Diving into Mobility & BYOD

Mobility seems to be the talk of the town these days; and it should be.  Smartphones are now the norm, and with millions of tablets floating around, the lines are starting to blur between the traditional ways we once viewed mobility.

In the past, when someone said mobility, I would assume they were talking about a BlackBerry, Palm Treo or Windows Mobile device.  However today, not only do we have new contenders like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android (who dominate the smart phone market), but we have a new class of devices – tablets, slates, ultrabooks and more to come.

Another term we can’t seem to stay away from these days is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and this is definitely a force that’s driving mobility solutions.  We first started seeing people carrying around their own netbooks (remember those?) and it seems that after the iPad and the MacBook Air, this started becoming increasingly prevalent.  Sure, there are many companies that provide these devices to their employees, but you would be surprised how many of these devices are actually owned by each individual employee.

So getting back to defining Mobility; what exactly is it?  Let’s take a look at all the possible options:

  1. Devices – Clearly, smartphones and tablets are in this category.  But what about the staple computing device – the notebook?  Isn’t the notebook the real catalyst that started mobility?  Of course it is, and notebooks and now ultrabooks are definitely in the mix when you talk about mobility.  In a nutshell, we’re talking about any device that can connect back into your data center applications, or even cloud-hosted ones.
  2. Carrier-enabled Broadband –  Every device has WiFi today, and almost everything in this category has a carrier broadband option.  For smart phones, it’s a given, they can all consume data plans, and in some cases, you can’t activate service without a data plan.  For tablets, this is a model-based option, like the new iPad with various LTE and 3G carrier options.  Another quite popular option is buying a mobile hotspot, like the Sprint Overdrive Pro, that can allow up to 5 WiFi users to access its 3G/4G network thereby consolidating data plans and sharing connectivity between devices.  From a mobility perspective, being able to activate these devices, managing them and watching data overages is key for organizations that provide these carrier services to their workforce.
  3. Security – This is on top of everyone’s list.  With initial smartphones that were limited in functionality, we could tie down these devices, encrypt their email/calendar data and remotely wipe it if necessary.  With today’s smartphones and tablets, you can pretty much extend their functionality to that of a computer, and controlling how your data is stored, either locally or in the cloud is a nightmare.  Thankfully there is a slew of  Mobile Device Management (MDM) players that can enforce security policies on each device, so that data leakage can be prevented (even though it’s not full-proof at the time of this writing).  Something else to consider here, is a more advanced Network Access Control (NAC) technology such as Cisco’s Identity Service Engine (ISE) technology.  This will enable your end users to only access systems they are authorized to access, even if they are on the local network.  Essentially, rather than relying on each application’s software to control who can ‘get’ to what system on your network, this controls and reports access attempts from the network layer, thereby isolating users and devices before they even become a threat.
  4. Policy – Having a strong, governed IT Acceptable Use Policy is key, but even more important is setting the right enforcement and ramifications if employees fail to adhere to such policies.  This is a huge issue today, with many organizations that don’t even have any policies in place, or have policies that aren’t being followed/governed.  The bottom line is that every organization should have a current, well-defined policy, and every coworker should be held accountable for adhering to that policy.  While policy inspection isn’t completely automated today, it will be in the future as more granular controls and reporting tools emerge in the marketplace.  Think about a mix of Cisco ISE, Splunk , Mobile Iron and Microsoft System Center; it’s all coming together eventually.
  5. Apps – It’s all about the apps these days.  And while we may all agree that a local app running on your device gives you the best mobile experience, there are still a lot of apps that are only available in a browser.  For everything else that can’t be ‘applified’, we resort to using Client Virtualization technologies, such as those made by Citrix, Microsoft and VMware.   However, embarking on a Client Virtualization journey is not for the faint hearted; this takes a lot of time, planning, testing, training etc. before it can be rolled out to the masses.  Thus mobility includes the management, monitoring and updating of not just local apps, but also client virtualization technologies, which include both virtualized apps and desktops.

This may all seem very overwhelming.  However, in many cases, it may be a necessity to move your organization forward.  In some cases, you could just stay the current course and wait for the next big wave of technologies.  The bottom line is; start with a well justified business plan.  Many go down the Client Virtualization or BYOD path because the assumption is that ‘everyone needs iPad or remote access.’  While that may be true, you have to look at mobility as an end-to-end solution, and understanding all the intricacies, including a phased adoption approach that will be key in making it a successful addition to your organization’s technology strategy.

Notice that I didn’t mention TCO or ROI in this blog entry.  There is a reason for that, because unless you look at mobility collectively, you can’t get an accurate reading on this.  Start with TCO today versus TCO post implementation, and many times, you will be surprised by the results.


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