Computing Everywhere: Contemplating the Future of Endpoint Management

Computing Everywhere: Contemplating the Future of Endpoint Management
computing everywhere

Mobile devices are becoming more-and-more a vital part of enterprise computing. And, reports a researcher speaking at the Gartner Symposium, those systems are evolving on a different trajectory than desktop computing, with fundamental differences that influence decisions about services, trust, and how to manage these endpoints.

During his keynote about the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015 at the Gartner Symposium in Florida on Tuesday, Gartner Fellow David Cearley described next year as “the start of the post-mobile era,” where computing is something taking place, non-stop, all around us. But some of us aren’t quite ready for a new era, particularly one that sounds like something for which we’ll need new clothes, and especially if those clothes include wearable technology.

It’s enough of a task to consider the future of endpoint management, as posited by Terrence Cosgrove, a Research Director with Gartner’s Mobile and Client Computing research group. That provides plenty of challenges for any IT leader trying to polish a crystal ball.

Once, mobile computing was driven by specialized tools, Cosgrove said, but mobile is now general purpose – and it defines the end-user computing experience far more than does a worker sitting at a dedicated workstation.

It’s not just mobility that distinguishes the unique attributes of endpoints (what most of us would call laptops, smartphones, tablets, and anything else you stuff in a backpack and for which you leave the power cable in your hotel room… not that this applies to me, you understand). Cosgrove pointed out that mobile apps are designed in fundamentally different ways from the software that runs on PCs, and their architecture is changing our ideas of services, trust, and how to manage them. This, Cosgrove says, may be for the better – though not always an easy transition.

The baseline level of trust is one example. The PCs on everyone’s desks, and the enterprise applications that ran on them, began with an assumption of security and access; it was built into the platform. While we might sniff at the number of organizations where the PCs all ran with Admin rights, the fact was that it was possible to operate with such assumptions. That’s not so with mobile technologies, where devices and their software are untrusted by definition, and where – with BYOD – personal apps are considered a right of ownership.

There are plenty of dichotomies technically, such as the PC’s open design that permitted applications to interact and enabled management control (but also provided a large attack surface) compared to the sandbox architecture designed into the first mobile OSs (in which each isolated application can only access its own data without practically divine intervention, but means device management is isolated, too, leading to proprietary answers). That model is changing gradually (more gradually on Android), said Cosgrove, “but it does represent the long-term future.” As the architecture matures, he sees three phases, but “through 2020 you will need all three models in place.”

As a result, IT is advised to avoid a binary way of thinking (trust or don’t-trust), and to “create a contextual trust.” By which Cosgrove means enterprise IT increasingly needs to think about designing applications and business policies based on context (the user role, her application, her location, among other factors).  Endpoint device management is now and will continue to be a balance of competing goals including quality of service, security, flexibility, and cost, and right now the attention is on serving users; however, over time, Cosgrove sees the priorities changing to focus more on security – without, of course, increasing undue cost.

One influence on this transition, said Cosgrove, is the declining use of Windows in enterprise IT. In 1996, most corporate software required Windows; by 2011 only half of it did. But even with the continuation of the trend towards Windows irrelevance, Cosgrove pointed out, in 2020 Windows will still be a factor. Its application architecture will affect plenty of IT decisions about endpoint computing, so don’t hope you can say, “Windows, who cares?” anytime soon.

There’s plenty for IT to worry about today with endpoint computing, not the least of which are packaging mobile apps, patching software, and coping with license compliance. But, Cosgrove says, anyone who’s contemplating IT challenges in technology and business process should begin to think about the future items that’ll keep IT managers (and the sysadmins who serve them) awake late at night. Among them:

  • Better, detailed documentation. Users need explicit detail on mobile tools; they don’t have a familiar Start button to help them understand a user interface.
  • Frequent uncontrolled OS releases and app updates. Vendors supply operating system updates and app version upgrades, and IT can’t make users install them – or prevent users from installing them. These means that IT has to test applications more rapidly.
  • Managing certificates gets more complex. Once you expand certificate management (e.g. to cope with VPNs), management gets stickier, particularly on the back end. What can IT do when a certificate expires when it depends on, say, a Java update that IT wasn’t ready to deploy?

“Not every service IT provides to its endpoint users will be managed the same way,” Cosgrove cautioned. But it’s important to keep a balance in mind, in serving the user community. “You can’t say No [all the time]; but you also can’t afford to always say Yes.”

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Esther Schindler

Esther Schindler, Druva's editor, has been writing for the tech press since 1992, and has been editor at industry publications since the late 90s. Her name is on the cover of about a dozen books, most recently The Complete Idiot's Guide to Twitter Marketing.

Esther quilts (with enthusiasm if little skill), is a top Amazon reviewer, and is an avid foodie. She works from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, with one of two cats on her lap.

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