The Future of Mobile Cloud

Feature Story

The Future of Mobile Cloud

By Erin Harrison, Executive Editor, Cloud Computing  |  October 16, 2012

As more enterprises adopt cloud services and embrace enterprise mobility initiatives, mobile and cloud are converging. With more mobile workers and consumers supporting tablets, mobile content, mobile video and personal cloud services, the IT world is in another state of transition as “mobile” serves as both the protagonist and subject of this unpredictability.

Yet in order to compete, organizations need to intelligently leverage cloud-enabled mobile devices – for both external customers and internal stakeholders, cloud-enabled mobile services will be a key differentiator between competitors in 2013 and beyond.

Looking at the numbers, the market for mobile/connected devices is projected to reach $350 billion market by end of 2012 – and is forecast to double to $700 million by 2016, according to Yankee Group (News - Alert) research.

May the (Mobile) Force be With You

There are three driving forces of mobile cloud, according to AC Chakrabarti, CEO and cofounder of AnyPresence. The first force – and perhaps most obvious given the overwhelming use of smart devices – is data, Chakrabarti recently told Cloud Computing.

“Many mobile use-case scenarios call for data to be pulled across various sources thereby enabling the assembly of ‘composite mobile applications. As most forms of software move to the cloud, it only makes sense that mobile clouds take shape to build economies of scale, especially in the aggregation and management of app data,” he said. “In addition, instant cloud storage of app data and files are a huge advantage when leveraging mobile clouds.”

AnyPresence offers a cloud-based platform designed to reduce the time it takes to build cross-device HTML5 and native mobile apps. The increasing adoption of HTML5 standards is making it easier to design apps that rely on mobile cloud.

With many businesses rolling out multiple mobile applications that need shared mobile services, they ultimately enable different apps, which make shared mobile services the second driving force of mobile cloud.

Examples of these, he points out, include: shared mobile services, user role/access controls, push notifications, SMS, e-mail and social extensions.

“The pragmatic way of managing mobile services is to invest in the mobile cloud so that it adds value across many applications,” Chakrabarti maintains.

Speed is the third major driver of mobile cloud, he says, as most mobile applications today are designed and built in an “on-premise” mode.

“The implicit value of mobile cloud infrastructure will push for new app development paradigms that are free from developer workstations to apps that are designed and built in the cloud with shared resources,” added Chakrabarti. “The next iteration of mobile app development will be orchestrated in the cloud with no localized software other than a connected Web browser, and this new way of building mobile apps will result in greater adoption/growth of mobile clouds.”

BYOD and Consumerization

As businesses look to gain better insight and control over the explosive growth of smart devices, this trend is also driving the growth of mobile cloud computing through consumerization and the rapid adoption of mobile devices with end users who buy these devices from a store and bring them into the work environment, according to David McNeely, senior director of product management at Centrify.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company provides software and cloud-based services designed to centrally control, secure and audit access to cross-platform systems, mobile devices and applications by leveraging the infrastructure organizations already own: Microsoft (News - Alert) Active Directory, which helps businesses to manage corporate identities, credentials, information protection, system and application settings.

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon is also forcing IT to change corporate security policies, since the need to access the data from all the devices is making it necessary to use applications that tap the mobile cloud.

“This is the biggest challenge for people to address. Because you are dealing with both corporate and personal data,” explained McNeely. “Management needs to be very granular. In the past they looked at the compute platform and was something the company controlled as the entire O/S. Now mobile devices – applications are in their own sandbox – the container that we secure is not the entire O/S but we need to make sure that the applications are not jailbroken or tampered with…that’s what is changing from a security management point of view.”

As McNeely points out, the challenge with supporting these devices lies in the fact that organizations need to manage them no matter where they are, or whom they belong – or what operating system they run on.

“The ideal system is hosted in the cloud because there is a more natural pathway to the device,” McNeely told Cloud Computing. “When we are looking at mobile cloud – we are looking at where the mobile device is being managed via the cloud, which makes a lot of sense in that environment.”

The enterprise trends of heterogeneous computing environments and hybridization are also adding to the challenges of the convergence of mobile and cloud, according to Frank Cabri, vice president of marketing at Centrify.

“There are two trends we saw happening several years ago – where companies were becoming heterogeneous using Unix, Linux, Apple (News - Alert)/Mac, and Windows. Offering control over all of this is something we are able to bring under the fold of Active Directory. The second trend is hybridization; much of this is getting deployed on cloud now – and with 4G and 3G networks, organization are having to manage an extended enterprise.”

The Challenges of Mobile Cloud

In addition to the technical and security challenges of mobile cloud, businesses are also faced with political challenges.

“Mobile devices have traditionally been viewed on the telco side of an organization because that was their first touch point,” explained McNeely. “More people are starting to realize devices are a decent computing platform so it now needs to be treated as a PC with brings the change from messaging/telco to more traditional desktop support staff. Our belief is that the mobile device is just another computing system so it should be managed just like you manage your corporate Windows.”

One of the most difficult questions asked of IT security managers in cross-platform environments is: Can you prove which users have access to a specific business-critical system or application?

“These devices tend to get lost more frequently than laptops – where the user has to type in a user ID password to gain access to an application on a company network. But on a smartphone with just a password is where it gets kind of complicated. So it is easier if we can provide a user with a pin – and focus on shifting security authentication over to the business with a strong credential that enables IT to say you can only access if you have strong credential.”

The process also allows businesses to very easily remove the credentials off the device, Cabri adds.

“A lot of IT folks have been through this consumerization trend where they are potentially exposing the network,” he said. “I don’t think they are resisting the move to mobile devices – but they are taking a carrot and stick approach…we are going to provide that for you but in exchange we are going to provide some security control that are going to go beyond the traditional access information.

Of course the stakes are much different, but consumer behavior is clearly different than IT’s in that IT is very risk averse, he points out.

“They wait for a new O/S – and test it and test it, and six months later they might be using it once they can lock it down. Then you have consumers who are in line at the Mac store as soon as a new update becomes available. This is a big challenge for IT to keep up with.  They need to make sure they have a vendor that can provide the security capability…protecting the credentials and managing the applications – a little bit less important, but it’s not eliminated.

AnyPresence’s Chakrabarti believes the BYOD trend is here to stay because of the implicit benefits on both ends.

“For the employee: ‘I get to keep my device that I love to use’ and for the CIO: ‘My costs are lower as I’m not paying for mobile hardware.’ I think most businesses will shape their mobile landscape to invest in software that provides a clear sense of comfort and security so that BYOD adoption does not lead to a breach of sensitive information,” Chakrabarti explained. “I’m particularly excited about new software that is creating a virtual working environment on personal devices and thereby instantiating a personal and work environment which helps the CIO feel good about locking down secure data while keeping the employee happy.”

For mobile cloud, the central challenge is security, Chakrabarti adds, which is really about preventing mobile devices from stealing and or manipulating sensitive data.

“The opportunity is clear and it’s all about gaining huge economies of scale from shared infrastructure that will fundamentally change the way business engage with employees (B2E) and customers (B2C) through mobile scenarios. A few years later, we will see very few apps that are not mobile enabled just as we see few applications that are not Web-enabled,” he said.

The Future of Personal Cloud

While cloud is still in the early stages of growth, businesses today can’t introduce one cloud (iCloud or Google (News - Alert)) over another because they don’t support non-Apple or non-Google devices, which is in turn driving the need for a personal cloud, according to Funambol (News - Alert) Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Hal Steger.

Certain data in Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc., and other content and media people are using is getting much more fragmented, which has two affects on personal cloud.

“First, people are getting used to accessing and storing personal data in the cloud

which has created this fragmentation, because data itself is getting more fragmented. Think about how it was 15 years ago when people started using e-mail. They might have three or five e-mail accounts. Eventually, people figured out they are better off minimizing that,” explained Steger. “We are seeing the same phenomenon in the cloud as people gravitate toward using a personal cloud.”

In fact, according to Yankee Group research, nearly one in five professionals with three or more devices will adopt a personal cloud service for online storage, backup and synching.

“Commercially generated and user generated content such as music, movies, TV shows and pictures, video…the way those are being treated are driving the use of the personal cloud,” Steger added. “Mobile networks are getting better. People are getting more comfortable using videos on their mobile devices just like they take pictures. The question now is ‘where do you want to store all that content?’ Since people want to access it from mobile devices, it makes more sense for them to access them from the cloud.”

Edited by Braden Becker
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