ICloud and IOS 5: New Challenges for Business

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Apple CEO Steve Jobs is known for wowing audiences with his presentation style and with new and polished technologies for Apple's desktops, mobile devices and media services. His keynote address Monday at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was no exception. Jobs and other Apple executives showed off some of the features of the company's Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion," which is due out next month; the next generation of its iOS mobile platform; and the company's new cloud service known as iCloud.

Apple and its products are generally seen as focused solely on consumers, though the ongoing march of iPads and iPhones into workplaces of all shapes and sizes is beginning to make Apple a fairly common tech brand in businesses and enterprises.

So, what do yesterday's announcements mean for the enterprise?

Ubiquitous data

Let's start with iCloud, which aims to make access to anyone's data ubiquitous across every computing device available. Given that Apple now considers a PC or Mac to be just another "device," this could have some serious implications when it comes to the line between home and work.

On the surface, iCloud is simply a consumer solution for syncing personal data: music, app and ebook purchases; personal photos and videos; personal information such as contacts, calendars; and it offers a free email account. Those aren't likely to affect the workplace much.

But the document sync and device backup features are bigger issues in the enterprise for a simple reason: They allow information about your company to be stored outside of your infrastructure and place control of that information under a user's personal Apple ID.

Granted, some of that risk already exists. A user can theoretically backup a device (personally or company owned) to an outside computer or use any number of cloud storage solutions -- Dropbox, Box.net, Apple's existing iDisk, Google Docs and others -- to transfer business information away from the workplace. The difference is that a user has to make an effort to do so, while iCloud will do this all automatically. A user might not even be aware it's happening; background operation and ease-of-use is, after all, what Apple is aiming for.

While document syncing may seem like the initial red flag, the bigger concern involves cloud backups. Document syncing will need to be implemented by app developers -- only Apple's iWork is slated to get it right now -- and each app appears to need user activation first. Device backup is expected to include backups of purchased content, photos and videos shot with a device, ringtones, all device-wide settings, home screen layout, text/MMS messages and app data. That app data is the big concern because that could mean almost anything, depending on the particular app, everything from game scores to student grades and attendance to performance reviews, sales figures and meeting notes.

Of course, Apple also notes that iCloud syncing can be disabled. Exactly how it is disabled and whether it needs to be disabled across an entire enterprise or can be done on a device-by-device basis isn't yet clear. Nor is it clear whether it must be completely enabled/disabled for a device or whether specific components of iCloud sync can be selectively turned on or off.

Apple did make a big point in the last major iOS update of introducing a powerful and granular device management architecture that many third-party providers have plugged into. It's hard to imagine that Apple wouldn't offer some additional management choices related specifically to iCloud. But exactly what those choices will be and how pervasive they'll be is open to speculation for the moment.

Overall, while there are some concerns about iCloud from a business perspective that will need to be examined when iCloud and iOS 5 launch this fall, they are largely extensions of an array of potential issues around any mobile device or platform in the workplace.

On the flip side, iCloud's work once, store/access anywhere approach has an amazing array of possibilities for mobile professionals and small businesses. It offers constant access and continuous backup along with easy transfer of data and apps to new devices. That's a powerful combination. How big these gains are to users and businesses will depend on how broadly -- and how well -- they're adopted by third-party developers. I don't really see broad adoption as something Apple has to worry about; The question is more about how long it will take for broad adoption to occur.

Corporate iCloud?

This future cloud-centric release of iOS lends itself to a very intriguing question for CIOs and IT managers: Can I replicate iCloud's features internally? The answer may be yes.

Apple's only reference to its server software during the keynote was a note that it will be an add-on feature to Mac OS X Lion. This isn't new information. Apple announced Lion Server as a feature of Lion earlier this year. While there are still few details on Apple's Lion Server page, there is information about "File Sharing for iPad" as a feature.

Lion Server delivers wireless file sharing for iPad. When you enable WebDAV in Lion Server, you can access, copy, and share documents on the server from applications such as Keynote, Numbers, and Pages.

While Apple specifically references its iWork apps here, it seems pretty clear that the company is using them merely as examples. That makes sense because Apple used them to demo iCloud's document capabilities. But it seems clear that this feature will extend to other apps as well.

What isn't clear is whether this is something that will be iCloud-like in its approach or something completely different. Apple could be giving developers two separate sets of APIs for storage: one for iCloud, which was mentioned specifically during the keynote, and one for WebDAV on Lion Server. The more logical approach would be to use a single cloud storage API in multiple ways.

Lion Server aside, one implication is that iOS file sharing/storage (iCloud or not) is based on WebDAV. That wouldn't be completely surprising. Apple's current iDisk feature is based on WebDAV. In fact, that's how you connect to it from a PC that doesn't have Apple's Mobile Me control panel applet installed. Apple has also showed preferences for customized uses of WebDAV and WebDAV-derived services like CalDAV and CardDAV over the past few years in iOS, Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server.

If Apple is basing over-the-air file storage and sharing in iOS 5 on WebDAV under Lion Server, it's quite possible that that service could be replicated with other WebDAV servers running on other platforms.

What would this look like on an iOS device?

Next page: deployment and security.

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