The IT industry is furiously talking about cloud computing but, when I deal with CIOs and IT managers, their first thought goes to mobile computing.
The tools we are using to access enterprise data and applications are changing, are IT infrastructures ready to manage this challenge as well?

Until recently, standard enterprise clients were Microsoft Windows PCs and Blackberry terminals: IT departments were very severe about the adoption of alternative OSes and smartphones to avoid management and help desk issues.
Software distribution and management, security (in all its aspects) and use of proprietary file formats coupled with “standard” application software (i.e. MS Office) are only a few examples of the constraints that limited freedom of choice. Furthermore, many enterprise ERPs (or business apps) clients only ran on MS Windows.

First the web…

The first, important, signal of a change was the introduction of web GUIs (no more fat clients installed on the PCs). Web based interface applications changed the game moving the issue from the client to the browser thus (sometimes) limiting the need of a specific OS. The first web interfaces were very poor, if compared to traditional clients, but now the differences have become less visible or even nonexistent. The web standards were adopted by all the vendors (programming languages and browser development platforms are now considered mature) and it’s very hard to find rendering differences or external plug-ins requirements as it was in the past.
Finally, priorities have changed: an example? in the past, email was a considered a secondary application but now is a critical application for everyone!

…Then the iPhone(/iPad)

iPhone/iPad (or more in general tablets and smartphones) adoption has been a big enterprise revolution imposed from the top floors! How can you dare to say to the general manager that you won’t support his beloved iPad? or that it is not compliant with the established security policies?
So IT departments are now being bend to the will of the executives and now they suffer the “me too, me too!” effect: if the CEO could use his iPad in the corporate environment he’ll be followed suit by other managers down to the last employee until it will become a de-facto standard company device!

This is what I’m seeing in many enterprises, and the PC purchasing process is also changing slightly: from a standard PC for everyone to a personal allowance to buy your own system! Actually we are finding many more Macs, Tablets and Non-blackberry smartphones in our companies than ever before.
In some way, we can say that mobile computing is becoming the true Personal computing: Very personal devices able to share and interact within the enterprise space.

The “drawbacks”

Of course, this new approach has some drawbacks: every user has many devices and many different access points, generating more network traffic causing more backend infrastructure requests. In a few words, you need a more agile and elastic infrastructure.

IT operators will have to manage new challenges and I think that security and resource/capacity management are on top of the list. From a security standpoint the problem is no longer the PC or the network perimeter (obsolete concepts when you talk about mobility), while, on the the management side, you will not need to deploy, install and manage PCs, instead you will focus on services quality and accessibility from many different platforms.
The user will become more responsible because he’ll manage his own PC/Tablet and he will be forced to obtain the best software tools and upgrades from enterprise or public App Stores! (it’s like a self-provisioning practice, isn’t it?)
The user is also the focal point for next generation security policies: it’s no more a matter of monitoring and controlling from where but what (and how) people are doing with your data and applications!

Here’s why VDI will never become mainstream: it doesn’t solve user/client management issues while mobile computing revolutionize the whole paradigm!

Cloud is the best backend for mobile

To support mobile computing at its best you need to rethink your IT stack and here we again talking about cloud: Public, hybrid or private are only a matter of mere opportunity, I have no doubt that cloud is the best answer.

The IT infrastructure is becoming more complex in the center where we need to grant more data quality and space (no more data on PCs), more CPU/networking power and resiliency for applications (less remote CPUs). Cloud concepts like elastic and agile, automatic and self-provisioning, pay per use becomes now more clear: IT as an utility is more acceptable (even for the CxO level) because you have a true need of it.

Bottom line

Enterprise IT infrastructures are changing, not as fast as vendors would like but it is in function of enterprise flexibility and competitiveness needs. Mobile computing adoption will accelerate enterprise IT metamorphosis to the cloud (public or private). As I said many times: tablet/mobile computing is a strong enabler to cloud computing!