Pretty much everybody still confused by mobile management

Interop panelists showcase manifold uncertainties surrounding BYOD

Despite the abundance of expert opinion, commentary and debate surrounding BYOD and mobile device use in the enterprise, there are still few clear answers to some of the biggest problems out there, according to a panel of experts that spoke at Interop Thursday.

There was general agreement that traditional mobile device management – which generally focused on locking down entire devices – was insufficient in an age of employees demanding to use their own gadgets for work.

Ahmed Datoo, Citrix's product marketing vice president, said that while there are still use cases out there for MDM, such tools are frequently “insufficient” for more sophisticated deployments.

“I think that the evolution of how people are using mobile devices has caused a change in thinking about what else is needed,” he told the audience.

Other panelists echoed the idea that rapidly growing complexity has made it difficult to use traditional methods of handling BYOD.

Control was a lot simpler in the days when all IT departments had to deal with were corporate BlackBerries used almost exclusively for email, according to VMware Senior Director Srinivas Krishnamurti. But times have changed.

“I think ever since the iPhone was introduced, the more profound thing than BYOD is just in terms of how users use [their devices] has changed,” he said.

Essentially, businesses now have to provide security and services to employee-owned devices while leaving personal data and apps untouched.

For his part, SAP Americas Vice President Tony Kueh advocated simply issuing company devices to sidestep the issue entirely.

“Every single one of [our customers] asks us about BYOD,” said Kueh. “But at the end of the day, based on the applications we’re deploying, none of them are doing it.”

He also noted that SAP has put its money where its mouth is on the issue – the company purchased 17,000 iPads in 2010, for use by field staff.

“Steve Jobs – Apple is a customer of SAP – called up [SAP CEO] Bill McDermott and said ‘What are you doing? Are you trying to sell these in the secondary market?’” Kueh said.

[Kueh contacted Network World after publication to clarify that SAP doesn’t advocate direct purchasing of devices in all cases, and that he was referring only clients with high security requirements here.]

However, many are trying to address the issue of BYOD directly – which, at the device level, requires either a solution so comprehensive that it can handle any of the myriad devices that can be brought in, or buying into the few OEM-supplied methods available, like Samsung’s Knox or BlackBerry’s Balance.

Another idea, however, is to move away from device-level management and attack the problem at the application level, by building strong encryption capabilities and other security features into company-issued apps. FixMo Chief Marketing Officer Tyler Lessard said his company does this via a specialized SDK that clients can use to develop apps with the appropriate security, but that others use the container approach by simply adding pre-set code to existing apps.

There’s little agreement on which approach is better, however.

“The feedback we’re getting from customers is that the SDK approach is a bit intrusive,” said Krishnamurti, “because you’re now injecting somebody else’s libraries into your app.” That also means that those features can be subject to change by the provider, and more difficult to build into existing apps besides.

Those libraries, however, are essential to offerings like FixMo.

“[These are] basic tools and building blocks that can be built into each application in a consistent manner, and now you’re assured that each app you’re building is using … encryption, is using the same password controls, is using the same remote log/wipe capabilities, and so the app developer doesn’t have to build all that themselves,” said Lessard.

Furthermore, Kueh noted that the container was also less flexible in many ways. To change some aspect of the management functionality provided by the container, companies must not only edit the container, but the back-end as well.

“Once you have application logic interacting with your infrastructure, that’s where the wrapping breaks, because it’s very difficult to make those processes talk seamlessly,” he said.

In short, there are far more questions than answers out there about enterprise mobility, a fact that 451 Research director and panel moderator Chris Hazleton highlighted at the event’s conclusion.

“I think the underlying message is that mobile is easy and the answer’s clear,” he quipped.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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