Relax, IT: Endpoint diversity is nothing to fear

More devices, tools, and platforms mean complexity and work for IT. But they can bring advantages -- and less IT work -- too

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But MDM is now moving out of its email ghetto into the big house of system administration. Microsoft's System Center 2012, to be released later this year, now lets IT manage EAS policies from within; before, those policies were accessible only in Exchange. It's a small step, perhaps, but in the right direction.

Third-party modules from companies such as Odyssey Software and Quest Software also bring Mac, Linux, and mobile capabilities to System Center's Configuration Manager so that IT can manage a diversity of devices from one console and one set of underlying Active Directory policies in a user-centric way, not specific to devices. MobileIron has APIs to connect its MDM platform to System Center as well and may bring some connectors out this year. In addition, Symantec's Altiris and Centrify's Centrify Suite system management tools support policy-based management beyond Windows PCs, covering two or more of the following: Macs, Linux systems, Unix systems, and iOS and Android mobile devices (including apps and content to some extent).

At the same time, you're seeing Good Technology and MobileIron rethink MDM more broadly as a user-centric management platform for modern OSes (Windows 7 and 8, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and perhaps one day Windows Phone) with, respectively, their Dynamics and AppConnect efforts. Those MDM companies argue, with reason, that traditional systems management tools' longtime focus on patch management and inventory control and optimization for legacy platforms such as Windows XP, Windows Mobile, and Symbian requires a significant rethinking and reworking. For both, the notion of MDM being about devices is already archaic; they're thinking about mobile users, then the devices, data, and apps they use.

It doesn't matter much whether systems management grows out of the Windows monoculture into a diverse world or MDM subsumes PCs in its mix. What matters is the shift to a user-based common management of diverse devices.

The heterogeneity of consumerization is also forcing out old, proprietary technologies such as Microsoft's ActiveX that in recent years has worsened IT's life by forcing it to support obsolete, insecure browsers such as Internet Explorer 6 because they had bought or created Web apps dependent on it. These apps, in turn, were hardwired not only to ActiveX but to IE6's version of it (or IE7's or IE8's, depending on the app), causing a management and support nightmare for IT with no strategic benefit.

One IT pro told me that his group has been trying for years to get rid of such legacy ActiveX and ODBC apps, but business management didn't see the point of spending money on completed projects -- until they discovered their iPads didn't work with these apps. Suddenly, business managers found the money to modernize those apps, giving that IT group the chance to move to more vendor-neutral and broadly supported technologies such as AJAX.

I suggest that IT actively look for such compatibility issues brought on by adoption of Android, iOS, Mac OS X, and so on -- and use them to justify a move to more modern technologies and standards. Of course, trading one dependency for another is a foolish exercise, so the substitution has to move up the abstraction ladder. That means broad standards where available, with as few OS and hardware dependencies as possible (or broadly available clients to handle the various endpoints' peculiarities).

Consumerization can be a catalyst for IT to get rid of the legacies that bedevil it, as well as the unnecessary silos that have grown over time. That should create space for the value-added aspects of consumerization's diversity of apps, OSes, and devices, and even reduce the effort spent on the endpoint and low-level activities.

It should also make heterogeneity as positive a concept for IT as diversity has proven to be to be in personnel management.

This article, "Relax, IT: Endpoint diversity is nothing to fear," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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