Android's secret surge in business

Surprising traffic results show that Android devices are well ensconced in the enterprise, but IT hasn't got a clue

Android devices are already the most-used mobile devices in the enterprise, accounting for 40 percent of the market, claims cloud security firm ZScaler, based on surveying the traffic through its cloud service. When I saw that data, I simply didn't believe it. Apple's iOS-based iPhone is the top mobile device in businesses these days, having surpassed the former leader, Research in Motion's BlackBerry, this year. At least that's what every other survey I've seen shows.

But after talking with the folks at ZScaler -- whose periodic security surveys are respected -- I now suspect the Android invasion I recently said was coming in 2012 may have already happened or at least be well under way.

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The ZScaler data shows that Android usage surged from 17 percent in the second quarter of 2011 to 40 percent in the third quarter, whereas iOS usage plummeted from 42 percent to 22 percent. BlackBerry usage dropped from 40 percent to 37 percent in the same period. In this survey, "usage" means Web, email, and other Internet transactions that traverse from company networks through ZScaler's cloud-based security filters, which handle 4 billion transactions each day, mainly for U.S. and European businesses. These numbers may not match sales of smartphones, which is the metric used by most surveys, and it doesn't count traffic handled via 3G networks -- just corporate Wi-Fi.

The issue is not whether Android or iOS is on top, but the fact that usage of Android devices on corporate networks has become so large. Most CIOs I speak with say they support and manage iOS and BlackBerry devices -- and Windows Mobile if they're in government -- but see little Android usage thus far. That fact comforts them, given the many security holes in the various versions of Android.

Unfortunately for such CIOs, ZScaler's survey indicates that the Android usage is there, unbeknownst to IT. "The mobile traffic that Zscaler sees is coming from all places, so unmanaged devices are included from employees bringing their own devices to work, connecting them, and using company resources. Android users are accessing email and the Internet from their devices. That’s the reality," says Jay Chaudhry, ZScaler's CEO. 

What lends credence to this conclusion is something that Larry Dunn, vice president of global IT outsourcing at Unisys, told me recently: Although mobile device management (MDM) tools are fairly mature, most companies don't yet use them. Despite all the hand-wringing about the alleged security risks of allowing non-BlackBerry devices into the enterprise, most businesses haven't even taken the obvious step to protect themselves.

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