Mobile IT Alert: How Mobile Cloud Computing Impacts the Enterprise
As smartphones gain prominence in the enterprise, cloud-based solutions are increasingly being used to support a wide range of functionality on mobile devices -- and while the market for mobile cloud applications is growing quickly, mobile devices have actually been well positioned to take advantage of cloud-based applications for quite a while now, according to ABI Research practice director Dan Shey. "Mobile cloud computing is almost an oxymoron, because so many mobile applications and services require some form of processing in the cloud to make the data or service usable on a mobile device," Shey wrote in ABI Research's recent Enterprise Mobile Cloud Computing report. A basic example, Shey says, is the Google Goggles image-based search application. "This app requires using contextual (location, time, etc.) and picture recognition intelligence processing to return a result," he says. "These types of compute capabilities are not present in smartphones."
And while mobile email access is by far most prominent example of a mobile cloud solution, Shey says mobile line of business (LOB) apps are advancing quickly. "Within the LOB category, the app that is getting a lot of attention is mobile dashboards," he says. "The interesting aspect of this is that this type of app could be a CRM dashboard -- but it could also be a dashboard for a small business such as a dentist's office that can pull up the patient schedule and patient records on the same screen." At the same time, Shey says it's worth keeping in mind that there's still a place for device-based apps alongside mobile cloud solutions. "While standardization efforts such as HTML5 will help grow cloud-based mobile Web apps, creating truly rich apps where there is integration with device functions (keyboard, Bluetooth, GPS, etc.) requires native app development," he says.
One key challenge in enabling any mobile cloud solution, Shey says, is available bandwidth. "Cellular network data capacity and speed are a limitation for greater adoption of mobile cloud computing . For the very data consumptive cloud services such as streaming video to the smartphone, adoption will be limited by cellular data network expansion," he says. Another concern is security. "Enterprises are still hesitant to put corporate data in public data centers, so for an application that is pinging a corporate database, that database currently will be on premise or in the private cloud.... It will take time for enterprises to place more corporate data in the public cloud," Shey says. Looking forward, Juniper Research principal analyst Windsor Holden expects that several mobile cloud services for the enterprise will be introduced in the second half of 2010, particularly from leading players like Apple, Google and Microsoft. "With collaborative applications becoming ever more important for enterprise, the cloud will have an increasingly key role to play in this regard," he says. And Holden notes that several offerings already have a solid foothold in the market. "We're seeing fairly substantial traction in the areas of, for example, push email, push contacts and push calendars (e.g. Apple's MobileMe), device management and synchronization (e.g. Funambol), or workflow/analytics apps (e.g. Salesforce.com)," he says.
But there are some significant issues. AT&T's new tiered data plan, Holden says, is proof that carriers are facing concerns about capacity -- which could present a problem in the short term. "Given that mass adoption of synched enterprise apps would necessarily involve large amounts of data being stored within the cloud (and transferred in/out), then it's difficult to see how willing the networks would be to support a model that imposed these strains upon their networks," Holden says. "Thus it's likely to be a barrier to growth until we have widespread deployment of LTE networks." While 4G networks will help enormously, Holden says HTML5 will also be a key driver. "Data cached locally will load faster; furthermore, when the end-user loads a page with cached elements, the browser will only download data that has been updated, thereby reducing the load on the server," he says. In the meantime, the demand is already strong. "The obvious subjects -- geographically dispersed forces who need constantly updated information -- they're well past consideration: they're going to do it the 'why' question has passed, and now it's just 'how,'" says John du Pre Gauntt, founder of Media Dojo and author of "Cloud Computing for Media People." As they answer that second question, du Pre Gauntt says, enterprises need to keep an eye on bandwidth usage. "The smart cloud providers, like RightScale and others, are not only developing the dashboards for how you're managing the actual technology assets of the cloud, but some of the more business-oriented analytics of how this application is affecting what you're paying for the cloud," he says. Ultimately, du Pre Gauntt says, the growth of mobile cloud deployments in the enterprise is all but inevitable. "They're not arguing about whether cloud computing is a viable idea -- they're pretty much aligned in that," he says. "Now it's just, 'What's the implementation strategy, and how can we do it?'"