The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has been an industry hot button for quite a long time, driven partly by employee desires to leverage their own smartphones at the office and sometimes to choose the equipment that they consider most suitable to their tasks. Meanwhile, employers find this trend interesting due to its potential to offset some of their capital expenses. But, this mutual interest is often mitigated by a number of concerns including security, monitoring and data control.
Managed service providers have begun to find gold in these mitigating factors, building comprehensive value propositions around making BYOD more suitable beyond the balance sheet.
"BYOD is well into the hype cycle at this point," said John Nicholson, manager of client services at SynchroNet, a Houston-based MSP that has found a way to capitalize on this trend. "A lot of employees want to select their own machines, as opposed to having the company choose it for them. Sometimes it's about a preferred platform, such as Windows or Mac. Other times it's about speeds and feeds, or the characteristics of the machine itself. It's a means of making themselves more productive. I spent $2,000 on my laptop, but I can work much more quickly and easily. So, that's worth it to me."
[Related: 5 Factors Of A Successful BYOD Strategy]
Nicholson says that among his clients, nearly all of the employees want to work with their own mobile phones, and nearly half of them want to select their own laptop.
Specializing in data center management and virtualization, SynchroNet leverages the BYOD trend in conjunction with virtual desktops, thereby maintaining control of the data and the software while enabling the customer's employee to largely make a unilateral decision around devices.
"Anytime you let users be the de facto administrator of their own device, even if it's on your balance sheet, they pretty much own the device, for all practical purposes," he said. "They are going to install their own software and their own viruses, if they can. But, you can provide a far more reliable IT environment by moving the desktop and the applications to the data center or to the cloud. And, from an administrative perspective, trying to manage all the individual devices, especially a BYOD environment, is a never-ending time sink."
Nicholson added that attempting to partition hard drives, or executing other device-level practices aimed at supporting user privacy, is the long way home. Instead, he prefers to have the users download a VDI client that connects them to the data center, at which point the employee-chosen device is functioning as a dumb terminal.
"We provide documentation on how to install the clients and access resources, but beyond that, they support their own devices," he said. "Dealing with specific issues around hardware glitches can usually be accomplished more quickly and easily through a support desk at a local retail outlet."
In addition, by maintaining control of the software at the data center level, SynchroNet can do a more effective job of managing software licenses and making sure the proper applications are installed.
When left to the initiative of the employee, insuring the use of proper software, and the preferred versions of that software, can often be a challenge, agrees James Stull, president of Turkey Systems, an Indianapolis-based MSP. "If they don't buy Windows Professional, for example, they can't hook into Active Directory," he said. "So we need to be pretty prescriptive about the software side of the equation."
NEXT: It Typically Begins With The Phone
In most cases, the move towards BYOD typically begins at the mobile phone. But, as devices become increasingly cross functional, the line between the mobile phone and a laptop or tablet becomes increasingly blurred.
"Everybody who has a phone wants to connect it to their e-mail," observed Turkey Systems' Stull. "We work with a number of different vendors through which we can offer mobile support. Right now, I'm mostly offering management and monitoring."
According to Stull, the BYOD trend is not a major issue at the C-level of organizations. "Upper management just selects the device they want, and the company will typically pay for it," he said. But, BYOD gets to be an issue when you get down to middle management and below, where employees are sometimes begging and pleading to get the kinds of systems with which they want to work. Some employers pay a specific amount for the employee to procure and manage their own [system] and equipment. This way the employee does not have to be stuck with dinosaur hardware."
Very often, he provides employees with a list of preferred hardware, based on familiarity and the availability of ready-made images to streamline the provisioning process. Security is also an important issue, and a number of managed security offerings provide an effective response.
"I sit down with the manager [and] bring up my concerns around security, as well as personal and company data," Stull said. "Typically we work out where are the boundaries going to be? It seems to be best if the employee owns the hardware but the employer owns the software. For the most part, employers are looking for advice from the channel in terms of how to manage all this. Really it's up to each and every business to decide exactly how to go through that."
One of the hidden aspects of BYOD involves the degree to which all the extra devices increase the load on the network, particularly in environments where wireless LANs are in use.
"What you have is an explosion of devices, especially as the devices becomes cheaper," he said. "But you can very quickly end up with a saturation of the wireless network. Employees are not going to be too eager to use their data plans for downloads, so they are going to be leaning on the company wireless. This needs to be taken into account when figuring out the needs for network capacity. So in many cases, it's advisable to install a secure guest network that your employees can use, preferably with some sort of monitoring and management."
But, the onslaught of privately owned devices clearly stimulates the market for managed services as a means of securing data, protecting the privacy of employees and making BYOD into a business-class phenomenon.
"Everything is moving to a hosted model and BYOD is actually a reaction to this," SynchroNet's Nicholson said.
PUBLISHED JAN. 29, 2013