Since the iPhone’s introduction in 2007, enterprises have been playing the mobility catch up game. First it was whether to let iPhones connect to the network. Next it was whether to allow iPhones and iPads to receive corporate email – and how to do it. Then came the requests to connect to other corporate applications and collaboration tools. And, guess what? IT made accommodations because the most vocal requestors were often the most senior executives.
However, letting a few smart mobile devices inside the enterprise IT tent invariably led to letting in more users; other executives; members of the IT staff. Then came the Android requests. More users. More complexity. What was manageable at a small scale introduced two issues as the device base grew. Administrative support increases were immediately recognizable. Lean IT staffs were now supporting devices that users assumed to be a right to operate and not a privilege. And, the specter of corporate data residing on personal devices opened risks of security breaches and irrevocable loss of sensitive data.
The quaint days of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server were recalled longingly. Waiting for BlackBerry became the stall technique. Stem the tide of non-BB smart devices until the Torch and PlayBook come out. Those product launches were the final straw. It was clear to users and IT that neither the BB Torch nor PlayBook nor anything in BlackBerry’s product pipeline was going to rival the Apple iOS and Android devices in the near term. The tipping point was reached either in late 2010 or early 2011.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) was ready and waiting for the market to open up. Numerous vendors began offering BlackBerry-like administrative consistency if not BlackBerry-like security. For all of their shortcomings, MDM in the early phase offered three things:
- A BlackBerry mobility management alternative to evaluate
- The ability to move from ad hoc to standardized management of non-BlackBerry devices
- Low cost trials that introduced IT to the new world
MDM adoption is increasing rapidly because users want the functionality of new devices and employers are recognizing that smart mobile devices not only make employees happier, they increase productivity. In a recent survey of Government IT decision makers by MeriTalk, 49 percent responded that the primary driver behind support for mobile devices is the desire for increased productivity.
One CIO in 2010 commented in a private session that resistance to the introduction of smart mobile devices was futile for a different reason. If corporations continue to restrict the use of iOS and Android devices, they will be fighting a losing battle. Employees want to use these devices and eventually they will leave places that do not allow them. That would leave companies with the wrong the set of employees along with sacrificing the productivity benefits.
Catching up…or Falling Behind Again
With MDM adoption, many IT organizations feel like they are finally catching up and on their way to taming the mobility tiger. They can now remotely manage the administrative burden of multiple device platforms in a standardized manner and have tools such as containerization and remote wipe and lock features to address data security holes. However, the trend thus far would suggest that solving one problem often leads to the emergence of another.
For those familiar with Theory of Constraints you will recognize this as shifting the bottle neck to the next weakest link in the value chain. So what is the next bottleneck in the Mobility Catch-up game? It’s not what you think.
Catching up to the Next Enterprise Mobility Bottleneck
While Mobile Device Management (MDM) is helping enterprises address the multi-device platform management and security challenge, it is also shifting the mobility bottleneck. Enterprises that enable liberal use smart mobile devices quickly discover that with new capabilities come new challenges.
Most people think that enabling applications to run seamlessly on mobile devices is the next place to focus. It is important, but another issue typically crops up before they can get started with applications: wireless infrastructure typically can’t handle the increased device and data load.
Before MDM, most users were subjected to using their non-corporate issued devices in the guest wireless local access network (WLAN). These networks typically had fewer channels for devices to access, less coverage and often less available bandwidth. With MDM, many of these smart mobile devices are allowed to access higher grade wireless access points (WAP) with gigabit Ethernet connections. As soon as critical mass in devices occurs, wireless networks become saturated and calls to the IT help desk start streaming in.
Think Concurrent Devices, Not Users
What is going on here? First, most of the enterprise WLAN infrastructure in office buildings was designed for a single device per user. The laptop didn’t disappear and now new smart mobile devices are also connecting. The good old days of WLAN planning of two years ago suggested concurrent device capacity was equal to one per user in the area served. Cisco today recommends planning for three devices per user. There is some clear math behind it. One laptop plus one tablet plus one smart phone equals three devices per user. Harris IT Services, for example, recently estimated that it is currently dealing with 2.7 devices per user, along with expectation of further growth.
The point here is technical but easy to understand. Wireless access in any given area is constrained to the number of channels available to allocate to devices. More devices means more channels are needed to serve them. This means more WAPs are required as are high density WLAN planning techniques. Given the growth in mobile usage worldwide and the adoption of MDM, it is no wonder that IDC reported 29 percent in enterprise WLAN growth for 2011. Expect this trend to continue and maybe accelerate.
To make matters worse, smart mobile devices are bandwidth hogs. Smart phones and tablets are used for content consumption at a greater rate than laptops and PCs which are the workhorses local processing and content creation. One example can be found in Ooyala’s 2011 Video Index report. It found that mobile users were nearly twice as likely as PC users to watch at least three quarters of a video clip. That’s a lot of additional bandwidth.
This correlates with the findings of other indices such as the Cisco Visual Networking Index. Cisco’s analysis predicts a 78 percent compound annual growth rate in mobile data usage between 2011 and 2016 – and they have been raising the estimate each year as the actual usage data is reviewed. In some instances this requires enterprises to upgrade their WLAN wired connections to gigabit Ethernet. In others they may want to use wider frequency channels available in 5GHz spectrum. This requires more 802.11n access points.
Beyond the Mobility Bottleneck – Mobile Infrastructure Management
Mobile device usage assumes and enterprise application delivery requires always on connectivity. This is where Mobile Infrastructure Management (MIM) becomes a central and immediate concern. To take full advantage of the mobile devices, they must be able to connect reliably and deliver a comparable experience to the wired network. This fact will only increase as mission critical enterprise computing becomes more available on mobile platforms. A holistic enterprise mobility approach proactively addresses infrastructure along with MDM and application delivery plans.
The trends are clear. More mobile devices and more mobile bandwidth load are overwhelming WLANs that were designed for another era. While MDM is solving problems with mobile device security and administration, it is hastening WLAN saturation. It is time for enterprises to proactively adopt MDM’s twin brother, Mobile Infrastructure Management (MIM), as it plans for mobility support. This requires a new set of metrics to forecast number of devices and bandwidth consumption based on rapidly evolving usage patterns.
Enabling mobile ready enterprise applications is a clear imperative for many organizations to achieve their productivity goals. However, the first roadblock after MDM is ensuring sufficient mobile infrastructure capacity is present so mobile users can reliably access those applications.