iPad culture shock for IT

The iPad doesn't have software drivers, a real operating system, the all-important Explorer browser or client-server applications

Thanks to the iPad, the traditional IT culture is about to be upended.

Consider the career path of the techie and the training involved. You start out as a technician, rise to management, then maybe go on to a leadership position and become a CTO or CIO. Each step supports hardware and software that largely hasn't changed.

But then it does, here comes the iPad.

"It's a whole different way," says Aaron Freimark, IT director at Apple services firm Tekserve, which helps Fortune 1000 companies adopt the iPad.

The culture shock stems from the notion that the iPad doesn't have software drivers, a real operating system, the all-important Explorer browser or client-server applications. It's a vastly new platform where software kind of disappears.

On the hardware side, there aren't any screws or power supplies.

The media-fed chaos concerning iPads in the enterprise doesn't help matters, either. "CIOs will read one article where there's a lot of confusion and another article of an iPad success story," Freimark says. "It's very disorienting."

What is IT to do?

Smart CIOs will cut through the confusion and see the iPad for what it is: an opportunity to break out of the technical trappings that have isolated them from the business side for decades.

"Some of the best of us will say, 'Good riddance'" to the old ways, Freimark says. "Now we're able to concentrate on having people be productive with technology."

Freimark shares more of his thoughts on the subject in an interview with CIO.com to clear up some of the iPad confusion.

Apple hasn't been a friend to the CIO in the past. The iPad's rapid rise in the enterprise puts a real strain on the relationship. How can CIOs overcome this problem?

Freimark: A lot of companies aren't getting the help from Apple that they would like, either from sourcing or for guidance about what's coming in the future or even how to roll out an iPad pilot program. Anyone who claims to be looking into the future with Apple products is lying or breaking their agreements.

That said, if you're paying close attention, there are a lot of things you can read in the tea leaves. You can see which direction things are going. For instance, Apple is a very savvy device manufacturer that doesn't want lots of specialized models of their equipment. They want a single platform that everyone uses. So I don't think I'll ever see a business-class iPad.

Apple does open up and gives a glimpse of the future for one week of the year at its WWDC. They announced a bunch of stuff around iOS 5. Another thing Apple announced that's really good for businesses is a volume purchasing program. Some of us have worked with this same program in education. It really solves a huge problem.

(For more on Apple's volume purchasing program, including the tricky language used to describe Apple's business app reviews process, check out iPad Apps: Is Apple Courting the Enterprise?)

You started a blog/forum/wiki nearly a year ago for iOS administrators, called enterpriseios.com. What are some of the hot topics bubbling on the blog?

Freimark: The two words—iOS and administrator—don't fit too well together. iOS is supposed to be very easy and friendly, everyone loves it, no one needs a manual. It doesn't need administrators. Yet a CIO will know it's not quite that simple.

There are very specific, sometimes very odd, strategies you have to take in order to procure, configure and deploy iPads. There are different strategies for imaging, maintenance, lifecycle and even retirement.

What's been talked about most is mobile device management (MDM), which is just one piece. You also need to look at physical device management and security. There's software development, apps management, security on apps, data integration.

Then there's one thing that doesn't get talked about too much, and it's really the only important thing: security of data. There's no easy solution for that right now. Good Technology tries to get there by doing an end-run around the ecosystem, but you're almost running an operating system in an operating system at that point.

You're right about the focus on MDM solutions. How do you size up the market?

Freimark: On my blog, I have up to 80 points of comparison between MDM providers. It's hard to find where the differences lie and how to choose one over another.

You've got two classes of vendors. One has been around for a long time, either in Windows Mobile or the BlackBerry ecosystem or Windows management. Then you have a lot of startups and little guys.

At MDM's core is an XML file you generate and downloaded to an iOS device. To me, it's simply policy management on the device. It doesn't take a lot of expertise, knowledge or smarts to set that up. But this also doesn't satisfy what a CIO needs.

CIOs are looking for somebody who understands enterprise. For instance, we had a hell of a time with a customer trying to get push notification signals through the firewall. Some MDM vendors have done a fantastic job in splitting up their services, so you put the relay in the DMZ and everything else can live inside the LAN. That's done specifically for firewalls.

Only a company that has enterprise expertise is going to be able to figure that sort of thing out. Otherwise, it's up to the CIO and tech staff.

With some of the cloud-based vendors, you've got to open up your LDAP and push that out to everybody, which then leaves your directory services exposed to the Internet. It's a terrible idea for some places.

The great thing about the environment today is that there are lots of possibilities. We're seeing some consolidation—RIM bought Ubitexx (earlier this summer)—and you'll see technology coming together.

As more vendors and customers start realizing that policy management is only one piece of the puzzle and that there needs to be an ecosystem, you'll start seeing consolidation of different pieces. Hopefully, they'll fit well.

What do you want to see?

Freimark: I'd love to see a standard of interoperability and communication, so that you can plug and play your MDM vendor, app management piece and file management piece together. They communicate laterally, server to server on the back-end.

We're starting to see some of it, like the partnership between Apperian and Boxtone. There's the proposed public encryption standard for iOS documents from GroupLogic's mobilEcho. This would allow documents to be freely and openly interchanged.

One of the biggest benefits to users for iOS apps is the ability to take a document and put it in another app using the button that looks like a rectangle with an arrow coming out of it. But that's just making a second copy of your document. You can make another copy and another copy and another copy. If it's an unencrypted document with sensitive information, that can be a real nightmare scenario.

The GroupLogic solution can solve this. The best thing about these initiatives is that they don't require Apple to make changes.

(When it comes to e-mailing encrypted documents from an iOS device, Sybase contends Apple must tweak its iOS. For more on this, check out Apple Gets Serious About iPad Security, Is It Enough?)

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Tom Kaneshige

CIO (US)

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