Mobile moves into the cloud
Merging cloud and mobile applications can drive productivity and increase security
Despite research demonstrating that the cloud can be a boon to IT and the business it supports, there’s still hesitancy by some to embrace the platform. Data privacy is the biggest concern for IT executives looking to move to the cloud, according to a January 2011 survey by the IT Governance Institute (ITGI). In fact, 49.6 percent of executives surveyed cited security as their number one concern, according to the nonprofit ITGI’s report. Cloud isn’t the only technology making people nervous, though. Privacy and security are also concerns for those IT executives looking to enable smartphones and tablet usage within their organizations. You’d think then that — with the perceived threats of mobile and the cloud — IT would make sure the two could never come together. However, some experts say that mobile and the cloud may be a match made in IT heaven.
“With the increasing need for IT people to make sure the right people in the right places have the right information, merging cloud and mobile platforms may make perfect sense for many,” said Brad Eskind, principal federal technology leader at Deloitte Consulting. “The power of the cloud gives our government services folks the ability to do so much more than they could in the past, and it adds a level of security to wireless that mitigates the inherent threat that comes along with those devices.”
Consider the biggest problem with mobile: the fact that data resides on the platform itself and can result in data loss if the device goes missing. The cloud can eliminate that problem, storing information and data, which is then accessed when needed. “Virtualizing all your applications and access through a client or Web browser means if the device is lost or stolen, it’s just a device without sensitive information on it,” agrees Sascha Segan, lead analyst for mobile devices at PCMag.com. It also makes collaboration easier since data can be shared with multiple people, including employees and constituents, he said. Previously, it was impossible to collaborate using a mobile device.
Making IT Work
Indeed, while a major driver of cloud computing has been a reduction in capital expenses — at least on the mobile side — the benefits seem to be an increased flexibility for a platform that may be convenient but certainly isn’t agile, says Windsor Holden, a principal analyst with Juniper Research. “When you’re using the cloud in conjunction with a mobile device, you can extend the solution to employees in the field, allowing them to have access to documents and synch documents to the office,” he said. “It results in a productivity bonus. People don’t have to wait to work until they get back in the office, and you’re always working from the same data.”
Companies can also use the cloud to enable applications and functionality that can be more difficult to administer and create with a traditional client-server implementation, said Richard Schum, senior industry analyst with research firm INPUT. “The cloud facilitates mobility with unified communications applications, which can be offered as both a component of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS),” explains Schum. It also makes it possible to allow almost every employee to work remotely as long as the correct security precautions are in place, he said.
There are some drawbacks to accessing the cloud via a mobile device and network. IT, for example, should make users aware that even with today’s ubiquitous mobile networks, they can’t assume that they’re always going to be connected. This can be a serious problem for anyone who relies on the cloud for his or her productivity applications and data, said PCMag.com’s Segan. “Even in the densest city you can hit a dead zone,” he said. “You as an IT person must be thinking about what you can do to make sure your user can still work, which might take some custom development.” One option might be to cache just enough data so a momentary loss of connectivity won’t render the device useless, he said.
However, considering the fact that almost three-quarters (72 percent) of agency IT departments say they have already deployed mobility solutions, according to a February 2011 INPUT report, yet only 33 percent of federal executives say they have the tools they need to be productive, it may be time to take the marriage of cloud and mobile seriously.