Data, Networks, And The Unstoppable Rise Of The Mobile Workforce

BYOD

2011 saw the rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the associated challenges for network support and security. This year, the approach organisations take to the consumerisation of IT in the workplace will undoubtedly mature as more organisations realise it’s happening whether they like it or not.

On top of this, more organisations will accept that employees are bringing their own devices to work, whether sanctioned or not, and work towards taking advantage of this. This doesn’t mean we’ll see the wholesale acceptance of all consumer devices on corporate networks – although more organisations will move in this direction – but it does signify a fundamental change in mindset.

2012: The year of data

One of the manifestations of this shift will be a new focus towards managing data, which is now, after all, the basic currency of business. For example, just as they have had to consider over recent years what would happen if corporate mobile devices were lost, organisations will need to think about the same thing happening with consumer devices: will unauthorised people potentially be able to access corporate data? Or, if employees are using consumer devices, will they then use consumer clouds such as DropBox or iCloud, to store corporate data?

At a higher level, businesses will need to consider all devices that connect to the corporate network, and all the important data accessed by, stored on, and sent to and from them: where is it stored, where is it going, how can it be accessed, who should be able to access what data, and so on.

Answers to these questions – which reduce risk to an acceptable level – will have to be found. For example, if a company is embracing the BYOD trend, then, among other things, data will have to be encrypted, and maybe a corporate cloud service will need to be offered to employees, so that they use this instead of public cloud services.

To do all this – in this case enable enterprise mobility using consumer devices – organisations will need a road map which focuses on mobility, the data centre, security and network architecture. Crucially, they will also need to view their network as the platform on which to build and enable these services, rather than a set of pipes and boxes.

Network, network, network

All this means that organisations will start to approach business goals and related technological issues such as BYOD and mobility from the end goal, and then work down through the layers of services, processes, training, support, apps, clouds, platforms and infrastructure required for that goal to be reached. What they will see, if they haven’t already, is that data is the lowest common denominator, and that underneath and joining it all together is the network, as the platform.

A side effect of this new approach to networks will be the widespread adoption of converged switching infrastructure linking the data centre fibre channel and IP networks. The service and storage sides will become integrated. We saw converged adaptors become available towards the end of last year. We expect to see substantial deployment of them in 2012.

Organisations cannot keep thinking of services and solutions in isolation, as though they operate independently of one another. For example, if a business intends to enable a mobile workforce, with employees using their own consumer devices, accessing applications via the cloud, using context-based services as well as video conferencing both at their desks and when on the move, the impact and consequences of all these things need to be considered at the planning stage. If not, then organisations might invest in a service that doesn’t work because the network isn’t set up to cope. Dimension Data has been brought in at this stage all too often.

Context is King

In support of the trend towards consumer devices in the workplace, emergent context-based services – which are location-based services overlayed with other elements, the ‘context’, to improve relevance, utility and efficacy – will start to be talked about and adopted more in 2012.

These services, which could allow, for instance, a brain surgeon to be contacted, even though he or she is on holiday and in a public place, because it is an emergency (i.e. context is more important than location in this case), are generally still in the proof of concept stage.

They involve data mining coupled with an intelligent services engine and require sophisticated technologies, such as location tracking, social and business analytics, and application knowledge, to work together in harmony. This requires intelligence in the underlying network infrastructure, not just to handle context and location, but to deliver a good user experience. What’s important here is that, as with BYOD, to build context-based services and solutions requires a road map which is based on the network as the platform.

In addition, greater context awareness will help organisations to protect themselves against data leakage, whereby rules are used to derive access rights in real time, based on the context of the user, document and/or requests. Because organisations cannot hope to protect against all threats, their response to an incident will become increasingly important. Access rights are becoming more and more of an issue to manage as perimeters become more porous, so establishing and communicating incident handling policies and procedures will work its way up the CIO’s priority list.

Strategic shift

As we’ve seen, this year will mark a significant shift ‘mobile device management’, which refers to the management of corporate devices, being gradually replaced by ‘mobile risk management’. This will signify a move by corporate IT away from trying to manage the mobile device itself – which is generally very difficult and uneconomic in the case of consumer devices – to managing the risks consumer devices raise, especially regarding data security.

The key to managing and securing mobile devices is to be proactive and establish a policy with associated technology and procedures so that BYOD can be sensibly embraced and controlled, rather than turning a blind eye while employees find all sorts of creative ways to introduce their new devices to the network. BYOD represents both a risk and an opportunity and in the coming year it will be up to the organisation to determine which it is by their response to it.

Chris Knowles is Head of Solutions for Dimension Data UK. Chris has been in the IT industry for over 20 years. Starting his career in the Department of Trade and Industry, Chris was involved in the design and implementation of the Department’s first Ethernet networks before becoming responsible for the deployment of IP-based networking in the early 1990s. Chris moved on to 3Com where he became their UK thought leader on ATM design and deployment before moving on to Computacenter where he led their Networking, Security and Enterprise Management practices. In his role at Dimension Data, Chris is responsible for the management of the Solutions business which involves defining and delivering the UK technology strategy in areas such as Networking, Mobility and Security, as well as the management of over 30 presales consultants.