, which must contend with both the expense and disruption of deploying stretched-thin resources to address issues brought on by BYOD, but must also absorb the losses that result from systems being taken offl ine and the ensuing catch-up that happens after an issue has been addressed.

For CIOs and IT managers, it is critical to build the right kind of shared IT data infrastructure to manage and secure the data that employees can access with a mobile or personal device. But, those efforts must also be balanced with enough flexibility and ease of use to ensure employees are not limited or unduly burdened in their ability to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, many employees don’t fully understand that protecting information is part of their job. Any infrastructure additions or improvements must be made in parallel with a process of employee education that clearly explains the risks and responsibilities employees take when they utilise their own devices for work.

With that critical co-operation in place, companies can then put in place the type of agile data infrastructure that scales to meet the needs of devices as they are brought on, and enables quick response to any issues that arise. This ensures that as data grows, companies can manage it from an efficiency standpoint, while taking advantage of some very simple tools to protect that data within the infrastructure. This also dramatically limits potential downtime, by allowing any evolution, upgrades or issues to be addressed non-disruptively.

While the complexities of disaster recovery and backup often prove to be challenging for midsize businesses, the use of snapshot technology and mirroring to a local site or a host site can efficiently and effectively protect the data and make it available to all employees who need to access it. In such situations, the ability to deploy desktop or laptop images to maintain consistency is key, so midsize businesses with BYOD policies would do well to consider adopting the use of cloning technology that will allow them to copy hundreds of images quite simply, making deployment and testing of upgrades much more efficient.

These are just a handful of the tools that NetApp makes available to midsize businesses, which are increasingly challenged to mitigate the enterprise-sized challenges and needs on limited budgets and internal resources. While many see BYOD as a solution to some of the challenges, in truth it can greatly exacerbate them.

As users increasingly tax their organisations’ technology infrastructures with greater levels and types of devices, they can quickly overwhelm their IT department and put their companies at risk. Despite any claims of convenience or efficiency, two simple facts remain: If devices are not managed appropriately and deployed efficiently, it places a business in jeopardy. If businesses want to see any benefi ts from allowing BYOD, they must be even more vigilant and more strategic in their infrastructure and choices, not less.