As it is very sensible to use aprivate cloud environment for management, security, and other aspects of mobile applications, it can be expected that mobile devices will soon be the driving force in cloud computing, and vice versa. However, getting to that point will require investment and planning.
A number of companies have already started moving in this direction. For instance, the December 2011 survey of 3,645 IT decision-makers in 8 countries revealed that about a 3rd of the responders believe providing information access to different devices is their main motivation for implementing cloud computing. The survey also proved that cutting costs was only the third most popular reason for resorting to cloud.
With their integration of CMS access for mobile devices into their private cloud, Marcus & Millichap has basically created a mobile cloud. Erie Insurance’s senior VP Eric Miller believes they should prioritize mobile apps first and then port the apps later to mobile, since mobile platforms have more limitations than PCs, which means the apps they create will be more adaptable and scalable compared to the other way around.
One of the challenges encountered by Erie Insurance is the decision on whether to create a Web portal that can adapt itself to any device that connects to it, or to develop a device-specific app. The firm decided to use both approaches instead. For example, customers who use the iPhone can submit photos of an auto accident using the First Notice of Loss app on the iTunes store, with the photo being stored on Erie’s back end servers. But the company also has a web portal that can do the same thing using any mobile device.
According to Juniper Research, the market for cloud-based mobile applications can be expected to grow almost 90% from 2009 to 2014, with ABI Research reporting more than 240 million business customers will have access to cloud computing services through a mobile device by 2015, and the numbers could only increase from there.
As a matter of fact, some would go so far as to state that the sheer number and variety of mobile devices in a given enterprise means that the only means of management would be a centralized method such as a mobile cloud. Any other way of management would not be able to scale effectively, if at all.
Mobile Computing is Different From Mobile Cloud Computing
Even though they sound the same, mobile computing and mobile cloud computingis not the same thing. Basically, mobile computing only requires apps to run on a mobile device natively, with the application itself and all required data stored on the device.
Regular mobile computing has few advantages, particularly with regards to performance. Since the application is run locally on the device, there are no latency and bandwidth problems. However, mobile applications that run natively usually have limited functionality and are not business-class apps. This is why it’s very rare for native applications to be used as serious front ends for database queries.
Mobile cloud computing, on the other hand, runs applications on servers that reside in the cloud. The application data is also stored in the cloud, with only the results being fed back to the mobile device via the Internet.
Mobile cloud computing has the advantage of allowing users to run more robust applications, barring some security concerns. The biggest hurdles they face is that the apps can be subject to latency and network bandwidth issues during the transfer of data between the cloud and the mobile device.The problem with lower bandwidth and a tendency to have intermittent connectivity can be addressed bydevelopers programming the apps with these limitations in mind.
While markedly different, mobile computing and mobile cloud computing are still related to each other since they both involve moving “state” (applications and/or data) from the client to the server.
Creating a Mobile Cloud Environment
Security is a big consideration when it comes to creating a mobile cloud environment, primarily because data must be moved between mobile devices and the cloud via off-site networks. Application development and device management are also important factors, and how organizations approach them will determine the maximum usability of the mobile cloud:
- Security – making sure that data and application are both protected during normal use and when mobile devices are lost
- Mobile Application Development – organizations need to consider whether to build their own apps or purchase custom ones form third parties, providing their own app store or using the ones from Apple and Google, and whether to limit employees to a specific app or not.
- Mobile Device Management – organizations also need to think about whether they will provide employees with company-approved devices or implement a BYOD (bring your own device) policy. Enterprises can take advantage of mobile device management and mobile app management in order to turn their private cloud into a mobile cloud.
Shoring Up Security For Mobile OSes
For the majority of organizations these days, mobile devices access their cloud via the Internet, which is not a good idea as poking a hole in the company’s firewall in order to accommodate a worker’s device is basically the same as poking a hole in the firewall for anyone in the world. There should be an effort to secure a gateway that is specific to mobile devices.
BYOD is another aspect of mobile cloud computing that can introduce security issues. There needs to be a way to ensure that the apps are secure and that the device itself can’t be compromised if it falls into the wrong hands, since a hacker can basically grab the app while it’s being downloaded between the device or just intercept the packets of data going back and forth between the device and the cloud.
Real Estate Brokerage firm Marcus & Millichap handles these security issues by restricting across the board access to corporate databases, and only allowing access to secured daa (such as buildings for sale, inventory, research reports) via a Cisco VPN and a web browser on their tablet, computer, or phone. Agents must access an application providing a view of the inventory database via a browser.
Currently, Marcus & Millichap does not allow remote users to change data, as they need a regional manager to approve changes to status first, further ensuring that the company isn’t vulnerable to outside attacks. During the design of applications, developers always assume that the phone can be lost, but majority of security contingencies will step on the feet of usability. So at the end of the day, there needs to be a coordinated effort between the security folks and the usability group in order to reach a compromise: a secure, yet functional mobile strategy.
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