Apple's iCloud and iOS 5: New challenges for the enterprise

Could business data escape the workplace and get lost in the cloud?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is known for wowing audiences with his presentation style and with new and polished technologies for Apple's desktops, mobile devices and media services. His keynote address Monday at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was no exception. Jobs and other Apple executives showed off some of the features of the company's Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion," which is due out next month; the next generation of its iOS mobile platform; and the company's new cloud service, known as iCloud.

Apple and its products are generally seen as focused solely on consumers, though the ongoing march of iPads and iPhones into workplaces of all shapes and sizes is beginning to make Apple a fairly common tech brand in businesses and enterprises.

So, what do yesterday's announcements mean for the enterprise?

Ubiquitous data

Let's start with iCloud, which aims to provide ubiquitous access to anyone's data across every computing device available. Given that Apple now considers a PC or Mac to be just another "device," this could have some serious implications when it comes to the line between home and work.

On the surface, iCloud is simply a consumer solution for syncing personal data: music, app and e-book purchases; personal photos and videos; and personal information such as contacts and calendars. It also offers a free email account. Those aren't likely to affect the workplace much.

But the document sync and device backup features are bigger issues in the enterprise for a simple reason: They allow information about your company to be stored outside of your infrastructure and place control of that information under a user's personal Apple ID.

Granted, some of that risk already exists. A user can theoretically backup a device (personally or company-owned) to an outside computer or use any number of cloud storage solutions -- Dropbox, Box.net, Apple's existing iDisk, Google Docs and others -- to transfer business information away from the workplace. The difference is that a user has to make an effort to do so, while iCloud will do this all automatically. A user might not even be aware that it's happening; background operation and ease of use is, after all, what Apple is aiming for.

While document syncing may seem like the initial red flag, the bigger concern involves cloud backups. Document syncing will need to be implemented by app developers -- only Apple's iWork is slated to get it right now -- and each app appears to need user activation first. Device backup is expected to include purchased content, photos and videos shot with a device, ring tones, all device-wide settings, home screen layout, text/MMS messages and app data. That app data is the big concern, because that could mean almost anything, depending on the particular app -- everything from game scores to student grades and attendance to performance reviews, sales figures and meeting notes.

Keith Shaw talks with Computerworld News Editor Ken Mingis about today's Apple developer conference announcements, including the new iCloud service, iOS 5 updates and Mac OS X Lion.

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