Taking Back IT

Oct 14 2011   7:51AM GMT

Admins Anonymous: A BYOD support group at Dell World

Colin Steele Colin Steele Profile: Colin Steele

By Bridget Botelho, Senior Site Editor

AUSTIN, Texas — A session here at Dell World on the convergence of endpoint devices turned out to be a support group for administrators dealing with the consumerization of IT and bring-your-own-device policies.

About 100 IT folks weighed the pros and cons of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and shared their experiences of begrudgingly supporting personal smartphones, iPads and other tablets in addition to corporate-owned PCs.

Part of the problem is that the BYOD concept goes against the ideals of platform standardization in corporations. Tablets are convenient, but they have limitations, so end users can’t ditch their PCs entirely.

“Users can’t use their iPad to run AutoCAD, but they don’t care,” one attendee said. “They still want one. All we can do is be flexible and suggest specs and configurations, but we see the gamut of devices anyway.”

That sense of defeat was palpable in the room. Administrators know that the consumerization of IT is happening, with or without their support.

“You have to support them, because end users are circumventing IT in ways you wouldn’t believe,” another attendee said.

In companies that do let employees use their tablets for work, IT ends up managing multiple platforms per end user, which is obviously not a popular concept among time-strapped administrators.

“We have all of these employees who want iPads, and if we let them use those devices, we end up supporting all these different browsers and applications and wireless environments,” one attendee griped. “These are the same employees who don’t even know what a wireless connection is.”

Other attendees shared stories of end users who they said are too clueless to take responsibility for their own devices — particularly when running corporate applications on them. Many end users don’t know how to ensure a connection is secure, for instance.

One answer to that problem is desktop virtualization, which lets IT remotely deliver a corporate desktop image and also kill that image if a device is stolen, compromised or infected by a virus.

There are plenty of IT shops that support BYOD using desktop virtualization, particularly in higher education, where students bring their own Macs, iPads and Android devices and expect to access university apps and data on those devices anytime, from anywhere.

The corporate world uses that approach as well. One session attendee said her employer gives each employee a $1,200 stipend every three years to buy devices and support from the vendor of his or her choice, so that the company IT department does not have to support those devices. Administrators simply deliver virtual desktops to end users and manage the desktop image on the back end.

Whether that approach to BYOD saves companies money depends, because large companies get client devices at a corporate discount. Desktop virtualization isn’t exactly cheap, either, and there are also some performance limitations with remote desktops that vendors still have to overcome.

But the multi-device movement is happening with or without IT support, so it’s a good idea to investigate some BYOD options. As Steve Schuckenbrock, president of Dell Services, said this week, IT has little choice but to embrace the notion of consumerization.

“The always-on, always-available infrastructure is bringing itself to bear in the commercial space,” he said. “CIOs can either fend it off or embrace it and support the availability everywhere, anytime. … It’s innovate or die.”

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