Preston Gralla: The new PCs, in more ways than one

Remember how PCs came to dominate corporate computing? It's all going to happen again with tablets and smartphones.

"Hello, IT professional. Welcome to your new job -- designing network architecture for, and supporting, tablets like the iPad and smartphones, including Android phones, iPhones and those that run Windows Phone 7.

"What work will you do with PCs? None; that's not part of your job description. We've got a few people tucked away in the back room for that. But those who do all the high-end work around here focus on tablets and smartphones."

If you're in IT, don't be surprised if one day you hear that when you walk into a new job. Enterprises are being flooded with iPads, iPhones and Android phones, and that's only going to accelerate.

These new tablets and smartphones haven't been built for the enterprise, and so they're typically not part of an enterprise's existing computing and network architecture. But that won't stop them from being used, and so IT has to contend with them.

Many in IT already have to ramp up every time nifty new technology gets introduced, such as the recently released iPad 2, because they know that, like it or not, they're going to have to support it. Dave Codack, vice president of employee technology and network services at TD Bank Financial Group, summed it up best when he told Computerworld, "I have coined this 'the tyranny of consumerization.' The enterprise is not dictating technology with these devices; the revolt is coming from the end-user community."

Codak's staff, which supports 81,000 end users, is knee-deep in testing the iPad for use in the enterprise, and is planning to test the iPad 2 as well as the upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

Today, these devices usually sneak in the back door; tomorrow, they'll strut in via the front. That's the way it's worked in the past. In the early days of PCs, many in IT believed that real men and women didn't use PCs -- they worked with big-iron mainframes. PCs were considered by many at the time as little more than toys. But PCs and software like spreadsheets were brought in to the enterprise by a variety of under-the-radar methods, such as being paid for out of expense accounts.

And those "toys" were so useful that they became grudgingly accepted. Think of them at the time as the tail of the dog. Then they proved their usefulness time and time again; suddenly the tail wagged the dog. Eventually the tail became nearly the entire dog.

Expect a similar transformation with tablets and smartphones. These devices may be small, but they're fully powered computers, and in many ways are more complicated than PCs because of the variety of radios and sensors built into them.

Already, they're forcing enterprises to do more than merely support them -- they're forcing a change in enterprises' basic computing infrastructure. The wireless LAN market has begun to boom, largely because of tablets. According to Computerworld, Infonetics Research says sales of wireless LAN equipment jumped to $769 million for the fourth quarter of 2010, a 28% increase over the same period in 2009. Dell'Oro Group says that wireless network revenue for 2010 was up 25% over the previous year.

Why the sudden jump? Roger Hockaday, a marketing director at Aruba Networks, says it's the iPad effect. Enterprises are adding to and upgrading their wireless networks so that people can use iPads anywhere in a corporation. As a result, he says, the wireless network market has undergone more change in the last six months than it did over the last six years.

That's just the beginning. Entire network and security architectures will eventually be redone and supported for tablets and smartphones. So if you use a smartphone or tablet, you may well be holding the future of IT right in your hand.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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