How smartphones-as-laptops could change network requirements

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Smartphones have become the primary Internet access vehicle for the majority of users across the globe  thanks to a combination of favorable pricing for the devices and wireless service plans, Swiss-army-knife-style utility, and a continual increase in available applications.

Despite the small screen and keyboard, the mobile handset has become a laptop replacement option for many enterprise users. One reason is that the basic architecture of today’s smartphones mimics that of the laptop – processor, RAM, local storage, wireless network connections, operating system and the ability to run local apps.

Add GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, media player functionality, full-function Web browsers, sophisticated still and video cameras, a high degree of software extensibility, and even the ability to function as a credit card, and the future of the handset seems assured.

The question for enterprise IT execs is whether to accept the trend toward bigger, faster, more powerful, more expensive mobile handsets stuffed with apps and data. Or are there are other approaches to dealing with handsets in an organizational context that focus on information, not handset hardware capabilities, and take advantage of cloud services and thin-client models?

More powerful smartphones may not be the answer

In line with the BYOD movement, many IT managers have accepted the smartphone as the replacement for the laptop for most end users. As a result, they have developed apps for the mobile handset and deployed a broad range of management and security software, just like with laptops.

Unfortunately, the costs associated with this model have in many cases been quite high. And the evolutionary path of handsets and the needs of organizational IT are often working at cross purposes.

Handset development is driven by the marketing of consumer electronics, which means shiny, sleek, cool, fast, new, frequently changed and updated, and more expensive.

From the IT perspective, it is fair to ask if any of these consumer-centric elements matter to the organization’s overall mission. The answer is no, as long as the requirements of security, acceptable us, and BYOD policies are met.

Consider the operational costs associated with BYOD provisioning, the costs of designing, building and maintaining apps in a world of multiple versions of multiple operating systems on many different devices, all with the goal of provisioning necessary IT services to mobile users.

Going forward, minimizing the cost of integrating BYOD handsets through the use of cloud-based services will become a driving force for IT organizations. Differences between handsets do not matter so much in a cloud-centric IT environment.

The core requirement for the use of handsets in an organization should revolve around the information they access, manage, and transform, not the consumer bells and whistles. With that in mind, there are three trends that merit the attention of organizational IT.

Smartphone as a 'thin client'

No matter how powerful a given handset might become in terms of processing and storage, today’s online and collaborative model of information processing has effectively marked the end of offline processing.

With continuous connectivity a requirement, we can think of the handset as more of a personal or organizational communicator than as a laptop-class computer. We describe this as the return of the thin-client model, wherein an authorized device with access to the organizational network can direct any computing or communications activity via resources resident on the server side of the link.

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