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How to manage consumer devices on your network

IT Best Practices Alert By Linda Musthaler, Network World
January 31, 2011 09:57 AM ET
Linda Musthaler
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Smartphones and other devices such as the Apple iPad have clearly reached critical mass. The iPad alone is expected to reach sales of 65 million units this year. While we call them consumer devices, a hefty percentage are owned by people who want to use their phone or tablet computer to access corporate e-mail and other applications. Chances are good that you are already dealing with workers at your organization wanting to connect their devices to your network.

Given these devices truly are meant for consumers, they weren't necessarily designed with network connectivity and operations in mind. I consulted my mobile computing experts, Jim Szafranski and Joshua Lambert of Fiberlink Communications, to get some tips on how to provision these devices for your network and how to manage them once they are on. Fiberlink is an industry leader in providing services to manage mobile computing.

First, the good news. In creating iOS, the operating system that runs both the iPhone and the iPad, Apple worked closely with Microsoft to ensure these devices work well with ActiveSync, the utility that connects most smartphones/tablets (except Blackberry) to Microsoft Exchange. That means it's pretty easy to give Apple devices access to Exchange e-mail, and to control them once access is established.

Now, the not so good news. Android-based devices are a bit more challenging when it comes to compatibility with ActiveSync. For example, it's easy to fake a passcode through an Android device, leading to security vulnerabilities. As Fiberlink's Lambert puts it, "Android needs a lot of help to make it enterprise-class."

Of course, this isn't even a consideration for a consumer when he's buying his device, but it's something to keep in mind if your company is going to buy a fleet of devices for executives or sales people.

Szafranski says he's having many "rich conversations" with customers over the best way to provision these devices for enterprise use. Companies are accustomed to having corporate standards for user profiles for desktops and laptops and having an easy way to distribute and manage the applications and settings of those profiles. Again, these consumer devices don't really fit that mold. Because users go to public "app stores" and download whatever they want using a personal account, it's practically impossible to control (or even know) what people put on their smartphones and tablets. About all companies can do is put together a list of approved applications and tell users what's on the list. The app stores are carrying an increasing number of applications that are enterprise-worthy.

As part of its broad cloud-based Management as a Service solution called MaaS360, Fiberlink now has Mobile Device Management (MDM) services for both Android-based and iOS-based devices. Using an MDM service, you can gain visibility into the mobile devices that people using to connect to your network. One common complaint of system administrators is that they have no idea what kind or how many mobile devices are connecting to the enterprise, and MDM provides that insight.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.

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