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Beyond the Walls of the Enterprise

Why managing mobile applications deserves special attention

Most in IT understand that mobile applications are unique. In terms of development, delivery, and management things just are not quite the same as compared to your typical enterprise application. There are many reasons for these differences including new and different programming models and languages, different application packaging and delivery, different development and testing methodologies, and more. While all of these are interesting and have profound effects, in talking to enterprise IT shops there is one major difference that sticks out a little more than most: mobile applications live beyond the walls of the enterprise.

Enterprise IT is all about the application, or perhaps better put, it is all about the services offered up via applications. If you look at just about any instance of enterprise infrastructure technology, you can usually talk about how it helps one to develop or deploy or manage applications (sometimes all three). To be fair, the types of applications and their purposes may vary widely, but they typically share an important characteristic. That common thread is that these applications are usually deployed to and managed from a datacenter that is under the control of the enterprise or a third-party provider. This is usually not the case, or at least not the whole story, with mobile applications.

If you consider anything beyond a simple mobile application that is nothing more than launching the device browser and pointing to a ‘mobilized' web page, the difference in mobile applications probably sticks out to you. The application is in the hands of the end-user. More specifically, all or some portion of the application is installed on the user's device. Does this really matter? I contend that it does, and I believe it warrants a number of considerations for the enterprise when evaluating technology that helps to manage mobile applications. In my mind, this includes at least the following:

- Managing application versions: With mobile applications, the process of updating an application is not the same as with traditional applications. It is not a matter of only updating content deployed on some server within the management domain of the organization. In all likelihood, portions of the application are installed on the user's device, so the enterprise must have some control over that aspect of the application. This entails many capabilities such as the ability to directly push application updates to user devices as well as the ability to disable applications and force application upgrades.

- Managing application access and distribution: This is especially pressing in the scenario where organizations are creating mobile applications for use within the enterprise. In this case, organizations need to be able to control user access to applications. For instance, an organization may want to restrict access to certain applications until a user protects their device with a suitably strong password. Additionally, enterprises need the flexibility to distribute applications to their internal users. As an example, a company may want to distribute a particular anti-virus application to all users that connect to the company intranet with their mobile devices. The management of application access and distribution will only increase in importance as the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend continues.

- Managing application security: This actually seems to be one of the biggest concerns enterprises voice today in the mobile application realm. Any sort of mobile application technology must provide a means to secure all aspects of the environment. This means the enterprise needs mechanisms to secure application artifacts on the device, secure application data on the device, and secure mobile application access to existing enterprise information systems. Absent these measures, mobile applications present a huge vulnerability and expose an organization to a level of risk that is simply not acceptable for their brand.

These are just a few of the management considerations which I believe take on a slightly different context in the mobile application realm. But that is enough from me! What do you think? How is your organization addressing some of these unique mobile application needs? Connect with me @damrhein.

More Stories By Dustin Amrhein

Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.

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