September 03, 2014

The Pros & Cons of BYOD in Today's Growing VDI Environment

When the PC was first introduced in the late 70s, it took the business world several years to acknowledge it as a real business tool. In fact, it was called a home computer for the first few years, relegated to a simple toy. Likewise, it has taken business several years to see the smartphone and other mobile devices for what they are. However, these devices now provide the momentum for what is known as the Bring Your Own Device revolution.

BYOD: Here to Stay

The numbers indicate that the use of mobile devices is growing at an explosive rate. A new IT concept as recently as 2009, it is now estimate by some sources that as many as1.6 billion mobile devices will be in use in the workplace by 2016. Currently, more than 74 percent of all Fortune 1000 businesses now support BYOD in some form.

This trend has paralleled the growth in cloud computing, with SaaS and other applications that move the actual processing and storage functions to a data center, providing increasing power and capabilities to mobile devices. Managers of IT services now speak of thin and zero clients, making it possible to provide full functionality from remote servers and blades. With the growing use of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, the mobile device becomes a totally functional access point for most functions.

The fact of this growth is in itself an indication of the acceptance of BYOD. It leaves many to wonder, however, what the actual benefits and challenges of this new concept really are. This increased access to corporate IT resources brings with it new questions, and many IT managers are struggling to integrate and bring VDI and BYOD online. The convergence of these various technologies and technologies introduce a host of new issues, as well as compounding the classic ones of security, network integrity, support, and others.

In fact, one of the main issues related to BYOD is how it requires coordination across all organizational elements, many beyond the control of IT managers.

Understanding the Power and Benefits of BYOD

As already noted, the main momentum behind BOYD is generated by users, those who feel freed from desktop PCs and empowered by mobile devices. With the current and rapidly increasing number of applications and tools, users find great freedom in being able to:

  • Access and move huge files with Dropbox while out of the office
  • Control accounts and respond to clients with Salesforce sitting at a ball game
  • Join in webinars with GoToMeeting while on sitting in a waiting room

This “people’s movement” leaves IT managers and corporations with something of a fait accompli, and they have come to the realization the real question is not whether to accept it, but how to control and leverage it positively.

This rapid acceptance of BYOD underlines the fact that it enhances productivity of most workers. Users today know and understand their mobile devices, making them an integral part of their lives. They don’t grapple with clumsy OS issues and the many problems of the office PC environment. They also avoid the problems of carrying around a laptop all the time, having to boot up and worry about battery life.

For the corporation, the savings in hardware expenditures are proving to be substantial. Not only does BYOD cut down on hardware purchases, it gains commensurate savings in the installation, support, upgrading and maintenance of those systems. Few people realize the immense time invested by IT staffs in overseeing a large inventory of desktop units and the related servers and network infrastructure. Of course, these savings are greatly enhanced by the above-mentioned advantages inherent in cloud computing and VDI. While some see the issue of the proverbial which came first, chicken or egg, the reality is that BYOD makes SaaS and related advances more realistic. At the same time, each new cloud application that responsively makes use of mobile devices adds that much more impetus to BYOD.

The Tradeoffs and Challenges

Of course, for every benefit a new concept brings, there are accompanying challenges and issues. Those related to BYOD are not trivial. Overarching all the discussion and debate related to this approach are concerns over security.

With an increasing hostile Internet and increasingly sophisticated blackhat operators, the issue of security has never been more important. This is one reason unfettered or broad adoption of BYOD can cause nightmares for any IT manager. Inherent in the concept is a loss of control and the addition of potentially thousands of unprotected devices as access points. Allowing so many “alien users” to access any network creates the potential for numerous forms of data breaches.

In addition to these concerns, the adoption of BYOD increases the burdens of IT departments to ensure compatibility across a wide spectrum of devices and operating systems not under their control, such as Android and iOS. They are aware of statistics provided by Ponemon Institute showing:

• More than 250,000 Android devices were affected by the DroidDream attack in 2011 • More than half of all BYOD companies have experienced loss of data due to the use of unsecured mobile devices

• More than 70 percent of all mobile devices will run outdated firmware or OS at any given time, increasing the vulnerability of these systems. Beyond the prime concern of security is the fundamental issue of control. The IT department now allows multiple parts of the organization to provide its members with access to corporate files and applications. When it does so, it is relinquishing one the most hallowed powers of its traditional fiefdom. It is normal to hear such real concerns about different departments such as:

• Human resources. Who ensures employees are activated and deactivated based on employment status? Who determines various levels of access to different parts of the corporation’s digital assets? Who allocates what parts of which budgets to compensate employees for providing their own devices and how does this impact the IT budget? Who provides training on security and IT-related topics?

• Marketing. This department has many of the same questions and issues, but adds to the complexity by allowing prospects and clients access via their mobile devices. The same issues involve the question of ensuring that access by those clients is terminated when they move to a competitor

• Legal. What are the issues related to removing information from the personal devices of a terminated employee? Who is liable for security breaches from lost or stolen mobile devices owned by employees? What are the contingent liabilities for allowing access to financial, client and personnel files by mobile devices with lower levels of security? Many laws such as HIPAA, PHI, JCAHO, FACTA, FERPA & GLB create real liabilities, even criminal penalties, for security breaches in these areas.

“Who Let the Dogs Out?” While some in the IT world may still be asking such a question about BYOD, it is, as discussed above, essentially irrelevant to the current situation. The concept is here to stay and is rapidly gaining acceptance as the norm. Numerous companies are utilizing such solutions as Citrix and VMWare to aid in this ongoing BYOD implementation and transformation. The many advantages of these applications relative to central administration are important from two perspectives. First, they provide the centralized control and administration that make it possible for most mobile devices to conveniently and safely access everything from sales tools to CAD/CAM applications. Secondly, these programs allow companies to rapidly take advantages of the potential benefits of BYOD while precluding additions to their current PC infrastructure. In other words, these programs acknowledge how the growth of cloud computing and VDI are reshaping the traditional perspective of corporate IT expenditures and growth. Adapting to these changes is an important part of any management team making such a transition positive and productive. As these concepts and technologies converge, Zero and Thin client environments become the order of the day, with BYOD a transformative element in this latest IT revolution.