Is this iCloud for the enterprise?

By Jonny Evans

Tell your IT department the old days when they could say Apple [AAPL] products are too hard to support on your corporate network are gone. Apple continues to explode across the enterprise -- and there's a rapidly growing list of enterprise class management and secure environment tools designed to make deployment of any Apple product easy, affordable and secure.

Screen_shot_2011-06-22_at_18_08_13.jpg

[ABOVE: Standard Chartered Bank with 1,800 branches delivers mobile services both internally and to its customers, using iPhones and iPads.]

Heterogenous enviroments thrive

I've talked before on how Apple's  benefiting from a more liberal 'bring-your-own-device' culture and driving new opportunities for vendors in the space. These include old names like RIM,  and less well-known players including Absolute Software and Cortado.

Cortado this week introduced a new version of its Corporate Server product, the first version of the software to deliver secure environments to iOS, Symbian, Android and RIM platforms.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

The solution delivers data security and encryption, document previews, cloud-based print and many more features designed to secure enterprise communications.

With a view to the rapidly growing presence of Apple products within enterprise environments, Cortado claims to offer the first business solution that enables full encryption of local documents on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. 

iCloud for the enterprise?

You get a: "Full desktop experience, including corporate file access and printing support, with an iPad or smartphone-optimized interface, which is able to interact with any resource of the mobile device or any other app," said Thorsten Hesse, Manager of Innovative Solutions.

Gartner believes Apple will dominate the tablet market until 2015 and Apple has claimed 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies are testing or deploying the iPad within their organizations.

Recent examples of enterprises deploying iPad include the likes of Xerox, AutoNation, YUM! Brands, ADP, Boston Scientific, Estee Lauder, Disney, Stryker, Prudential Financial, Rite Aid, and USAA.

Why might enterprise users such as these perhaps choose a secure cloud-based system such as Cortado's? Why not stick with virtualization solutions, such as VMware?

"We believe in the 'Cloud Desktop'," Hesse responds. "If you are currently using a computer with a full screen and a keyboard, a Windows-based virtual desktop (like the one VMware offers) will probably be the cloud desktop of choice.  But, if you are using other devices, like smartphones or tablets, our Desktop as an App approach fits much better. That means we deliver the desktop functionalities to the device without the need to run a full windows machine for each user in the backend. We think that in the future the data center guys will promote Desktop as an App or a web-based Desktop, because of the much lower need of resources in the backend. While we already provide a Desktop as an app solution today, we are working hard to release our HTML5 web desktop version."

Resistance is futile

This is part of a big shift in the attitude of enterprise users to Apple products.

Stephen Midgley, VP of Global Marketing at Absolute Software says the shift is real: "Over the past few years we've seen a major shift in the ways IT departments approach Apple devices, especially as they have become more popular. One of the key reasons for this shift is that there are finally cross platform lifecycle management systems, allowing any organization to integrate iOS devices without having to dump their PC interface and corresponding management system."

Traditionally, IT support staff have been resistant to Apple products, complaining they impose extra demands on already stressed and (more likely) non-Apple-trained staff.

With Apple becoming ever more likely for enterprise deployments, these excuses seem weak today, as comprehensive lifecycle and mobile device management solutions are emerging which let IT shops manage Apple devices from their desks.

Apple is a serious enterprise tool. "In fact, we often see the desire to use iOS devices in the enterprise comes down from senior level management who'd like to integrate their personal devices into the company's enterprise network," Midgley informs.

With the introduction of iOS 4.2, Apple has allowed external management of Apple devices.This has opened doors for third party developers to deliver solutions for device management, such as Absolute's own.

These tools are suitable for Macs, iPhones, iPads and PCs, and with Apple's iPad leading its charge into enterprise sales and Mac enterprise sales up 66 percent in recent months, Apple is the only firm delivering such levels of growth in the sector.

BlackBerry -- crushed?

BlackBerry is losing grip on enterprise users, with Apple devices on the one hand and Android on the other gaining traction in the traditional heartland of the Canadian firm. "Based on these numbers, it's clear that the BlackBerry no longer has the monopoly on enterprise devices," says Midgley.

The cost of ownership is emerging to be another key factor. Square Group chief, Darren King, last month confirmed: "Total cost of ownership (TCO) for a Mac vs a comparable Wintel device over 3-4 years is actually lower!"

BlackBerry is definitely suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at this point, but parent company RIM has a plan to maintain relevance by offering its own multi-device deployment and management tools.

"There are other devices out there, employees are buying them and it is a real challenge for IT departments how to manage those," explains Anthony Payne, RIM's director of Platform Marketing last month. "They don't want to have to say 'no' all the time. We think that by offering device management tools like these, we're offering the opportunity to have BlackBerry at the core, but to still be able to manage other devices."

Apple's soul heads to the clouds

But have vendors with tools to manage devices looked far ahead enough? Apple's move to offer iCloud services promises new breeds of remote based usage. Sure, we may be looking at simple document and music library sync today, but one day the software soul will be in the cloud, while devices themselves become less imperative.

Of course, this raises questions of security. Take Dropbox, which left all its accounts completely unguarded for four long hours last weekend. This will not do for enterprise users.

"IT today should see cloud providers such as Dropbox and Google as a benchmark," says Hesse. "With our Cortado Corporate Server they can provide a secure, state of the art cloud services for their employees that can also be used on multiple devices.  It's like iCloud for the enterprise. If people like iCloud for their personal files, they will like our solution for business-related use."

Clearly, we're in a post-PC age in which the cloud becomes the computer and the device you use comes down to personal taste. Yet, with Apple in the ascendancy in the mobile and tablet spaces and healthy growth in Mac sales to enterprise users, the company clearly has a big part to play.

From April 2010 to March 2011, Mac OS X climbed from 9.1% to 11%, said Forrester in a report released yesterday. Macs now account for 1-in-10 corporate computers.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Windows hegemony seems shaky -- Windows XP still accounts for 6-in-10 PCs in corporations. This suggests Microsoft is failing to convince its users to upgrade to its latest OS, while Apple is finally succeeding in convincing enterprises to adopt a whole new platform.

What are your thoughts? Please say your piece in comments below. Otherwise, please follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when new reports get published here first on Computerworld.    

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon