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Is The Notion Of An 'Enterprise Ready' Tablet A Myth?

As tablet vendors that aren't named Apple try to chip into the iPad's lead, they're playing up the enterprise readiness of their products. But do these arguments hold water?

HP, RIM and Cisco vociferously insist that their tablets are more than just iPad clones and come with much stronger security and management capabilities. Which is understandable since these tablet vendors are frantically exploring ways to differentiate themselves -- and to scare organizations away from buying iPads.

But some virtualization experts feel the whole "enterprise ready" argument is mostly just marketing claptrap. Not only is the iPad suitable for enterprise desktop virtualization, with the exception of a smattering of Android tablets, it's far and away the device of choice for business deployments.

"An 'enterprise' tablet doesn't matter as much in a virtualized environment as it does in a traditional environment, where you're running applications on the device," said Richard Brumpton, director of the national virtualization practice at MTM Technologies, a Stamford, Conn.-based solution provider.

Enterprise desktop virtualization provides a consistent context and supportable environment that's both secure and easily managed by IT, which leads in turn to lower support costs, according to Brumpton. "In a virtual environment where you're keeping everything in the data center, it doesn’t matter what the security requirements are, beyond a certain set of requirements," he said.

HP, which last week instituted a permanent $100 price cut on the HP TouchPad, is in the process of training its channel partners how to position the tablet in an increasingly crowded marketplace. It's unclear if downplaying the iPad's business suitability is part of this training, but this view is prevalent among HP partners.

"Apple often touts the number of apps they have on the App Store. But the bottom line is that CIOs don't want employees using all kinds of apps with data all over the place," said Paul Shiff, vice president at Hub Technical Services, a South Easton, Mass.-based solution provider. "CIOs want centralized management and monitoring, and you can't get that from any other device but the HP TouchPad."

HP was late to the tablet market but often cites its channel as a competitive advantage over Apple, and Shiff is out on the front lines working to slow the iPad's progress. He's currently holding meetings with education customers that have recently bought iPads and trying to get them to reconsider and buy HP TouchPads instead.

"We have a school customer that bought 1,000 iPads, and they're now considering their next purchases. Maybe they will think differently next time," Shiff said.

HP certainly has the channel numbers to exert an influence on IT buying decisions, but the iPad has shown itself to be so suitable for enterprise desktop virtualization projects -- Apple last month said 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies are deploying or testing it -- that it'll probably take quite a while for alternatives to emerge.

MTM's Brumpton believes that the iPad's limited computing focus has actually been one big key to its success in virtual environments. "The iPad, for all its mystique, has a very narrowed-down focus, but Android is all over the place -- it tries to be everything but doesn’t do anything well. I think we're seeing tablets like the iPad emerging as something like a cloud client," said Brumpton.

Enterprise desktop virtualization lets IT support back-end infrastructure and allow their users to choose whatever device they want. In light of this, HP and other tablet vendors aren't just competing against Apple for market share -- they're trying to overcome the will of legions of corporate workers who've been given their choice of device and have selected the iPad.

"There so many people buying iPads right now that even if organizations were to hand their employees another brand of tablet, they wouldn't stop using iPads. We’re just too far down this path," said Mike Strohl, president of Entisys, a Concord, Calif.-based virtualization VAR.

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