iPad Disaster Recovery: Backup Procedures for iPads


One of the core responsibilities of any IT Professional is to make sure that data is there when and where the user needs it. Disaster recovery is the process of guaranteeing we meet this responsibility under any and all circumstances. When using an iPad in an enterprise, disaster recovery of its data is an important function for an IT administrator to master. The great news is – the process is simple and quick to implement.

The disaster recovery process for an iPad can be broken into three phases:

  • Back up the data
  • Wipe the device
  • Restore the data

Phase 1 – Backing up the data will be the focus of this article. I will cover wiping and restoring the device in the coming weeks.

Backup Procedures for iPads

Backing up the iPad is the first and most critical step in iPad disaster recovery. Without a good, timely backup, the data recovered is at best less valuable because it is out of date or incomplete. At worst, the recovered data is non-existent because the data is missing or the backup is unusable. Either of these conditions is unacceptable, so to avoid them it is important to set up the iPad to perform regular backups and perform manual backups when necessary.

There are a few choices when it comes to how to back up an iPad:

  • Perform backups through iTunes on a PC or Mac
  • Backup wirelessly to iCloud
  • Perform backups using another tool such as Apple Configurator or a third-party MDM solution

Today we will look at the first two options and cover the MDM process options in future articles.

Performing an iPad Backup Using iTunes

iTunes backups are completed when a device is hooked up to a PC or Mac that iTunes is running on. This is an automatic part of the sync process and does not require any special user action.

iTunes Backup

Figure 1: iTunes Backup
A backup can be manually initiated by right clicking (or Control-click on a Mac) the iOS device in iTunes and choosing Back Up.

Initiating iTunes Backup Manually

Figure 2: Initiating iTunes Backup Manually
An enterprise with many iPads might find the iTunes backup process cumbersome, or even downright eliminate it as an option for a number of very valid reasons. However, if an enterprise uses a BYOD policy allowing employee use of personal iPads, then this process will probably work well. Another possible fit for using iTunes backup is if the enterprise allows users to synchronize company-owned devices with personal iTunes accounts.

Enabling Encryption of iPad Backups

In an enterprise, data security is a critical concern. iTunes enables enhanced backup security through encryption of its backup files. Without a doubt, enterprises should always take advantage of this.

You can easily turn the option on in iTunes by clicking the device, selecting the Summary Tab, and checking the box for Encrypt iPad Backup. iTunes will then prompt you to enter a password to protect the encrypted backup with.

Enabling Encryption of iPad Backups

Figure 3: Enabling Encryption of iPad Backups
A Word of Caution: the user can easily clear this checkbox, thus allowing them to make unencrypted backups. Because of this, I strongly urge creating an iOS configuration policy that requires encrypted backups. This is easy to do with Apple’s free iPhone Configuration Utility. For help, check out my iPhone Configuration Utility how-to articles here on Petri:

Performing an iPad Backup Using iCloud

With the advent of iCloud, the possibility to back up or restore an iPad from anywhere at almost any time became a reality. All that is required to back up to iCloud is Internet access from the iPad, an iCloud account, and enough storage in the account to hold the backup. A user can create a free iCloud account getting 5GB of storage at no cost. You can purchase additional storage if needed. You can create a free iCloud account here: https://www.icloud.com/.

After creating and setting up an iCloud account on the iPad, enabling iCloud backup from this point takes just four finger taps. It is as simple as this: From the Home screen, tap the Settings icon. Next, tap the iCloud option under Settings.

iCloud Backup

Figure 4: iCloud Backup
On the right side of the screen, towards the bottom, tap Storage & Backup. Finally, on the right side of the screen find iCloud Backup and tap the slider next to it that says Off; it should turn blue and change to On. That’s it! The iPad will now back itself up automatically to iCloud.

Enabling iCloud Backups

Figure 5: Enabling iCloud Backups
You can perform an on-demand backup of the iPad from this same screen whenever desired. Just tap the Back Up Now button and let it roll!

Manually Backup iPad to iCloud

Figure 6: Manually Backup iPad to iCloud

Data Encryption with iCloud

iCloud uses a number of industry best practices to protect the security of user data. For example, all data transferred between the iPad and iCloud is encrypted. Even so, all enterprises should carefully consider whether iCloud use meets their organization’s security policies.

A couple of sticking points to consider about iCloud use in the enterprise:

  1. Some data, such as email, is not stored encrypted on iCloud’s disks. On top of that, Apple can decrypt even the encrypted data. This means that potentially, an Apple employee could view any data stored on your iCloud.
  2. Another concern is that Apple could provide your data to outside organizations in compliance with their privacy policy. The most common example of this is providing decrypted information to law enforcement.

For some organizations, these issues will not be a problem; for them, iCloud can be a great tool. For others, the issues above are deal breakers and prevent iCloud use in their enterprise.


The backup processes that we went over above will not archive music or apps. On the upside, this keeps backup sizes down, allowing for less storage infrastructure and shorter backup times. These benefits come at the cost of longer restore times that may or may not affect an enterprise.

After a restore, music resynchronizes through the iTunes music library on the PC or Mac. Without access to the PC or Mac, the Music is lost. iCloud takes care of re-syncing music only if iTunes Match is subscribed to and enabled. No iTunes Match, no restored music from iCloud.

While app settings are included in backups, the apps themselves are not. Apps download from the app store automatically after the restore finishes. Depending on the app and the iPad’s Internet connection, it might take hours before the app is once again useable.

These methods allow IT to protect iPad data by creating timely, reliable backups. Regardless of the method selected, both pros and cons exist. IT Administrators must consider what option best aligns with their enterprise policies, goals, and environment.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, when we’ll go over the next steps for implementing a complete disaster recovery plan for iPads in the enterprise.