How to make your datacentre BYOD-ready

BYOD is changing how employees interact with corporate data. Datacentre managers should follow these steps to prepare their infrastructure for BYOD

Bring your own device (BYOD) and IT consumerisation are changing the way users work – and the knock-on effect on how the organisation has to operate cannot be underestimated.  

BYOD is not just a case of employees, consultants and contractors having a range of devices with different capabilities, operating systems and applications in place to interact with data. It is far more complex than that.

One of the main problems for enterprise IT is that BYOD leads an individual to the perception that they can now choose how they want to work with tools of their choice.  

While this has been possible in the past, the growth of “shadow” IT – where departments often decided to go their own way on certain projects – was relatively easily identified by central IT through basic systems management tools. 

These departmental IT systems could then be brought under the wing of IT and managed accordingly.

In the BYOD era, however, central IT finds it a bit more difficult to manage systems that are completely outside the organisation. 

Consumer cloud applications, such as Dropbox, Skydrive, Box, SugarSync and other file-sharing systems, may have extended their capabilities to include team working, but still many employees have individual accounts.

These accounts – or even group ones funded and run by departments still attempting to carry out shadow IT activities – will contain information that is business-sensitive. However, it is outside of the organisation’s reach – it cannot be accessed to report against or to bring into the mix to aid decision-making. 

Datacentre managers must figure out how the datacentre can be used to centralise corporate information

It may be corporate data, but it is not useful to the organisation – in fact, it is counting against the organisation being effective. Decisions are being made against the actual available information, whereas it should be made against the total required information – and these two measures are increasingly drifting apart.

Ponemon Institute research into the BYOD trend has found that a majority of UK businesses have no personal device policy in place and are putting critical data at risk once it leaves a company, whether through BYOD or public cloud-based file-sharing.

About 58% of UK IT chiefs surveyed admitted to not having a BYOD policy in place to manage employee-owned mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones. A wide majority (80%) of organisations also said they have not educated employees on BYOD privacy risks.

What can datacentre managers do to beat these BYOD challenges? IT has to look at a different approach while making the datacentre infrastructure BYOD-proof. It must figure out how the datacentre can be used to centralise corporate information – which will, in many cases, involve the centralisation of how users access and use the corporate IT platform.

Carry out a thorough audit of hardware and software assets

The first thing is to carry out a full audit of what your current IT estate consists of. This is not just a hardware exercise – software assets have to be included as well.  

On the hardware side, IT providers such as ManageEngine, Altiris, LANDesk, IBM, Dell and CA can provide help.  

On the software side, Centrix Software, Snow, Rimo3 and Flexera are some of the options datacentre professionals can use to determine what is out there and how it is being used, to help identify where licence savings can be made.

Create a centralised IT enterprise system for all employees

The next step is to create a centralised workplace for users that will still give an adequate individualistic user experience.  

A virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) may be a good starting point, but centralising everything may not lead to an overall optimised environment with good enough performance for users.  

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Streaming of software can be carried out – Citrix and VMware have capabilities in this space, and Numecent’s cloud paging approach is showing great promise in using the power of the end device alongside intelligently streamed applications to give rapid startup with native performance. 

Such an approach of providing a flexible hybrid server-side computing model lays the foundation for a more controlled corporate information strategy.

Rationalising a BYOD strategy that works for your organisation

Next comes the need to be able to rationalise what users access via their devices and to devise a strategy on what corporate data they can and cannot access from their own computing devices. 

The use of sandboxing of the device – available via Centrix Software and RES Software, among others – enables a corporate environment to be created where users cannot cut and paste information to or from their own consumer environment, plus viruses and other malware cannot cross over. 

A sandbox is an isolated computing environment used by software developers to test new programming code

Identify applications staff use to access business data

IT managers must also clearly identify what applications are being used by employees to interact with corporate data.  

This can be more difficult, and many organisations have taken an approach of proscribing what cannot be used, such as Dropbox. However, analyst firm Quocirca continually finds that such proscription does not work, unless there are adequate tools in place to stop this from happening. As a BYOD device on the public internet using cloud-based apps does not necessarily have to touch the corporate network, this is almost impossible.

However, a touchpoint can be created through the use of server-side computing accessed via a virtual private network (VPN). Any activity carried out which is corporate is then capable of being captured as it crosses over these touchpoints, and data created during the activities can be redirected through to central stores, through the use of tools such as CommVault Simpana.

A datacentre that is built for BYOD should also build in much better data security so information assets can be secured in one place

But this is not enough.

To bring users in to a complete corporate environment and away from the use of consumer tools on their BYOD device requires a little more work. Once app use has been identified – which may involve sitting down with users and asking them what apps they use, along with why they use them – the IT team can then create a list of functions that are best served via native apps on the devices. 

It is then incumbent on IT to identify equivalent apps that will provide the experience the individual wants, with the information control the organisation requires. This means coming up with a list of apps that are “preferred”. For example, rather than staff using Dropbox, IT can provide them with Citrix ShareFile; rather than using SkyDrive, IT can move them to Office 365 and an enterprise subscription to SkyDrive Pro. 

These options need to be made available to the users through an enterprise apps store available from within their enterprise sandbox on their device, which will require a system within the datacentre that can run such a portal with links through to the apps in the general app store for their device. Users will also need to be made aware as to why they are being requested to use these apps.

The main reasons should build on the fact that they are not just an individual – they are members of one or more teams that make up the overall organisation. The information they create and work on is of value to the organisation only if the organisation can access it. Providing them with the preferred tools enables the organisation to access and make decisions against all data across the organisation, which will result in a more effective and successful company.

Additional security for datacentres to support BYOD

For the organisation, a datacentre that is built for BYOD should also build in much better data security so information assets can be secured in one place. As employees, contractors and consultants come and go, they can be more easily enabled to use or blocked from using the data assets. 

Sandboxing means that although the device is the user’s, the part of the device that has been assigned to the organisation can be deleted, ensuring that information remains secure.

The role of the datacentre will continue to change as BYOD and IT consumerisation evolve further. Abdication of the role as the centre for managing an organisation’s information assets may well lead to the datacentre being seen as less of a necessity – and everything being moved out to the cloud.

Clive Longbottom is service director at analyst Quocirca. The datacentre consultancy firm has three papers that cover ITLM and IT financing available for free download here: Using ICT financing for strategic gainDon’t sweat assets, liberate them; and De-risking IT lifecycle management.

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