Is Microsoft joining Apple and Google in divorcing mobile devices from the standard management systems IT relies on? It sure seems that way.
On Friday, Microsoft will ship its Surface tablet running Windows RT -- the Metro-based operating system that doesn't include the traditional Windows Desktop environment (as Windows 8 does). Windows RT can't join an Active Directory domain, which means IT can't manage Surface tablets using Active Directory domain settings such as those managed by the Group Policy engine. Microsoft will ship Surface tablets with Windows 8, but not for another three months. You can expect Windows RT tablets to enter the enterprise, posing the same kind of challenges the iPhone and iPad first did.
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Maybe it's not so much of a challenge. For quite some time, we've seen the acceptance of iOS and, to a lesser extent, Android and Windows Phone, none of which can join domains but can be controlled through Exchange ActiveSync policies, whether via Exchange or, more recently, System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) or Intune.
Although not popular with users, a VDI infrastructure or a Microsoft Terminal Services configuration with remote desktop service (RDS) connections on tablets is often put in place by administrators. This provides controlled desktop environments that let users connect to the domain and access domain resources in a controlled way, while still allowing users to bring their own device. No doubt someone will extend the remote-desktop technologies to Windows RT.
An increasingly number of organizations are also turning to enterprise versions of cloud storage tools such as Dropbox and Box to manage tablet access to data that has historically been stored in domain-managed file servers. The use of public cloud storage services, which can't be managed by IT, scares many IT organizations. IBM, for example, has banned their use. But Windows RT, like Windows 8, comes, with a SkyDrive cloud storage app preinstalled, and Microsoft expects tablet owners to use that Microsoft cloud storage service routinely.