Mobile Cloud Computing: 5 Key Trends

With a predicted one trillion Internet-connected devices by 2015, mobile cloud computing is a potent emerging technology.


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Posted January 31, 2011

Jeff Vance

Jeff Vance

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If I asked you to pick the most over-hyped technology trend of the past year, you’d probably pick either “cloud computing” or “smartphones and tablets.” Pretty much every tech publication has wall-to-wall coverage of those trends, while plenty of vendors are busily slapping “cloud” and “mobile” on a slew of products that are only vaguely so.

The thing about these so-called over-hyped trends, though, is that they really aren’t. In the build up to the Super Bowl, you will see exhaustive coverage of the Steelers and Packers, and, sure, there’s way more hype than I’d prefer, even as an expatriate Pittsburgher and rabid Steeler fan. But are those teams really over-hyped when they’re at the top of the NFL heap?

Similarly, cloud computing and mobile get more than their fair share of attention, but on the other hand, investment dollars are flowing into cloud and mobile companies; startups are popping up like weeds, and plenty of incumbents such as Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and IBM (to name only a few), are betting big on these trends.

One thing much less hyped is that the cloud and mobile are intersecting in many, many places, giving rise to the “Mobile Cloud.”

How is the “mobile cloud” different from the “cloud?” Ask ten different tech experts and you’ll get ten different answers. Often, the term “mobile cloud” simply indicates the most common end point accessing a particular cloud, although as the mobile cloud evolves expect some subtle differences in regard to security, back-end infrastructure, app design, etc. to emerge.

Even though the mobile cloud is still in its infancy, here are five things IT should know about the mobile cloud in order to prepare for the future:

1. The mobile cloud will accelerate the “consumerization” of IT.

As knowledge workers increasingly rely on non-PC devices like smartphones and tablets as their go-to computing platforms, IT is being forced to change and change quickly. Lucky for them that the move away from shrink-wrap software to SaaS and Web Services has been well underway for several years.

“IT can’t think about things on a node-by-node basis anymore. They must think of resources as aggregate services that they must make securely available to a number of devices, including phones and tablets,” said David Link, CEO and co-founder of ScienceLogic, a provider of IT operations and cloud monitoring solutions.

If you walk around any decent-sized cubicle farm, you’ll find (assuming this isn’t a backwards company blocking these things) plenty of people on Facebook, LinkdedIn and Twitter. Some of them will even be using them for work purposes.

In technophilic organizations, you’ll see people accessing social media and corporate apps from smart phones and tablets. Consumerization isn’t something that’s coming. It’s something that’s here.

“The demand from employees for iPhones, Androids and tablets places tremendous pressure on IT. In my company, for instance, we’re getting pressure from our customers to build smartphone and tablet apps for our core applications,” Link said. “We must deliver functionality from the cloud and implement the support for multiple end devices into our applications. If we weren’t doing that, we’d lose ground to our competitors.”

IT has been slow to adjust these changes, so the prospect of a “mobile cloud” could seem downright horrifying.

However, while the mobile cloud should accelerate the consumerization of IT, this might not be such a bad thing. Done right, the mobile cloud could actually offer IT a path out of the chaos. The mobile cloud could simplify security and limit a number of end-user created headaches.

2. Risk equations are changing.

While vulnerabilities are skyrocketing on mobile devices and hackers are turning their attention to them, smartphones, tablets and the like do not offer the vast number of attack vectors that PCs do – in theory.

Apps are vetted. Email is cloud-based and should have some sort of virus and phishing protection behind it. Since the devices by definition roam outside the corporate walls, access control and identity enforcement should be standard. Moreover, enterprise apps accessed via handsets should prevent users from storing data locally, and, perhaps, could even disallow users from making certain types of changes to the data, depending on a number of factors. These factors include how you logged in, how robust your authentication mechanism was and even where exactly you are.

Using built-in GPS, it wouldn’t be difficult to limit certain activities to certain places, such as the office, your home office or certain trusted places where you tend to do work like a specific airport lounge.

The invasion of mobile devices into the enterprise is forcing organizations to rethink how they calculate risk. Blanket policies blocking smartphones won’t last. If your organization sticks with them, your most tech-savvy employees will find workarounds – workarounds that are often less secure than letting IT figure out how to deliver secure mobile access in the first place.

“There is risk with everything,” said Custie Crampton, VP of Mobile Device Management Technology at Tangoe, a provider of telecom expense and mobile device management solutions. There are risks to opening applications to mobile devices, yet there are risks – such as losing top-level talent or falling behind competitors – to not embracing mobile devices.

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Tags: cloud computing, networking, mobile cloud computing, mobile cloud, handheld device

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