Is Windows 8 the Answer to Consumerization of IT Woes?

When it comes to post-PC computing, Apple's iPad has taken a commanding lead in the enterprise. However, will the security, networking and management features of Microsoft's Windows 8, slated for release next month, help Microsoft tablets take a bite out of Apple in the enterprise?

For many CIOs, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and the consumerization of IT is the nightmare that keeps them up at night. Not only does consumerization of IT create data-protection headaches, managing mobile devices is also a great deal more challenging than managing desktops and laptops. That may be just the in Microsoft requires to win back the enterprise on the mobile front with Windows 8, scheduled for release next month.

In the minds of many mobile watchers, Android was supposed to win the enterprise while Apple's iPad would remain the darling of consumers, but it hasn't played out that way. The current state of affairs may leave Microsoft an opening.

"Kind of contrary to the conventional wisdom, Apple's focus on the enterprise is netting results," says Michael King, director of Enterprise Strategy for Appcelerator, provider of multi-platform tools for mobile app development.

In July, the Appcelerator/IDC 2Q 2012 Mobile Report, based on a survey of 3,632 developers around the world, found that 53.2 percent of developers felt Apple's iOS would win in the enterprise, compared with 37.5 percent who felt Android will win. That represented a dramatic 16 point shift from just three quarters ago, when developers felt they were in a dead heat at 44 percent each.

"For developers, Android appears to be evolving more towards a consumer play, which in turn provides a key competitive opening for Microsoft in the enterprise mobile app space," says Scott Ellison, vice president of Mobile and Connected Consumer Platforms at IDC.

"We see an opportunity for Windows 8 in the enterprise," King says. "Our developers think the Metro UI is cool. They're optimistic about Windows 8, but they're also very cautious. They're not really excited about developing for Windows 7, and they also believe the Lumia launch has been pretty lame to date. While they're very optimistic about Window 8, they're not committing a lot of resources yet."

Don't Confuse BYOD and Consumerization of IT

Even in this brave, new BYOD/consumerization of IT world that grants employees a great deal of power in determining which tools they'll use to do their work, appealing to IT decision-makers with security, networking and management features may net Microsoft a lot of success.

"I think BYOD has sort of become the watch-word for consumerization of IT," says Justin Pirie, vice president of Cloud Strategy at Mimecast, a provider of unified email management services. "But people mustn't be confused. A lot of organizations are stepping up and saying either BYOD or we're going to supply you a smartphone of your choice. But tablets are still largely employer-owned and provisioned. I think we're going to see even more of that with Windows 8. What I'm seeing is that I think IT departments are going to be buying things like the Microsoft Surface and Windows 8 slates. That's going to bring the slate form factor to a lot more corporate users."

Mike Romp, senior consultant with SWC Technology Partners, an IT consultancy that focuses on mid-sized businesses, agrees. Romp says enterprises he speaks with are taking a serious look at Windows 8 tablets, especially those running x86 chips, because the tablets can run all of Microsoft's productivity applications while IT admins can manage them using the same tools they use for Windows desktops and laptops.

Windows 8 to Windows 7 Won't Mean Big Infrastructure Changes

In fact, Romp says, enterprises that are already Windows 7 shops won't have to alter their infrastructure much at all in order to support Windows 8. He says he believes many shops will run a hybrid environment, with Windows 7 on desktops and laptops and Windows 8 on mobile devices.

"Unlike what we saw in previous generations of operating systems, we expect to see a much more blended environment," Romp says. "One of the strengths that I think will help Windows 8 take off is that it can leverage the same infrastructure that's been built up with Windows 7. We'll see the mobile sales force with Windows 8 tablets, executives with Windows 8 tablets, and a lot of the rest of the enterprise will stay on Windows 7."

"From what I'm seeing, it's incredibly easy [to manage a blended Windows 7/Windows 8 environment]," Romp says, noting that he's been using Windows 8 since the Windows 8 Release Preview was released in May. "All of your policies and configuration settings will still apply. Everything that has worked for me in Windows 7 works for me in Windows 8. Locking down a Windows 8 application may require some additional steps, but I imagine you'll be leveraging the same tools."

Under the Windows 8 Hood

So what's under the hood? First, Windows 8 has been designed with an eye toward security features required by the enterprise. Some of the new features include the following:

  • Secure Boot. Intended to prevent malware from infecting computers during the boot process before Windows and its other built-in safety features kick in, Secure Boot confirms that all components contain appropriate security certificates before allowing them to launch.
  • Improved BitLocker drive encryption. Microsoft first introduced this feature with Windows Vista. The new version only encrypts the parts of the disk that are actually being used, speeding up the process.
  • Smartscreen Application Reputation Service. This feature lets users know whether an app they try to download is unsafe by comparing the app to known reputation data.

On the networking front, Windows 8 includes improvements to DirectAccess, a mobile access technology and VPN replacement first introduced in Windows 7. It also features Branch Cache, which aims to save bandwidth by speeding up the access of remote files stored on a corporate network.

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at tolavsrud@cio.com

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