The invasion has begun. Smartphones and tablets are surging into the enterprise. But are they the ‘evil empire’? How do you cope with so many solutions on so many platforms? ARN went looking for answers.
Smartphones and tablets have become dominant in the office. Whether it’s to check email in the taxi or airport, catch up on the news while on a flight, or be “contactable for emergencies” while on holiday.
With devices coming from multiple vendors, each running their own operating system, and having their own quirks built in, the question is; can an enterprise support the lot, and indeed would it want to?
“It causes a bit of a headache if organisations aren’t prepared,” McAfee enterprise solutions architect, Sean Duca, said.
“If you think about the challenge that any IT department has gone through in the past couple of years, they have been focused on – from a compliance perspective – what machines are connected to the network, and how are people connecting, and trying to standardise some kind of process.
“With the introduction of these types of consumer-based devices they no longer fit the mould of the standard hardware build.”
It is possible for modern management solutions to incorporate devices from just about any walk of life, but the IT department will also need to be able to make sure devices can connect in a safe and secure manner – so technologies such as Network Access Control (NAC) are a necessity.
But at the same time, it’s important that the management software doesn’t put too much of a burden on the IT department, Duca said.
“The provisioning process for our enterprise mobility management solution is easy so it doesn’t end up being a burden for the IT help desk, and at the same time you need to enforce policy and ensure compliance,” he said.
“You’re got the ability to wipe the device if it’s lost.”
Equally important, though, is the ability to do selective wipes of personal devices that have access to the corporate network. One of the great challenges with smartphones and tablets is that they are, at core, consumer devices, and people don’t necessarily want to lose all their personal data if the device is misplaced.
“We’re seeing a definite top-down push where traditionally it’s been quite hard to go and sell wireless to these environments,” Aruba Networks county manager, Greg Barnes, said.
In other words, part of the reason these devices have proven so popular in the enterprise has been that, as consumer devices, they have been used by C-level executives, who then ask to have them brought onto the corporate network. And as these devices don’t have physical ports, the only way for them to access the network is wirelessly.
This in turn makes infrastructure to support smart phones and tablets a relatively easy sell, Barnes said.
Aruba offers a solution that allows the management of access by user and device. A university lecturer with an iPad, for instance, can be given a greater level of access to a student if that is what the IT department deems appropriate.
Like McAfee’s management tools, it’s designed to be easy to use, but according to Barnes, there’s still lingering misunderstanding about how complex these solutions need to be.
“A lot of organisations don’t really understand the simplicity behind the Aruba solution, or they’re not necessarily aware that organisations like Aruba exist,” he said.
But it’s not from lack of interest. According to Juniper Networks senior systems engineer, Christian Frain, there is a great deal of interest in technologies to secure a network. Customers realise it’s a need-to-have, even if they don’t necessarily understand how to do it.
“They’re aware of the fact they need to secure the devices, and that’s what they want to do,” Frain said. “It’s an area a lot of companies are looking into at the moment.”
“There’s a lot more mobile devices coming into organisations – users are typically adding extra devices, in addition to their mobile phone, they’re buying tablets, which is also in conjunction to their notebook, and from a security standpoint it’s really increasing the number of devices that need to be managed.”
And like other network vendors, the Junos Pulse solution features standard mobile security features, such as remote lock and wipe.
What to expect in the future?
There are a couple of upcoming technologies that will have an impact on the uptake of smartphones and tablets.
By the year’s end 4G and LTE will begin to take hold, meaning the speed and potential uses of smartphones and tablets for business applications will also increase.
Android can be expected to become more appropriate for enterprise environments. And as tablets and smart phones reach greater levels of adoption amongst enterprises and road warriors, there will be a greater interest in rugged technologies.
“Our designs are based upon ruggedisation in the field. We do significant testing of the devices before the release so they can be dropped multiple times onto concrete so that essentially you can continue using the device,” Motorola Australia manager of enterprise and solutions, David Fenner, said.
“This is where consumer devices fall over in the enterprise environment.”
When it comes to rolling out a fleet of tablet devices, an enterprise is going to want to make sure the investment is robust enough to withstand some level of wear-and-tear from its mobile work force.
Smart phones and tablets are not new technologies – people have been using small portable devices to untether themselves from their desks since the heyday of the PDA many years ago.
Right now, according to Fenner, the main application enterprises allow these devices to link in to is email – a simplistic and common task that is relatively safe for the enterprise from a back end point of view.
But the desire to have these devices access sales or planning data is there, and it will grow. There are also now plenty of different solutions in the market that claim to manage this.
Ultimately, it will be the partners that understand how these solutions work for the clients. “The uptake in the future will be at the fringe and the core applications will still be delivered on IT-specified devices which are suitable for the environment,” Fenner said.
That may well include tablet devices. It’s up to the partners to figure out if it’s what the customer actually wants.