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Improving governance by linking users to enterprise hybrid cloud

Involving users in a hybrid cloud may seem like a security risk, but it's the opposite. Linking user devices to enterprise cloud improves governance.

Hybrid clouds are becoming the dominant cloud strategy for enterprises because of their balance of benefits from private and public clouds. But enterprise hybrid cloud could become even more powerful by linking to users' devices. There are two primary reasons cloud developers would want to involve users in a hybrid cloud. One is to improve governance by providing end-user security and device management, particularly in the age of bring your own device (BYOD) in enterprises. The other is to enhance performance by positioning performance-critical elements of an application close to the user.

Amazon may have the most direct opportunity to drive the 'hybrid user' space.

There are many visions of the cloud, but all involve users. Technology options to integrate those users more directly with hybrid cloud resources aren't necessarily going to represent the only cloud models, but it's likely that they'll be increasingly important as mobile cloud initiatives progress.

Mobile device managers in the age of BYOD

Because mobile devices are becoming the preferred way of accessing cloud applications, the mobile device manager is a useful tool. The more mobile a user and the more dynamic an application, the harder it is to ensure users are properly secured and their devices don't present a threat to enterprise security. Enterprises can install a device manager on the users' devices, which  communicates with the cloud app to encrypt data and verify compliance, preventing users from introducing threats through malicious software. BYOD policies have accelerated acceptance of this approach because users can load and run nearly any software on their devices, from any source.

There are several dozen mobile management clients available, and most support all of the popular mobile OSes. However, many don't provide any support for desktop or laptop computers, so some users may move outside the scope of protection.

Migrating app components closer to users

Some companies migrate parts of their application -- often dealing with data editing and formatting or even parts catalogs -- to their users' devices. This makes it possible to create a hybrid application between public cloud components and user devices, but the user device itself is not truly part of the cloud because its application elements are static. It's more like a hybrid integrated application than a hybrid cloud. A mobile device manager is essentially an app, so some companies develop their own apps to support performance-critical tasks that are close to the user.

To fully integrate user devices into the cloud requires some degree of virtualization. VDI or Desktop as a Service (DaaS) allows a user desktop to be virtualized while the application components are hosted elsewhere. This, in effect, pulls application logic into the cloud and away from the user, so it won't address issues of performance, network delay or reliability. However, it may improve compliance and IT control.

It is also possible to run virtualization applications, and even cloud stacks, on user computers and mobile devices. This would allow application components to be installed dynamically, and it would make the user device an extension of a private cloud -- something you could then hybridize with public cloud services. This capability is promising, but it isn't currently well supported by development and deployment tools, and users report little adoption or pilot projects so far.

Building app components via smartphone OSes

Perhaps the most promising path to an enterprise hybrid cloud that includes the user is the emerging notion of creating a smartphone equivalent of a netbook. Mozilla's Firefox OS is a phone operating system designed not so much to host applications as to provide for remote hosting, which would include cloud hosting. However, it is possible with Firefox OS to build application components that could be loaded either into the phone or into the cloud. This capability could also be offered through Google Chrome and added easily to Android or iOS.

Network operators find value in this method because it reduces their dependency on the giant mobile device vendors and offers new avenues for service sales. If the architecture catches on and is supported for more platforms -- including laptops and desktops -- it could lead to a point where application components can migrate easily from the users' hands to the cloud to the data center as needed.

Amazon may have the most direct opportunity to drive the "hybrid user" space. Kindle tablets already use cloud features and local device features cooperatively, and it would be easy for Amazon to extend this in terms of both AWS's available features and how these features are incorporated into device apps. This would give Amazon's Kindle a personality distinct from Google's Android, which is used on Amazon tablets as the core OS. And with cloud giant Amazon behind the concept of making tablets part of the cloud, all the other tablet and smartphone players will likely follow suit.

About the author:
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corp., a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982.

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