Despite its reputation as a consumer device, the presence of the iPhone, and soon the iPad, in the business environment cannot be ignored. IT Administrators at businesses of all sizes must address the challenge of integrating the devices and providing access to network resources.
The iPhone has a long way to go to enable the level of business integration provided by BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smartphones, but Apple has made great strides since the iPhone was introduced. Despite the hype around the iPad, at its core it is essentially a giant iPhone--or, more accurately, an iPod Touch--which means it can leverage the same tools for business integration.
The iPhone had a rough start for business professionals, but once Apple added the ability to connect with Microsoft Exchange messaging it became much more viable as a business tool. With Exchange or other standards-based systems, the iPhone or iPad can receive e-mail, contact, and calendar updates automatically.
For businesses that use Exchange Server 2003 or 2007, though, Exchange and ActiveSync provide a number of other administrative benefits. For example, in the event of a lost or stolen iPhone, the data and settings on the device can be wiped remotely by issuing a command from Exchange.
Apple doesn't appear to be in any hurry to develop an equivalent to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to enable IT administrators' complete internal control of the iPhone. Apple has created some business tools to help out, though.
The Enterprise Deployment Guide and iPhone Configuration Utility can help businesses deploy passcode policies and configuration profiles via USB or wirelessly. Configuration profiles enable administrators to remotely configure VPN, e-mail, and wireless networking settings, and install certificates and devices restrictions.
Apple has also addressed one of the biggest complaints IT administrators have with iPhones in the enterprise: iTunes. Granted, users will still need iTunes in order to sync or update the iPhone or iPad. But, Apple has provided an ability to customize iTunes to restrict or disable services like the iTunes Music Store, or shared media libraries, and enable IT administrators to control access to software updates.
For road warriors and workers on the go, a VPN is a requirement for secure access to the data and resources on the business network. Particularly when using public Wi-Fi networks which generally don't provide any security, the encrypted tunnel of a VPN is necessary for ensuring the data can not be intercepted or eavesdropped.
The iPhone and iPad have native support for Cisco IPSec, L2TP over IPSec, and PPTP. These three VPN protocols are compatible with the vast majority of VPN solutions and allow the iPhone or iPad to connect with the business network without any additional network configuration or third-party applications.
Apple also provides support for certificate-based and two-factor authentication for improved security.
Third-party solutions have been developed that enable business professionals to use the iPhone and iPad with the company network as well. Good for Enterprise enables IT administrators to provision, manage, and update a variety of smartphone platforms which is beneficial for small and medium companies that do not have an established smartphone standard.
The Array Networks Desktop Direct app for the iPhone (and iPad), and the Citrix Receiver software let users remotely access their desktops and use the software and tools they are used to securely while outside of the office.
There is no denying that the iPhone and the iPad are both primarily consumer devices, but the fact that so many consumers have them (or will have them in the case of the iPad), and that consumers are also employees, means that the devices will be in the workplace and businesses need to find a way to integrate and manage them.