Consumerization trends in the enterprise shifted dramatically in the first quarter of 2012, with mobile devices running Apple's iOS operating system showing more activity in the workplace than those running Google's Android, as well as end users migrating from Facebook and toward Twitter.
TECH DEBATE: iOS vs. Android in the enterprise
Zscaler ThreatlabZ, the research arm of SaaS security provider Zscaler, recently released data based on more than 200 billion first quarter transactions in its cloud, which serves global companies of all sizes. A transaction, as defined by Zscaler ThreatlabZ senior security researcher Mike Geide, occurs every time a file is accessed from a web server.
The data shows transactions originating from iOS devices increased steadily over the quarter, ending March with slightly more than 50% of mobile activity. Transactions from Android devices, meanwhile, dropped to 37% by the end of March. As recently as December 2011, Android and iOS devices were about equal at 47% of transactions among Zscaler's enterprise customers, Geide says, after Android had held the lead for most of 2011.
BlackBerry devices observed in Zscaler's study dropped from about 18% of January transactions to about 15% by the end of March.
Rising consumer use of iPhones and iPads may have contributed to this growth in transactions. Geide says that many of Zscaler's clients set up guest wireless networks, as more companies look to keep personal devices from choking their networks or presenting security risks.
Employees are more likely to connect to guest networks for personal transactions, Geide says. "You don't want to be using your 3G connection to stream Pandora on your iPhone because you're going to be eating a lot of bandwidth and paying Verizon a ton of money," Geide says.
Another contributing factor could be iPhone activity from actual guests using those guest networks. For example, Geide says visitors and patients in hospital waiting rooms are ignoring the magazine rack in favor of their smartphones and tablets connected to the guest network.
"We'll see tons of mobile traffic through that guest network because that's what everybody's doing in the waiting room," Geide says.
Other research has shown the iPhone users are prone to being more active on their smartphones than those using Android devices. Online data analytics firm Chitika monitors smartphone-specific activity on its advertising network, showing that iPhone users accounted for 67% of mobile traffic, while those using Android phones made up 28.7% at time of publishing.
"It is not surprising then that iOS device usage in the enterprise is also growing, from employees using their personal devices at work and from enterprises adopting a [bring your own device] for work policy," Geide says.
While the current free-for-all in enterprise mobility brought on by the growing BYOD trend was reflected in the consistently changing mobile statistics, employee social media use appears to have been affected by increasingly strict enterprise policies.
Zscaler's cloud has seen Facebook transactions decline steadily, from 52.4% of all transactions in its Web Apps category in the first quarter of 2011 to 41.07% in the quarter ending this March. Geide attributes this to companies cracking down on social networking during work. The study shows that the number of organizations blocking access to social networking sites grew from 2.46% of its user base in January to 3.99% in March.
However, Twitter transactions increased from 6.39% to 7.44%. Geide says several factors are contributing to the migration from Facebook to Twitter use in the workplace.
First is the productivity perception enterprise decision makers have of each site. Perhaps because of the additional apps available on Facebook, Twitter is seen as the lesser of two evils, Geide says.
"While Twitter is still under the umbrella of social networks and social media, Twitter itself can, in some ways, be explained as a micro-blog," Geide says. "So it's still a way of exchanging information, where Facebook may have the perception as a platform for potentially goofing off. You can install games and do a variety of things on Facebook that you wouldn't be able to do on Twitter."
Security is another reason, Geide says. Although Twitter has been the source of its share of large-scale malware attacks, it's commonly perceived as a more secure option to Facebook, Geide says.
"There has been a handful of serious security issues that have happened on Twitter, but in general when people talk about social networking and social media threats, the first thing that pops into everybody's minds and the first thing that drums up conversation is usually Facebook," he says.
He added that LinkedIn is also commonly thrown into the conversation surrounding potentially dangerous social networking sites. In the study, transactions on LinkedIn saw a slight decline, from 1.55% to 1.45% over the quarter.
Looking ahead, Geide says he expects the web browser statistics to shift in the next quarter, specifically in regard to Internet Explorer use. While IE8 accounted for far more browser transactions than any other version of Internet Explorer, at about 30%, the number of users running the much more vulnerable IE6 remained steady. Likewise, the outdated IE7 was the second-most common version of Microsoft's browser, accounting for roughly 17% of Internet Explorer transactions.
Some first quarter trends suggest that those running Internet Explorer, which was far and away the most common web browser, are already becoming more secure. The latest version, IE9, saw the largest percentage increase over the quarter, closing out March at nearly 5% of transactions, while IE7 users upgraded to newer versions of the browser at a rate of about 4.8% per month.
Another development that Geide believes will help improve the security outlook is Adobe's decision to push out silent Flash updates. Once plugins can update automatically, one of the largest sources for exploits in the enterprise will be patched, Geide says.
"I think that'll definitely be a step in the right direction," he says. "Right now Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash are among the most popular exploits targeted and the browser exploits that are most heavily used on the Web right now."
Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies, privacy and enterprise mobility for Network World. Follow him on Twitter and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.