iPhone is the business

Fleur Doidge
4 September, 2008
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Given that it’s now even closer to 1am on a school night than it was when we started writing this blog, we’re quite excited about this news, even though it was really last week when it happened. What news? The news that the Apple iPhone is now, finally, supported by an enterprise-grade management system that will let system administrators do policy and network access stuff.

As you’ll know if you have been following this blog, one of the main reasons holding back the already extremely popular iPhone from actual world domination was its lack of support for enterprise applications, and the wariness that created in the average system administrator of business networks as a result.

No smart sysadmin was about to provide support for the iPhone on his or her network because, in part, mobile handsets on the network don’t just represent, each one of them, a potential rogue access point or security threat – but because the little beggars are just so tricky to manage en masse.

When you’ve got several different brands of handset in the same company alongside a wide range of other names and no-names in the shape of laptops and other hardware – coupled with, quite often, a bunch of rather uppity executives who can’t or won’t understand why you don’t want them to plug their own little favourites into the network whenever and however they like – it all quickly seems like too much work.

Now, one of the biggest barriers to the ultimate success of the iPhone has been removed. Now, your sysadmin is a few steps further along the road to actual heterogeneity and vendor agnosticity of device on the network. Now, your pesky top exec with the iPhone in his pocket “because that’s the one I like” doesn’t need to trade it in for a Blackberry.

That might not sound like a big deal, but it is. When you go to buy an iPhone, you won’t be given pause any more by the fact that it might be frowned upon at work. So you won’t any longer need to buy a Nokia or a Blackberry or a Sony Ericsson or a Palm instead of an iPhone just because of the difficulty of managing a range of different devices on one network.

Well, to a greater degree, anyway. We’re not all the way there yet, but it’s a great start and, let’s face it, even this might never have happened.

What we’ve got this time is KBOX products by a vendor called KACE, which lets sysadmins deploy and configure network settings on the iPhone. System administrators will be able to configure one or two or  10 iPhones to securely access standard business network infrastructure such as the all-important Virtual Private Network (VPN), Wi-Fi access points and do that from a central point.

iPhones did already have a pretty neat Web browser, so it will only be more attractive to use on corporate networks in tandem with corporate applications. Few are the businesses nowadays that aren’t constantly online in one way or another.

It’s client-less too, so no software actually needs to be downloaded to anyone’s iPhone. Instead, a configuration file is pushed out to users via email – like when you set up MMS on your handset.

The solution is only in beta but full support is slated to happen by October. And iWork won’t be the only Apple offering any longer that appeals to us on the job – it will be interesting to see where this might take Apple itself, too.

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