A Mobile Future

Balancing device management with policy compliance

Executive Summary:
As IT pros support a wider array of mobile devices, they must also implement standard policies for integrating those devices into their existing IT infrastructure.

I can't remember a time when so many disruptive technologies have affected the IT industry—and all at the same time. From virtualization and cloud computing to the plummeting costs of computer hardware and disk storage, it's an exciting time to be in IT. Another significant trend is the increasing adoption of smartphones, laptops, and other mobile tools and technologies.

The latest batch of smartphones hitting the consumer market—the Apple iPhone 3G, the T-Mobile G1 (aka the "Google Phone"), and the BlackBerry Storm—all raise the bar in terms of what a mobile device is capable of. And the trend toward increasing power and functionality in smartphones will only accelerate: A survey recently conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project led to a prediction that "the mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the Internet for most people in the world in 2020." (The resulting report is called The Future of the Internet III.")

This information corroborates what many of us have seen with our own friends, family, and colleagues. How many people do you know who have given up a landline telephone for a mobile phone? And how many users have asked you about integrating their new iPhone 3G with the corporate IT infrastructure?

The iPhone has made perhaps the greatest inroads in the enterprise over the past year. In his web-exclusive article "Things I Overheard While Talking to My iPhone," Mark Minasi explains that the iPhone is "the first cell phone OS that understands that it works for you, not the other way around." Paul Robichaux is also impressed with the iPhone, but in "iPhone 3G," he points out that the device still has some room for improvement as a business tool: "Unfortunately, the iPhone just isn’t up to par as a mobile enterprise email device. Windows Mobile 6.1’s maturity gives it a clear edge."

Policies First

As IT pros receive pressure from executives and users to support a wider array of mobile devices, they must remember the importance of implementing standard policies for how those devices will integrate with their existing IT infrastructure. Many IT pros are already facing compliance and policy questions about mobile device usage.

A Windows IT Pro reader told one of my colleagues that integrating new mobile devices such as the iPhone into his corporate IT infrastructure is already leading to a discussion about corporate policy. "Questions about users being able to download movies, music, and games have come up from HR," the reader said. "\[As well as\] compliance \[with our corporate IT policy\] and users 'syncing' content of questionable nature (adult, pirated) onto devices."

With many IT shops facing mixed deployments of devices—including BlackBerrys, iPhones, and Windows Mobile–powered devices—creating a uniform policy for all of them can be difficult. A variety of new products are stepping in to help fill the gap: KACE Networks has released its KBOX iPhone Management Module, and Zenprise added iPhone support to Zenprise MobileManager 4.1. Although products can help you manage your mobile devices, having sound, consistent policies regarding their deployment, usage auditing, and security is even more important.

Virtualization to the Rescue?

With the large influx of mobile devices for personal and business use, a potential solution is to leverage virtualization technology to allow users to use one device for both personal and business needs, switching between relevant virtual phone profiles. VMware's Mobile Virtualization Platform promises to do just that, but it’s at least a year from hitting the market. Regardless, virtualization technology could help ease the adoption of disparate mobile device types into an existing IT infrastructure.

What Do You Think?

As always, we'd love to get your take on where you think the industry is headed. Are you already embracing smartphones in your organization? Or are you waiting for the market to stabilize, leaders to emerge, or new technologies (e.g., Windows Mobile 7) to arrive before taking the plunge? Send me your thoughts, or visit the Mobile & Wireless section in the Windows IT Pro forums (tinyurl.com/966way) to join an open discussion on the topic.

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