There’s no question that Apple was the primary force behind the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. It didn’t take long for every executive to find themselves with an iPad in their hands, wondering why they had to use their god damn Blackberry when the email experience on their new tablet was so much better. Unfortunately, as is the case with most Apple products, the enterprise integration was severely lacking and the experience suffered as a result. Today the experience is much better although that’s mostly the result of third party vendors developing solutions, not so much Apple developing the capability themselves. It seems that after decades of neglecting the enterprise Apple is finally ready to make a proper attempt at it, although in the most ass backwards way possible.
Today Apple announced that it would be partnering with IBM in order to grow their mobility offerings starting with a focus on applications, cloud services and device supply and support. IBM is going to start off by developing 100 “industry specific” enterprise solutions, essentially native applications for the iPhone and iPad that are tailored for specific business needs. They’ll also be growing their cloud offering with services that are optimized for iOS with a focus on all the buzzwords that surround the BYOD movement (security, management, analytics and integration). You’ll also be able to source iOS devices from IBM with warranty backing by Cupertino, enabling IBM to really be your one stop shop for all things Apple related in the enterprise.
At a high level this would sound like an amazing thing for anyone who’s looking to integrate Apple products into their environment. You could engage IBM’s large professional services team to do much of the leg work for you, freeing you from worrying about the numerous issues that come from enabling a BYOD environment. The tailored applications would also seem to solve a big pain point for a lot of users as the only option most enterprises have available to them today is to build their own, a significantly costly endeavour. Plus if you’re already buying IBM equipment their supply chain will already be well known to you and your financiers, lowering the barrier to entry significantly.
Really it does sound amazing, except for the fact that this partnership is about 5 years late.
Ever since everyone wanted their work email on an iPhone there’s been vendors working on solutions to integrate non-standard hardware into the enterprise environment. The initial solutions were, frankly, more trouble than they were worth but today there are a myriad of applications available for pretty much every use case you can think of. Indeed pretty much every single thing that this partnership hopes to achieve is already possible today, not at some undetermined time in the future.
This is not to mention that IBM is also the last name you’d think of when it comes to cloud services, especially when you consider how much business they’ve lost as of late. The acquisition of SoftLayer won’t help them much in this regard as they’re building up an entirely new capability from scratch which, by definition, means that they’re offering will be behind everything else that’s currently available. They might have the supply chains and capital to be able to ramp up to public cloud levels of scalability but they’re doing it several years after everyone else has, in a problem space that is pretty much completely solved.
The only place I can see this partnership paying dividends is in places which have yet to adopt any kind of BYOD or mobility solution which, honestly, is few and far between these days. This isn’t an emerging market that IBM is getting in on the ground floor on, it’s a half decade old issue that’s had solutions from numerous vendors for some time now. Any large organisation, which has been IBM’s bread and butter since time immemorial, will already have solutions in place for this. Transitioning them away from that is going to be costly and I doubt IBM will be able to provide the requisite savings to make it attractive. Smaller organisations likely don’t need the level of management that IBM is looking to provide and probably don’t have a working relationship with Big Blue anyway.
Honestly I can’t see this working out at all for IBM and it does nothing to improve Apple’s presence in the enterprise space. The problem space is already well defined with solid solutions available from multiple vendors, many of which have already have numerous years of use in the field. The old adage of never getting fired for buying IBM has long been irrelevant and this latest foray into a field where their experience is questionable will do nothing to bring it back. If they do manage to make anything of this I will be really surprised as entering a market this late in the piece rarely works out well, even if you have mountains of capital to throw at it.
Microsoft’s message last year was pretty clear: we’re betting big that you’ll be using Azure as part of your environment and we’ve got a bunch of tools to make that happen. For someone who has cloudy aspirations this was incredibly exciting even though I was pretty sure that my main client , the Australian government, would likely abstain from using any of them for a long time. This year’s TechEd seemed like it was a little more subdued than last year (the lack of a bond style entrance with its accompanying Aston Martin was the first indicator of that) with the heavy focus on cloud remaining, albeit with a bent towards the mobile world.
Probably the biggest new feature to come to Azure is ExpressRoute, a service which allows you to connect directly to the Azure cloud without having to go over the Internet. For companies that have regulations around their data and the networks it can traverse this gives them the opportunity to use cloud services whilst still maintaining their obligations. For someone like me who primarily works with government this is a godsend and once the Azure instance comes online in Australia I’ll finally be able to sell it as a viable solution for many of their services. It will still take them some time to warm to the idea but with a heavy focus on finding savings, something Azure can definitely provide, I’m sure the adoption rate will be a lot faster than it has been with previous innovations of this nature.
The benefits of Azure Files on the other hand are less clear as whilst I can understand the marketing proposition it’s not that hard to set up a file server within Azure. This is made somewhat more pertinent by the fact that it uses SMB 2.1 rather than Server 2012’s SMB 3.0 so whilst you get some good features in the form of a REST API and all the backing behind Azure’s other forms of storage it lacks many of the new base capabilities that a traditional file server has. Still Microsoft isn’t one to develop a feature unless they know there’s a market for it, so I’d have to guess that this is a feature that many customers have been begging for.
In a similar vein the improvements to Microsoft’s BYOD offerings appear to be incremental more than anything with InTune receiving some updates and the introduction of Azure RemoteApps. Of the two Azure RemoteApps would be the most interesting as it allows you to deliver apps from the Azure cloud to your end points, wherever they may be. For large, disparate organisations this will be great as you can leverage Azure to deploy to any of your officers, negating the need for heavy infrastructure in order to provide a good user experience. There’s also the opportunity for Microsoft to offer pre-packaged applications (which they’re currently doing with Office 2013) although that’s somewhat at odds with their latest push for Office365.
Notably absent from any of the announcements was Windows 8.2 or Server 2012 R3, something which I think many of us had expected to hear rumblings about. There’s still the chance it will get announced at TechEd Australia this year especially considering the leaked builds that have been doing the rounds. If they don’t it’d be a slight departure from the tempo they set last year, something which I’m not entirely sure is a good or bad move from them.
Overall this feels like incremental improvements to Microsoft strategy they were championing last year more than revolutionary change. That’s not a bad thing really as the enterprise market is still catching up with Microsoft’s new found rapid pace and likely won’t be on par with them for a few years yet. Still it begs the question as to whether or not Microsoft is really committed to the rapid refresh program they kicked off not too long ago. TechEd Australia has played host to some big launches in the past so seeing Windows 8.2 for the first time there isn’t out of the question. As for us IT folk the message seems to remain the same: get on the cloud soon, and make sure it’s Azure.
I’ll be honest the bring your own device movement annoys the hell out of me as an IT administrator. I think this is mostly because the movement starts from higher up, usually when an executive discovers how wonderful it is to read personal email on his iPad and then wants the same thing for work. Queue a rushed, short term project that involves putting in all manner of hacks, poorly documented systems and as of yet unvetted devices being introduced into the network. I guess if you read inbetween the lines on that one I don’t really have a problem with the BYOD movement per se, just the way it’s weaselled its way into the environments I’ve been responsible for.
That being said I’m not one to stand in the way of inevitable change and every day it’s looking more and more like the BYOD movement is something that I’d rather embrace than struggle against. It’s still a nascent movement, with all the associated problems, but thankfully we have many companies that are taking notice of this movement and ensuring that these devices can be integrated seamlessly into corporate environments. The next version of Windows has some provisions in it for supporting BYOD but there’s an interesting delineation between those devices and your traditional corporate computing device.
Windows 8 brings with it a new control panel option that allows users to connect to the corporate network using their email address and a password. Once they’re authenticated their device then downloads a series of approved apps from the corporate network like the one shown in the picture above. You can also provide access to applications in the Microsoft Marketplace through an on-site cache. What’s missing here however is any control over the end device; you can’t enforce things like a password policy or on-device encryption should you use this method. Additionally Windows 8 devices on the ARM architecture are not able to be members of an Active Directory domain, a critical feature for most large enterprises.
What this means is that Microsoft, whilst embracing the BYOD movement with one hand, is drawing a clear line in the sand between where traditional corporate computing resources lie and what untrusted and unvetted have access to. It may seem like an odd line to draw as you’re basically relegating BYOD users to be second class citizens on your network but in reality granting users the ability to control the platform means you can’t trust it in the same way you trust something that’s under your control. This is probably the most happy compromise that Microsoft could come up with and to be honest it’s actually not that bad.
This kind of interoperability between unknown Windows 8 devices and trusted networks provides a lot of opportunities for innovation in the corporate app space. The applications delivered with the initial app package can be highly tailored towards a streamlined user experience, one that could be unique to the user’s requirements. Take for example the HR app, you could have different versions for HR staff, management and end users all available through the access portal. Reworking the interface to be friendly to these (most likely) touch centric devices would go a long way to improving the current state of corporate applications which most users loathe to use.
Microsoft had to draw the line somewhere and realistically I’m surprised at the level of functionality that they’re granting BYOD users. The traditional approach has been to provide a secure container on top of the device and then enabling full access to the corporate environment. Whilst this works in theory Windows 8, especially on ARM devices, was designed with a different user interface paradigm in mind, one that centers around user experience rather than iterating on the current desktop. Corporations will have to embrace this if they want to take BYOD seriously and I believe that those who don’t will have their (rather irate) users to contend with.