Is bring your own device (BYOD) a trend or is it here to stay? A quick look at the numbers affirms its widespread popularity, with over 150 million employee-owned devices being put to work today. As with any trend, we must stop and consider how long this rapid rate of adoption can continue. A recent report by Juniper Research sees no peak in sight, suggesting the number of smartphones in the enterprise could eclipse 350 million by 2014.
"The rapid adoption of high end smartphones and tablets including iPhones, iPads and Android devices along with the number of easily accessible apps is driving this concept forward," said Juniper. "Cloud based services, accessible from almost anywhere, are also a key factor."
Despite the promise of cloud-based mobility, BYOD still presents some concerns. The report highlighted the importance of developing comprehensive end-user policies and adopting mobile device management (MDM) solutions to enforce those policies. According to the report's author, Nitin Bhas, the rising enterprise mobility demand requires flexible MDM technology and security policies.
Mobile device security starts with policy
As a Virtualization Review blog post pointed out, the challenge isn't just the number of mobile devices entering the enterprise, it's the increasingly diverse mobile environment.
"The traditional workplace, dominated by Windows-based desktops and laptops, has suddenly given way to a new workspace featuring a hybrid blend of form factors, platforms and work styles," the post stated. "We refer to this new world as the User Workspace, and it covers mobile devices, tablets, desktops, laptops, Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and much more. Today's users are no longer restricted to one device or one platform, or even one application - they expect to be able to work on every device, whether it is personally owned or provided by their company."
The first challenge that needs to be addressed is balancing user freedom with the company's need for security. One of the approaches the post recommended is using virtualization to keep sensitive data stored in the company's data centers, rather than on individual devices. However, policy still plays an important role with this approach because the company needs to be able determine user access levels and plan an authentication process.
Virtualization doesn't replace MDM
One advantage a comprehensive MDM solution offers is the ability to control access to sensitive data and resources. Migrating resources to the cloud or using virtual networks prevents data loss, but what happens if a device is stolen? Does the attacker automatically gain access to company data if he or she breaks into the device?
MDM technology can provide an additional layer of security by managing access and enforcing strong security policies. Businesses using a hybrid approach can achieve even more benefits - if some company data still resides on employee devices, then both access and the devices themselves need to be managed.