Enterprise architects must figure out how to leverage the proliferation of end-user computing devices, smartphones and tablets in particular, and exploit their natural synergy with the cloud for long-term business advantage. But first, they need to nail down their mobile and cloud strategies.
As you surely have noticed, IT is going through a radical change. The availability of on-demand computing infrastructure, services and applications over the Internet — i.e., the cloud — is pushing the organizational computing paradigm from primarily an internal proprietary function to an extended services environment. At the same time, mobile devices are becoming the PCs of choice, driven in large part by end-user preference and exemplified by the iPad, a quantum leap in handheld user interface and processing capability that’s taking many enterprises by storm.
Making things more interesting is the way the always-available cloud fits hand-in-glove with the move to ubiquitous, transportable endpoint devices. Users want to access enterprise services from wherever they are in the world, and organizations are looking to service those needs by tapping flexible, scalable, pay-as-you-go computing horsepower. For their part, enterprise architects need to get ahead of these strategic moving targets by incorporating the models — and business opportunities — represented by the interaction of cloud services and mobile devices into their overall architectures.
Take the fact that both the cloud and mobile devices are natural beneficiaries of business’s service-oriented architecture (SOA). SOA has trained many organizations to view internal IT processing in terms of discrete, replicable, process-oriented chunks, which fits nicely with the cloud model. “People want a transparent way to move service-oriented applications into the cloud,” says John Ellis, Chief Architect at BlueLock, a cloud services provider. And it’s highly appropriate to have mobile devices tap into Web services that live in the cloud — a shopping cart service for a smartphone retail app, for instance, will help overcome a handheld device’s own limited bandwidth and horsepower.
That’s the world as it can be. But it requires businesses to invest first in architecting global, comprehensive and forward-looking mobile and cloud strategies before they can hope to fully harness the combined power of these two ecosystems.
A broad and inclusive mobile strategy means more than the simple “BlackBerry, good; iPhone, bad” dictum many companies had established early on, and still live with. “The proliferation of mobile computing devices, from smartphones to tablets to laptops, is something that organizations need to address,” says Honorio Padrón, former CIO of CompUSA and PepsiCo, and currently Global IT Practice Leader at consulting firm The Hackett Group. "It’s critical to get ahead of the curve and establish policies that are both flexible and consistent."
The enterprise architect must help determine the organization’s plans for interacting with employees, customers, partners and suppliers over a variety of mobile devices. Are there market forces, such as mobile online retail, that demand a competitive response? Are there internal pressures to make organizational data, such as HR information, more readily available to employees? On the other hand, are there regulatory or compliance issues that may limit your organization’s support for specific device types or implementation of certain online applications?
Most enterprise architects are aware of the mobile imperative. “Enterprise mobile strategy is on our ‘to-do list,’ ” says Mark MacBeth, Enterprise Architect, government of Prince Edward Island. But how far up on that list should it be? “If there hasn’t been any thought given to this before the CEO shows up with an iPad he or she got for Christmas, that’s big trouble,” says Tim Westbrock, Managing Director of EAdirections, an enterprise architecture mentoring firm (see related article.)
In crafting a mobile cloud architecture and strategy, it’s important to establish which applications or services best exploit that combination of capabilities. Before that, though, enterprise architects need to understand the cloud models (see table below, Which Cloud Is Your Cloud?) and the resources available for cloud computing platforms. They also need to approach the cloud with the correct mindset, points out Betsy Burton, distinguished analyst with Gartner. Enterprise architects need to understand the resources available in the cloud in as much as cloud affects the business strategy and value. "They need to focus on cloud as it enables and supports the business, not based on the cloud for cloud sake," she says (see related article.)
Which Cloud Is Your Cloud?
Strategizing and rationalizing the organization’s potential use of cloud resources is critical when crafting a cloud strategy. It helps to keep in mind that there are three iterations of cloud services, each with its own strengths and weaknesses:
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Tapping the services and expertise of third-party app providers can make tactical sense, but there may be concerns with customization and back-end integration. There may be instances of SaaS in an organization that the CIO and the enterprise architect are unaware of.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Using a PaaS provider can be the easiest way to get a custom-built application up and running. However, programming tools and standards choices may be limited. Also, migrating existing apps or services may prove difficult. (See related article.)
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Familiar to most in the form of hosted services, IaaS adds the potential for on-demand scalability. Using an IaaS vendor can let an organization migrate existing applications to the cloud or build custom applications from the ground up, using its own choice of tools and standards.
For Darren Person, Chief Architect and VP at Elsevier, the medical and science book publisher, the type of application that makes most sense to move to the cloud involves "short-burst, big-data processing," which is best served through the cloud’s almost unlimited potential for scalability. Person admits he’s only just begun exploring potential cloud services, but his group recently finished architecting a disaster recovery process that he’s looking to implement using cloud resources; he’s shopping for a service provider now.
Balancing Mobile-Cloud Apps
In this world where business users have the ability to leverage mobile devices and the cloud, it can be up to the enterprise architect to find the appropriate balance between what needs to be controlled and what business should drive, says Gartner’s Burton. That approach, which Gartner calls "managed diversity,” is “to understand your architectural stack (including mobile devices and cloud services) from back-end infrastructure to user-oriented tools,” says Burton (see graphic below).“It's the enterprise architect's job to help the organization determine what it needs to control and what it’s not going control, based on business value and impact," she says.
The plethora of mobile devices — and their proprietary operating systems and programming platforms (see table below for some examples) — makes user accessibility something of a nightmare for the enterprise architect. That’s why it’s important not to get caught up in a smartphone tug-of-war. “We think about multiplatform distribution as part of the enterprise architecture,” says Elsevier’s Person, “but it’s more about services and how those services can target a multi-screen support model irrespective of device (web, smartphone, tv, etc).”
Examples of The Heterogeneous Mobile World
A major hurdle to embracing multiple mobile devices is that varying models represent competing, and proprietary, operating systems and programming platforms.
Mobile Operating System
Windows Phone 7
Silverlight & C#.Net or VB.Net
iOS (iPhone, iPad)
The iPad may be changing the game in terms of how elaborate services can be in mobile environments. Apple’s popular tablet provides “much more screen real estate to deal with, and a rich user experience,” says Doug Rousso, SVP and CTO for Global Information Services at CA Technologies. The fact that you also can leverage more processing capability on the device makes it appropriate for more sophisticated applications, he says, such as graphically rich business intelligence dashboards.
When it comes to data management, enterprise architects should embrace the fact that mobile computing is a two-way street, says BlueLock’s Ellis. Mobile devices are increasingly able to generate information about themselves, such as geo location, tilt and accelerometer data, which can provide business context. “The architect has to be aware of this, build applications that take in this real-time stream of data, hold it, then make sense of it,” he says.
Performance and security are cloud computing’s most controversial issues, to the point where “there’s a cloud over the cloud,” says Elsevier’s Person. The proliferation of limited horsepower, easily misplaced mobile devices ups that ante considerably. Because mobile and cloud platforms each can introduce performance limitations, it’s incumbent upon the enterprise architect to consider performance as a function of design, putting the appropriate processing where it can and should take place, whether internal to the organization, external in the cloud, or at the end-point device. Security-wise, enterprise architects need to think not just about simple authentication provided by a directory, but sophisticated authorization built into the application.
Apps with a Purpose
As for what applications are appropriate to a mobile-cloud strategy, a great deal of potential lies in the “purpose-driven micro application,” says CA Technologies’ Rousso (see graphic below). He describes micro-applications as “consumable, functionally purpose built apps that provide focused transaction data and not a deep monolithic stack of app functionality.”
Illo credit: CA Technologies
The micro-application fits the software environment now growing up around mobile devices, where functionality is layered in discrete task-oriented chunks — in other words, the iPhone app store model, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all application environment of many enterprise architectures.
There are many processes in the enterprise computing infrastructure that may be appropriate as micro-applications, in particular customer service representative or human resource functions. “Those [functions] are massive, deep apps within the HR processes,” Rousso says. “If you scope those out as micro-apps first, you can get easy wins.”
Even then, the enterprise architect must have a well-planned approach to the emerging mobile-cloud environment. “You’ve got to have a strategy for the initial rollout of those applications, and then for updating those applications,” says Brian Orrell, CTO of IT consulting firm Pariveda Solutions, and a member of the Society for Information Management’s Enterprise Architecture Group. For instance, you have to choose the micro-app environment you want to participate in, whether it’s an external service like the iPhone store or an internal service catalogue. Then, Orrell says, you need a way to “publicize your offerings,” so customers or employees know these apps are available, and where.
As with any long-term enterprise architecture plan, a mobile cloud strategy demands knowledge of what you have and a vision of where you’re going. “You have to know what you have to start with, in a technical sense,” says Leon Kappelman, Professor of Information Systems at the University of North Texas and founding chair of SIM’s Enterprise Architecture Group, and then ask: “How does it all fit together into the overall objectives of the enterprise?”
John Soat is a freelance journalist who specializes in business, technology, security and privacy. He’s been writing about the intersection of business and technology for more than 25 years, including 19 years with InformationWeek magazine. He is an experienced online multi-media journalist, having spent almost two years as executive producer of The News Show, a daily online video program for the business-technology industry. He has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.