John Soat, TechWeb Contributing Editor
Back in 1985, the corporate interloper was a beige box with a big square head and a glowing, blinking eye. That was the PC, and it forced its way into the corporate environment, in many instances, through the will of workers who wanted access to better tools and more information.
Today, there is a new set of corporate interlopers — these either slightly bigger than a candy bar or a pad of paper — and they’re coming into the corporate environment the same way the PC did, and with the same agenda. End users are purchasing smartphones, slates and tablets to increase their productivity, and are demanding access to corporate resources through them.
Norm Fjeldheim, CIO for Qualcomm, expressed the challenges of dealing with the new, empowered mobile workforce in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. “No longer can IT say, ‘Everybody is going to have a computer that looks like this,’ and try and manage to that,” Fjeldheim said, adding, “You’ve got security implications on that. User expectations are higher.”
Another implication: loss of centralized control, which makes some CIOs clamp down — or try to. “If CIOs ran the world, they could tell everyone what brand of smartphone/tablet to buy in their personal life, and then they could standardize the company on the same brand and, poof! — the problem would be solved,” says Jim Anderson, principal of Blue Elephant Consulting and author of the blog, The Accidental Successful CIO [http://www.TheAccidentalSuccessfulCIO.com/]. “Instead, innovative CIOs are realizing that they’re going to have to live in a heterogeneous world.”
Fortunately for IT managers, there are new and emerging technology solutions that address the challenges related to supporting multiple mobile platforms. Three solution areas offer their own distinct advantages in this heterogeneous world.
The first solution area covers a concept familiar to most system and network managers: unified management and control, that is, the ability to maintain standard policies and control requirements related to the use of both corporate and employee-owned devices. A unified management solution automates the process of application delivery and support, updates, and security enhancements for end-user devices on the corporate network. It will also automatically recognize, verify and support end-user devices when they access the network through email or other avenues.
“It’s important for IT to have a central set of tools that supports discovery of desktops,” says Garth Fort, general manager of Systems Center and Forefront at Microsoft. Fort points out that, in the PC era, Microsoft developed a solution — known as Configuration Manager — to support Windows-based distributed processing. This proved so effective that today Configuration Manager is installed on more than 100 million devices. With the introduction of System Center 2012 later this year, Microsoft will extend that concept to supporting a variety of device types. “We’re going to extend the experience so that you can manage all the devices” your end users want to use, he says: tablets, smart phones, Windows-based devices, etc.
The second solution area deals with the challenges of the mobile workforce by using online services and “the cloud.” Because the cloud provides an area of control that can be secured and managed, and all data access and application processing occur in that controlled area, it is appropriate for supporting myriad end-user devices, mobile ones in particular. Microsoft, for example, offers its productivity suite of applications as an online service called Office 365, which can be provisioned and customized for mobile devices, with appropriate security and support controls.
“This move to services has very real benefits for IT workers in the long haul,” says Microsoft’s Fort. That’s because cloud-based applications can be “very well integrated with anything [available] on premises,” he says, and as these services evolve, they still maintain consistent support “without IT having to do heavy upgrades.”
A third solution area is something of a throwback to the pre-PC era, in that it provides end-user devices with seamless and secure access to centralized in-house computing resources. It makes use of a technology known as virtualization, which allows software to run anywhere regardless of the underlying infrastructure. Application virtualization and its big brother, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), provide end-user devices with specific application processing, yet they maintain the integrity of corporate assets because all data remains stored in the data center. Because the platform is irrelevant, myriad mobile devices can be supported now and into the future.
Microsoft has long experience with virtualization, since its application virtualization technology, known as App-V, has been offered since 2006. Its VDI technology, called Remote Desktop Services (RDS), accelerates desktop & application deployments enabling any client to run any application or operating system.
These three solution areas are arriving just in time for mobile-device-challenged CIOs. As spelled out by Qualcomm’s Fjeldheim in The Wall Street Journal article: “Now I have to provide solutions and information and enable the business across lots of different platforms that are changing at a very rapid pace.”
And that is just what Microsoft is trying to enable. “We’re here to help IT pros transition from today’s PC experience to tomorrow’s connected devices and cloud experience,” says Microsoft’s Fort. “We want to give IT the tools that will empower them to say ‘yes’ to their end users.”