Mobile Virtualization – Solving the BYOD Problem

For many users today, how they use technology is defined by mobile devices. Their primary device is not a desktop computer, or even a laptop. Instead, it’s a tablet or a smartphone. Instead of data stored on a hard drive or a USB stick, corporate data is now stored in the cloud and accessed as needed by users. If we look at the number of PCs versus smartphones sold, the trend is clear. In the 3rd quarter of 2014, analysts estimate that 79.4 million PCs were sold – compared to 301 million smartphones in the same period.

This changes the relationship that IT has with end users. In the past, they would have given their users PCs that they could centrally control. However, for many organizations, that policy has not been acceptable: mobile devices are thought of as “personal” in a way that PCs are not.

The result has been the rise of BYOD, short for Bring Your Own Device. Users buy their own devices and are responsible for them, but the company pays at least some of the costs.  In theory, everyone is happy: the user gets to use a device they chose, the company sees reduced costs and increased usage of newer, more efficient IT systems. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, BYOD can turn out not be a dream, but a nightmare. Company data ends up being mixed with personal data and thus put at a higher risk of leakage. The devices can also be compromised and used to target the rest of an organization. BYOD can turn out to be Bring Your Own Disaster.

There have been attempts to try and fix this, but they don’t work all that well. They try to separate the personal and the work-related on the device, but for both the user and the company they’re difficult to use.

So, what is a good solution to this seemingly intractable problem? We can look to the world of PCs for a possible solution. In a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), users access virtual machines running on a server. Why can’t we do something similar for mobile devices?

Let’s call it a Virtual Mobile Infrastructure, or VMI. The client on the phone will do nothing but access a virtual mobile operating system running on company servers. Because it’s essentially the same OS as they’re used to on their devices, user acceptance should be high.

More importantly, though, a properly implemented VMI solution would not leave data at risk on the user’s device. There are many industries where this would be useful: for example, in medicine, there would be no risk that sensitive medical data would actually leave hospital servers. In industries where there are severe regulatory restrictions on how and where data can be accessed, this can allow employees to work in a more flexible manner.

VMI is an option that enterprises looking into implementing BYOD policies should seriously consider. BYOD brings many benefits to a company, but also attendant risks. VMI helps manage those risks so that companies can fully enjoy BYOD while reducing any potential problems.

 

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