Personal devices are creating quite a headache for enterprise IT managers
For quite a long time, enterprises have been worried about the cybersecurity risks inherent with employees bringing personal devices into the workplace and connecting to corporate LANs. Now, they're growing concerned about the amount of bandwidth that those devices are eating up. And the problem is going to get worse — potentially far worse — as some estimates indicate that the number of Internet-connected devices in use will double over the next three years. Of course, many of those will find their way into the enterprise.
Not long ago, I spoke with Rob Koch, managing partner of Chicago-based IT firm Single Path, about the dilemma. "Networks are under fire, because businesses are leveraging technology so much more today than they were 5 or 10 years ago."
Koch added that everyone is playing catch-up right now.
"The underlying infrastructure needed to support [this activity] needed to grow, to basically accommodate a 3X factor beyond what the network originally was built for," he said.
It didn't happen, so now enterprises — from corporations to government entities to school districts — are faced with the prospect of forklift upgrades. It's an expensive proposition that becomes considerably more challenging given the financial pressure that many organizations — especially those dependent on taxpayer funding — find themselves under.
As if that wasn't enough, the use of video — the highest of all high-bandwidth applications — is skyrocketing, from video conferencing to You Tube, potentially exacerbating the problem on an exponential level.
"The ability of the iPhone to do Facetime is an example," Koch said. "At some point — I don't know when, but sometime between 5 and 10 years — when you call somebody, video is going to be the default, not voice."
There are three basic approaches to fixing this, and each has limitations. One is the aforementioned forklift upgrade which is too expensive for many entities. Another involves the enterprise prohibiting non-company-issued devices from accessing the network and/or limiting the amount of bandwidth that they consume. But that creates productivity issues for the knowledge workers upon which the enterprise relies. The third option is to move some network operations to the cloud, but even that is not fool-proof, according to Koch.
"The cloud is huge — it's growing by leaps and bounds — and it might be how some of these organizations are addressing this issue, because employees can access these applications wherever they are," he said. "But some organizations, given the nature of their business, may not want their data in the cloud, because they're concerned [the data] won't be secure, because they don't control or maintain [the cloud]."
Moving to the cloud also might be problematic for enterprises that need to customize their applications, Koch said.
"A lot of the providers out there mass-produce their cloud offerings, which is great, because it offers [price-]competitive access," he said. "But it doesn't give you the ability to customize, because it's being shared by a gazillion other people."
The fact there seemingly is no panacea for such a complex problem is a headache by itself for IT managers.
'We see some companies trying to bite off a piece of each of these [approaches], and it starts to look like a "Whack-a-Mole' game," Koch said — as soon as they knock down one problem, another pops up.
Whatever they decide to do, IT managers need to get started now, because this is a really big problem that only is going to worsen over time.
"Now probably would be a really good time to figure out your strategy for dealing with the megatrends that are taking place in the industry — and this is one of them," Koch said.
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