Jul 10 2012

How EMC Approaches Mobile Apps

The storage and virtualization company is striving to build an enterprise network that supports mobile workers.

Going mobile is probably easier than it sounds. While it’s easy for many companies to say, “BYOD!” and expect everything to work out, the reality is that an enterprise has to build out a network with the proper security and optimizations in place to support a truly mobile workforce.

Chuck Hollis, the global marketing chief technology officer for EMC, checked in with Narayanan Krishnakumar, the chief architect for EMC’s IT department, to find out how the mobilization effort was going.

Krishnakumar spoke about a few key areas while giving Hollis an update, but perhaps most interesting is the company’s approach to mobile applications.

As many surveys and reports have highlighted, mobile apps are big business. And enterprises like EMC are beginning to tap into some of that app power for themselves. Read Kirshnakumar’s responses to Hollis’ questions below.

Enterprise App Store

We have an enterprise app store that enables us to make available the right apps for the right users and manage the distribution. We now have three categories of apps in our enterprise app store. One, obviously, are pointers to useful apps in the Apple app store. Another category are mobile applications from enterprise vendors, such as SAP BI. And there's a third category of EMC IT-developed applications.

Securing the first category is fairly straightforward, as is the category of our internally-developed applications. We're still working through the best way to secure vendor-supplied enterprise mobile apps, but we're making progress.

Our EMC enterprise app store authenticates you, it validates your device characteristics, shows you the applications you're entitled to, manages the installs and updates, logs all the relevant data, and so on. We had to do a significant amount of building on top of the vendor-supplied platform to achieve all of this, though.

Security in Apps

We've created an EMC container that provides local encryption services, as well as REST API access to EMC authentication mechanisms.

Ultimately, the application designer has to be responsible for how they'd like to handle security; we supply the services they'll need to accomplish that.

We've tried out the approach on applications that aren't all that demanding, like our conference room finder, as well as around applications that handle secure data, like our employee lookup database. We’ve been very pleased with the results at both ends of the security spectrum. Now we believe the right approach is to provide the services that application developers need.

iOS versus Android

We started off saying that we would rather support one platform [iOS] really well, rather than spread our efforts across multiple user devices. While not everyone is a 100% fan of that approach, it's what we have been doing, and it's worked out rather well.

However, the cross-mobile-platform development environment I mentioned allows us to reuse the code base for Android as well. We are doing exactly that for a customer-facing service request app.

As your company begins to embrace mobility, it’s important to think about how you want IT to manage applications. While some might debate about whether mobile web-based apps are superior to native mobile apps, the reality is that native apps are popular today, so expect native app support to continue for the short term at the very least.

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