The answer to IT's mobile dilemma is in the cloud

With release of new iPad, we're reminded that IT must live with employee-owned mobile devices. The answer is in the cloud

The new iPad hits the streets this week (I pre-ordered mine), and IT is once again faced with supporting these devices as more employees walk in with them. This year's crop includes tablets, smartphones, and (still) netbooks. Next year, count on set-top boxes, such as Apple TV and Roku, and gaming consoles. The year after, you'll be dealing with mobile devices embedded in our cars.

The natural reaction of traditional enterprise IT is to toss these evil things into a bonfire just outside the lobby. In reality, supporting these devices leads to better productivity and happier employees -- and that advantage goes right to the bottom line.

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What about security, privacy, network performance, and other risks that come with using these devices for business? The answer is to deal with mobile devices a bit differently than you've treated new technology in the past. Moreover, and most important to me, is how IT uses the cloud in support of these devices. But how?

The problem is that most enterprises believe they need to own and control all devices where business data is displayed to a user. Although I understand the urge, these days that wish is either impossible or too expensive. The world is moving toward a BYOD (bring or choose your own devices) strategy.

To find a solution to the BYOD challenge, first picture the world of IT 30 or 40 years ago, when users sat in front of dumb terminals. We've come full circle: We have the advantage of new technology to implement the retrofit of dumb terminals into today's devices. The key word is "abstraction," which means removing the devices and the underlying complexities from IT assets, including compute services and data services. Thus, the mobile devices function as mere terminals, providing a view into enterprise systems and data, typically operational and business intelligence data. These can be native applications running on the device or traditional Web-based applications that automatically adapt to mobile devices' form factors.

Of course, our ability to provide these compute and data services from within the enterprise is difficult. That's why I urge those facing the BYOD challenge to consider public cloud-based resources as an easy, effective, and (with good planning) secure way to provide enterprise data via mobile devices.

The trick is to let the cloud do what the cloud does best: providing service-level access to application and data services to any Internet-connected application or device that needs to access those services. With the cloud, you don't deal with the complexities of managing the back-end systems or worry about running out of capacity. Moreover, you're not concerned with devices accessing data via multiple networks. The cloud providers handle that for you, VPN or no VPN.

This shift won't be easy. You'll need to think and deal with a lot of things that are typically scary, such as moving data outside the firewall. However, with a bit of forethought and planning, you'll end up with a better business and better-protected employees. Also, you can finally get that iPad you've been seeking. After all, there are lots of cool IT tools for the iPad as well.

This article, "The answer to IT's mobile dilemma is in the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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