Top priorities for iCloud if Apple wants to compete with Microsoft and Google

Many people would say Apple is primarily focused on consumers, and that is correct with few exceptions. Apple has slowly retracted from business HW markets; see the writing on the wall for XServe and Lion Server OS.

However, some products evolved from purely consumer offering to a very appealing business one; primary example being iPhone and iPad with Mobile device management capabilities.

Now the iCloud has been unwrapped, which is Apple’s attempt to take on Google and Microsoft online services head on. The proposition of the iCloud is very appealing to consumers: all of their stuff synchronised between iOS and Mac OS devices.

That stuff being emails, photos, music, documents, contacts, calendar, apps and books. Exciting? Surely and I will be the first one to use it when it comes out of beta. However, how does it work for business? Would I recommend it to my CIO as a service to offer to our employees. What would I suggest to my CISO about iCloud security.

Let’s start with a set of requirements that I believe business have for such a product and analyse how the iCloud complies with each of them and how it compares to main rivals in business space: Microsoft 365 and Google Apps.

User accounts

One of the key requirements is ability to manage joiners and leavers in a company. Typically, this is done by an IT administrator but can also be delegated to managers. As iCloud currently stands, all accounts are of the consumer type (Apple ID), hence an account is created by that particular user.

That might be fine for a small organisation where people know each other well, however for anything bigger than 50 users this presents a serious shortcoming. Both Office 365 and Google Apps have this implemented very well and are true enterprise ready.

Sharing of documents

Based on what Apple says about iWork in iCloud, the sharing of documents is document driven. That means you can share a document at a time. What businesses typically want is a shared folder or collection where files related to a project can be stored and access by authorised users. Both Office 365 and Google Apps support sharing folders between team members.

Security

Business users are conscious of security, and rightly so for all the right reasons. A potential impact of data loss and unauthorised change of the data can potentially be disastrous. iCloud uses Apple ID for user login.

As it stands Apple ID is used for all Apple related activities by that user and needs to be typed in for any iTunes and App store purchased. As the password is used so frequently with Apple ID it often results in people choosing simple passwords they can remember and easily type into the iOS devices. Furthermore, Apple ID does not support two-factor authentication.

Security managers will also miss applying security policies to those iCloud accounts. For comparison, Google supports security policies and two-step authentication. Also, users can sign into the iCloud account on any Mac, Windows an iOS device.

Security managers have no way of even knowing which devices are connected to which account and hence where all the company data is distributed. This makes iCloud usage for certain companies a compliance nightmare and no-go product.

Contact and iCal sharing

Another feature that business users want is sharing of Address books and calendar events. As far as I know, there is no sharing of contacts, or a centralised LDAP like directory for storing those precious customer details.

iCal is a better implemented as user can subscribe to someone else’s calendar. However, features such as resource and meeting room booking are nowhere to be found. As you have guessed both Office 365 and Google Apps (some features are paid for) do play nicely in enterprise space.

In Summary, iCloud will certainly have wow factor for consumers, you and me. However, Apple needs to decide if they want to develop iCloud into an enterprise offering to compete with Microsoft and Google. And they have some way to go to catch up.

Vladimir Jirasek is Senior Enterprise Security Architect, Nokia. Vladimir has both led and managed global teams in Security, Risk and Compliance for multinational corporations such as Tesco and DTAG. Utilising this experience he has successfully constructed and implemented diverse architectures, policies and strategies by using accepted International Standards (such as ISF SoGP, ISO 2700x, CobiT, RiskIT and PCI DSS).

  • GC

    iCloud is a pure consumer play although small businesses will find it useful as well. Despite the name change iCloud is still MobileMe “exchange for the rest of us” with a few tweaks and a new price – FREE. It’s designed for the individual or small business that doesn’t have the resources of an IT department. 

    If you want to know what Apple has in store for the enterprise you only need to look as far as Mac OS X Server. If an enterprise wants the provide services to their mobile Mac and iOS workforce the answer is Server. Don’t be fooled by the discontinuation of the Xserve, Mac OS X Server is the solution for the mobile Mac and iOS workforce. It provides IMAP for email sync, CalDAV for calendar sync, and CardDAV for address book sync. And there are a number of other services as well, you are just too lazy to investigate them.

    iCloud can’t be directly compared to Google’s offering because Google isn’t a hardware/software company and is creating solutions based on that reality. It also can’t be compared to Microsoft’s offering because Microsoft is doing what it has always done, following the latest buzz-word trend because it doesn’t have anything original to offer. In this case it is following Google because it perceives Google as a threat to its business just like it perceived Netscape as a threat a decade ago.

  • jeffsters

    Wow…let me get this straight, the author is a  Senior Enterprise Security Architect at Nokia?  Telling Apple how to compete?  Better how to compete in the wireless space against Microsoft and Google?  As if Apple hasn’t been able to manage that well thus far?  Ok…I’m sorry, that was Nokia right?  Thanks but I’ll pass!

  • steve_webb

    iCloud is not appropriate for the enterprise tasks you mentioned.

    iCloud only supports Apple devices, therefore only an all Apple enterprise could use it for the enterprise tasks you mentioned.

  • iCloud is mainly for consumers — mom and dad and kids.

  • lrd555

    Consumers drive business.

    And in the past 5 years, the consumer market has for the most part driven innovation in the mobile space.

    And let’s face it, neither Microsoft or Google make a dime from their cloud offerings.

    Apple’s not going to make the mistake of catering to market that’s slow to adopt and more so one that slow to purchase anything with the Apple logo.