Should your IT department support the iPhone?

As the iPhone gains enterprise cred, sysadmins may have no choice

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Granted, the entire range of profiles isn't available, but basic ones such as requiring a passcode to unlock the iPhone are available. Exchange also enables remote wipe, making it one of the more powerful options for using an iPhone in the enterprise.

If you don't have Exchange, and don't want to spend money on it, there are a number of less-expensive alternatives -- Kerio MailServer, Zimbra and Communigate Pro -- that still provide the core features of Exchange by licensing Microsoft's ActiveSync.

Another third-party product is Good for Enterprise. This suite allows you to secure not just iPhones, but also Android and Palm WebOS devices such as the Pre and Pixi. Good offers this security by using its own native iPhone application. The app provides much of the same groupware functionality that the iPhone's Mail, Calendar, and Contacts apps provide, but enterprise data is stored in encrypted form and can be remotely wiped from the device when necessary.

This provides better security than even the built-in Exchange support and is relatively easy to configure and manage, though an appropriate collaboration suite such as Exchange or Domino is required. Even with Good, though, you may want to further secure the iPhone using configuration profiles.

Testing and preparation

If your company is poised to deal with iPhones in the year ahead, one of your best options may be to try a pilot program. This allows you to see whether the iPhone can meet your security requirements and how to make that happen in the most effective manner possible.

It also lets you demonstrate your security concerns to managers who want to implement the iPhone. If meeting security needs will require significant manpower or a serious software/hardware investment, or means disabling too many core iPhone technologies, a pilot program is an ideal way to find out. It also allows you to get some hands-on experience in effectively deploying and managing the iPhone in your environment.

Another benefit to a pilot program is that it helps you identify the risks, solutions, deployment issues and support requirements that will be needed if the iPhone expands beyond a just couple of people. And it has the advantage of building good will from management, because you've demonstrated you're willing to really consider the impact of the iPhone rather than just saying no right away. If you decide the pilot program isn't successful, at least you can say you tried. Then you can move on to alternative options.

And if the pilot program is successful to some degree, it should give you the information you need to successfully roll out the iPhone. That's important information to have as the iPhone continues to evolve and gain an even stronger foothold in the enterprise. With most of the hardware and software pieces in place -- and with the iPhone's continuing popularity -- it's a virtual certainty that more companies will be looking to roll it out, at least on a trial basis, in 2010.

In a future piece, I'll spell out what it takes to develop and run an effective and accurate iPhone pilot program in a large organization.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. His most recent book is The iPhone for Work, published by Apress. You can find more information at www.ryanfaas.com and can e-mail Ryan at ryan@ryanfaas.com.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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