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The Virtual Mobile Infrastructure Debate is Mired in Myth

Readers of this publication know that “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) has become a mess for the business world. Developers of mobile device management (MDM), enterprise mobility management (EMM), and mobile application management (MAM) promised affordable, easy solutions for a mobile workforce. Instead, they saddled IT departments with grunt work, high costs, inadequate security, and resentful end users.

Despite this stack of failures, IT commentators continue to discard viable alternatives, including virtual mobile infrastructure (VMI). Their misgivings are grounded in myth, not fact.

Here, I will set the record straight so that IT departments can have informed discussions about VMI and test solutions that will take them beyond this impasse. VMI is one of several emerging technologies that can and should replace MDM, MAM and EMM. 

Detractors have leveled four criticisms at VMI. They touch on connectivity, usability, price, and security. I will address the criticisms in that order.

With VMI, mobile applications live in a data center or the cloud. Employees access these apps using a remote client app that can run on any mobile operating system. Because you need a cellular or Wi-Fi connection to use VMI, critics claim it’s impractical.

What world are they living in?

Ten years ago, yes, VMI would have been problematic. Today, 3G/4G coverage and Wi-Fi are ubiquitous in the developed world. If you need connectivity in the Congo, the Australian outback, or polar regions of Canada, BYOD is the least of your concerns.

Employees can’t use modern business apps without an internet connection anyway. Top ERP, CRM, collaboration platforms, analytics etc. all require cells. Sorry, you can’t download a CRM database onto a conventional smartphone. Offline access is no longer an advantage.   

Regarding usability, VMI decriers assume that user experience must suffer. It must be too slow and sluggish, they say. It won’t feel native, they presume. It’s just too niche for most businesses, they claim.

First of all, VMI can now function without latency on networks with 250 kb per second download speeds. They’ve been optimized for crowded networks and locations with weak cell signals.

Second, let’s unpack the concept of a “native” user experience – it’s jargon for saying that an app feels fast, responsive, and familiar on a given mobile OS. With the advances in communication protocols, you cannot tell the difference between scrolling, swiping, and tapping on a virtual or local app.

It doesn’t matter whether the virtual app is Android, iOS or something else. The connection, remote client app, and app design create a “native” experience, not the operating system on which the virtual apps are built.

That all said, critics may say that VMI is just for odd cases, not mainstream use. The standard BYOD use case involves email, calendar, contacts, and documents. If you want to extend that use case to freelancers, contractors, partners, and other parties outside the central organization, you can do so with VMI – you can’t with MDM. Contractors can’t let you install MDM and gain administrative rights to their phones. MDM is the niche solution, not VMI.

On price: MDM, MAM and EMM are inexpensive – at least upfront. They have lower installation costs than VMI, but between patches, maintenance, and user support, not to mention app wrapping, deployment and upgrades, they swamp IT departments. The additional staff and labor time more than offset the low installation costs. With VMI, you may spend more on infrastructure upfront, but you don’t need to manage a network of devices and deal with app development cycles.

Let’s discuss network fees too. You might assume that VMI requires pricey data plans, but it does not. In fact, if you compare the data consumption of two email apps – one remote and one local – the local one consumes more data. It downloads messages and attachments 24/7, whereas the remote app does not. My company Nubo tested this, and VMI actually required just around half of the data needed by the local app.

Last but not least, security. Organizations in national defense, public safety, healthcare and finance have adopted VMI because its meets their stringent standards for compliance and data privacy. Generally, IT is outstanding at securing data centers, but they can’t do much for employee devices. VMI eliminates the weakest link in enterprise security.

And whereas conventional BYOD solutions motivate shadow IT by restricting which apps employees use, VMI can handle any app. Personal apps stay on personal devices; business apps stay in the datacenter; business data stays off employee devices.

BYOD is broken, and we won’t make progress by stifling alternatives with assumptions. Test new technology for yourself. IT can’t afford to bury hard problems in soft myths.  

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