With its shopping, games and video apps, there is nothing more consumer-oriented than Apple's iPad. But the popular touch-screen device is already making its presence known in corporate IT -- with or without official sanction.
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Corporate "C-level" execs who want to play with their new toys are leading the charge, and they expect the VARs supporting their IT to support their iPad use for business.
The iPad is following in the footsteps of its older (but littler) brother, the iPhone. Dismissed as a strictly consumer product at first, the iPhone nonetheless forced corporate IT to pay attention. (Microsoft even added Exchange Server support.)
All that prep work will make the iPad's entry into corporate LANs easier, VARs said.
"On SSL VPNs, there is no issue to running an iPad," said Luke Wignall, managing partner with Denver-based Common Knowledge Technology LLC. "If an iPhone works, an iPad will work. They are arguably identical, except for the larger display. And a larger display is what the iPhone users wanted."
Network administrators can stamp their feet and hold their noses, but these devices will be in-house soon -- if they're not already, members of the SearchITChannel.com advisory board said. And it's not just high-ranking execs: Worker bees bring their iPads into the office, too, because it rationalizes their purchase. Many see it as a way to write off their iPad purchase on their taxes, VARs said.
iPads in corporate IT: Workhorse or eye candy?
The popularity of these touch-screen devices highlights a trend that cropped up in the last year. Many mobile workers want a device that's smaller than bulky laptops but bigger than their cell phones and has a more useable display. Netbooks fulfilled this need for some, but for many others, even netbooks are too large.
"I can't defend this choice," Wignall said. "These are pure eye-candy, but [iPads] are out there."
"The long and short of it is it's driven the same way as the original iPhones," he said. "They didn't really work well. They were a square peg in a round hole. They didn't fit into Exchange environments. But, here we are watching Blackberrys getting booted out [of IT accounts by iPhones] on a regular basis."
For VARs that do custom application development, the iPad/iPhone combo represents a new revenue opportunity. Database Solutions Inc., a King of Prussia, Pa.-based VAR, has a few iPads in-house because it must develop applications for them -- even though CEO George Brown is not a huge fan of the device itself.
"People are spending foolishly [without] knowing what they're getting," Brown said. "There will be buyer's remorse. … [iPads] are difficult to carry. You can't print. They don't support USB drives."
Compliance-sensitive shops reject iPad
Another problem is that organizations in certain industries will not tolerate the incursion of iPads and iPhones into their IT infrastructure because of compliance reasons, said Kevin McDonald, executive vice president of Alvaka Networks Inc. in Irvine, Calif.
"On the HIPAA side and in ITAR, [customers] were booting iPhones," McDonald said. "We're removing them in favor of the Blackberry." (ITAR refers to the U.S. State Department's International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which outlaw the export of critical technologies that could be used against the U.S.)
"You can't centrally manage them or control the apps," McDonald said. "You can't remote-delete with any assurance. And in an environment where you absolutely must prove where the data goes and where it's stored, if it's encrypted, you cannot do that with an iPhone or iPad."
In short, the strength of the iPad and iPhone -- the availability of thousands of apps -- is also their weakness when it comes to security. To be fair, Google's Android phones fall into the same trap, McDonald said.
"There are thousands of these apps, and the vetting process is lacking," he said. "You don't get the source code, you get the interface code, and there are examples of apps that collect sensitive data from users. If you're a manufacturer and your employees have these phones, who knows what data is being collected?"
With the IT friendly Blackberry, he continued, there's a nuclear option that allows administrators to wipe the device completely via remote, even if someone has removed the SIM card.