Apple's grand unveiling of iCloud brings with it a predictable mix of excitement from end users and potential headaches for IT staff. The "consumerization of IT" means the wall between work and home life are crumbling, and iCloud is a bravura example of that. But there's a potential bright side, as well as some security risks.
You're going to want to light up and support the individuals who drag [iCloud] in.
Frank Gillette, Forrester analyst and VP
With the advent of iCloud, any Apple device owner will soon be able to sign up and transfer all his or her personal data to Apple's data centers, where it will live forever and ever, amen. But this presents a pickle for enterprises that are developing internal applications for Apple mobile devices, and organizations that want to use those devices for handling sensitive data, like patient records on an iPad in a hospital.
If confidential patient records leave the custody of authorized record holders and end up on iCloud, that's a violation of the Health Information Protection and Privacy Act (HIPAA) and the owners could face federal penalties, even if nobody nefarious steals that data. Of course, the vast majority of enterprises already plan for data risk reduction and take all this into account.
"[iCloud] would need to conform to data classification policy and Apple would have to pass our infosec assessment for all SaaS providers," said Christian Reilly, IT director for a large multinational firm. His firm already has an iPad app deployed to field workers, but it's been vetted to make sure critical data doesn't wind up floating around on personal devices. Reilly is far more interested in the long term potential for iCloud to make applications capable of rich interactions with Apple's storage platform.
"iCloud's APIs are the most exciting part," he said. Along with storing files, iCloud's storage platform will have a key-value storage system. That means developers can store invisible, useful data, such as application settings or remembered information about a file or chunk of data, on iCloud. This could lead to, for example, an app updating itself across many devices.
Dispersing mobile data in an iCloud world
As long as your IT shop is OK with Apple, that will actually take some of the work out of mobile support for iPhones and iPads. And with the rise of iCloud and mobile come strategies for handling this dispersion of data.
"IT leaders tend to know the drill and what to insist upon regarding data protection/security/privacy, along with other SLA parameters," said Bruce Guptill, head of research and senior vice president at research firm Saugatuck Technology.
Guptill said "remote kill switches" that can disable or wipe app data are growing in use and popularity, partly as a result. He added that the most important thing to understand about iCloud was that it would inevitably interact with enterprises; they should focus on wrangling it, not opposing it.
iCloud's APIs are the most exciting part.
Christian Reilly, IT director for a large multinational firm
"Basically, the enterprise needs to watch out for the range and number of devices and iCloud instances in use, and find ways to not stop or control, but integrate and educate," he said.
"You're going to want to light up and support [the] individuals who drag this in," said Forrester analyst and VP Frank Gillette. Gillette said there would be a number of ways to do this, including support for enterprise-specific developer support from Apple, although details are sparse.
iCloud is not expected to be widely available until fall 2011. Apple has not made its plans clear in public about support for enterprise developers but it would be startling if iCloud had none, since iPhone and iPad have enterprise-specific developer support tracks already. There are definite kinks in the service as it currently stands; chatter on developer forums point to a number of complaints, not least of which is that iCloud doesn't let users delete old apps. Apparently, apps can be removed from multiple devices, but remain, with their data, in the iCloud user's space; there's no way to get rid of them.
Enterprises might be fine with Apple storing some data; will they be OK with the company keeping it forever?
Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dig Deeper on Cloud APIs and frameworks