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How To Sort Through Enterprise Mobility Challenges

Mobility is demanding the attention of IT. Whether it's building a scalable wireless infrastructure, or supporting the newest smartphone or tablet, the choices are daunting. Interop's wireless and mobility conference track can help sort out these challenges.

Fritz Nelson

April 20, 2011

5 Min Read

Mobility is inescapable, raining down on our infrastructure, security policies, management systems, applications, and computing devices. The novelty has worn off, and now it's time to contend with the complexities that touch internal development teams and IT managers alike. Products have emerged, and they seem awfully familiar, as if we're reliving two decades of taming and protecting and stabilizing our systems. Time to take control, turn complexity into opportunity.

Start with the Wireless and Mobility Conference Track at this May's Interop in Las Vegas, where Farpoint Group's Craig Mathias has cobbled together more than his usually stellar lineup of sessions and speakers.

From those sessions, it would be easy to create a short list of requirements for everything from wireless networking to tablet and smartphone devices to mobile device management. This last one is particularly thorny today, because employees are either demanding to use their personal devices on company networks, or they're just doing it, raising old concerns about policy and regulatory compliance and new questions about the separation of personal data and sensitive professional data.

Mobile device management (MDM) was easy enough in BlackBerry-dominated environments, but those days are mostly gone, except in locked down parts of the financial services and government sectors. Beyond encrypting data on phones and tablets, or being able to remotely wipe or lock lost devices, companies need to sandbox corporate data, restrict access, even down to the destination IP address or Wi-Fi network, and turn off functionality like cameras, all in the name of good policy enforcement, assuming that such policy even exists. "So many companies don't have security policies written down," Mathias says.

New MDM players emerge monthly, and Mathias says his tracking list includes as many as 60 companies. Smith Micro, Good Technology, Mobile Iron, Sybase, and a few others come to mind. A conference session called "Operating at the Edge: Mobile Device Security, Management and Policy," run by Philippe Winthrop, managing director of The Enterprise Mobility Foundation, will pit several entrench and emerging MDM players against one another, and help you create that checklist of product requirements.

For those IT decision makers with the power to enforce standard device platforms, the choices grows more plentiful by the day. We've been testing not only the iPad2, but new Android devices, RIM's BlackBerry Playbook, and even specialized devices like the Avaya Flare, which is a multi-point conferencing system. Despite speculation about whether tablets will replace laptops, netbooks, and other clients, they're mostly purchased as additional systems. Track chair Eric Krapf, who is also the editor of our NoJitter site, asks: "Will Tablets Rule the World?" There couldn't be a more steamy topic.

Tablet and smartphone decisions aren't just about the device, but also the ecosystem of device, carrier, operating system, and available applications. The operating system decision is most important. Enterprise tablet buying decisions revolve around the differences between Apple's iOS, Google's Android 3.0, RIM's QNX, and the soon-to-arrive HP WebOS for tablets. No details yet on anything tablet-centric from Microsoft, but that's sure to come. This is just this century's version of the Mac OS vs. Windows vs. OS/2 vs. Unix wars of yesteryear, with just as much at stake. Check out the Interop session "Apps and Beyond: Mobile Operating Systems."

IT managers have been wrestling with mobility issues for decades, mostly on the infrastructure side. While most companies have built robust ad hoc wireless networks for guests, roaming end users, and conference room inhabitants, many of the same issues we've been dealing with from the beginning are still today's difficulties. Arguments still rage over where to put the network intelligence -- in a big, smart controller (Cisco and Aruba), or at the edge in the access points (Aerohive), Mathais says. Some vendors (Trapeze and Motorola, for example) use a hybrid model. BlueSocket employs a controller running in a virtual machine (powered by VMware). Motorola has what it calls an adaptive architecture, where the intelligence roams around. Confused? Core Competence president Lisa Phifer will help sort things out in her Interop session "Just What Is A Controller Anyway?: The Great WLAN Architecture Debate."

Meantime, as always, work continues on simply going faster. In "Off The Hook: Advances In Wireless LAN Technologies," OctoScope president Fanny Milnarsky will lead a discussion about various 802.11 efforts to drive gigabit speeds over 5-GHz and 60-GHz spectrum. The technology exists, Mathais says, but each effort has its tradeoffs. 5-GHz technology (802.11ac) propagates better, Mathais says, but it presents regulatory challenges, given all the traffic already in the 5-GHz band. 60 GHz (802.11ad), which is used mostly for inter-satellite connections, is plentiful, but its range is limited and it doesn't propagate well.

Security is probably the most vital mobile issue that enterprise IT managers face. Our own Art Wittmann, VP and director of InformationWeek Analytics, will lead a session aimed at the unique security challenges of midsize companies -- those with around 500 employees.

We hope to see you there.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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About the Author(s)

Fritz Nelson

Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

Fritz Nelson is a former senior VP and editorial director of the InformationWeek Business Technology Network.

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