Although application life cycle management has always been challenging for enterprise IT, software deployment and application service delivery tasks have become far more complex over the last few years. This increase in complexity can be attributed directly to the consumerization of IT. It wasn’t really all that long ago that most large organizations provided standardized desktop systems for their employees. Although the desktop hardware wasn’t usually consistent across the organization, the desktop operating system, patches, and base configuration typically was. For example, an organization might have chosen Windows 7 with SP1 as the standard desktop operating system for their employees.
Today there is really no such thing as a standard endpoint device. While many organizations do still maintain standards for enterprise desktops, Windows desktops are no longer the only endpoint device from which employees are working. Employees today work from all manner of mobile devices both at the office, and while away from the office. Furthermore, they may also choose to work remotely from a personal computer whose configuration in no way resembles that of a standard corporate desktop. In short, Administrators may find themselves suddenly having to support a mixture of Windows and Mac computers, as well as just about any mobile device imaginable. It is this proliferation of random devices that has led to the increased complexity of application delivery. After all, how is an administrator to deploy an application to the employee who need it when the employees are working from a huge variety of device types and operating systems?
Some organizations have attempted to address this problem through the use of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). In a VDI environment, desktop operating systems are virtualized and run on a backend server. Endpoint devices act as thin clients that remotely connect to virtual desktops. On the surface, desktop virtualization would appear to be an ideal solution to the device proliferation problem. After all, VDI technology allows enterprise IT to continue to run a standard desktop operating system and a standard set of applications, and employees can connect from the device of their choosing.
The problem with using VDI in this way is that device form factor can become a major problem. Most of today’s mobile devices are touch screen devices with no physical keyboard or mouse. Anyone who has ever tried to interact with Windows 8’s desktop mode using a touch screen knows that interacting with a non-touch optimized environment from a touch screen device is cumbersome at best. Never mind the fact that a line of business application that is designed to run in full screen mode on a PC doesn’t tend to display very well on a five-inch screen. Users will generally have a better experience if they use applications that are specifically designed for their device. For example, a user is probably going to have an easier time using a touch optimized version of Microsoft Office that is specifically designed for their mobile device than they would if they tried to use the desktop version of Office on a touch screen device.
Of course this approach introduces challenges of its own. How can enterprise IT manage a huge collection of applications that are designed for a variety of different devices and operating systems?
Even as IT professionals work to address the challenges associated with application delivery, they must also deal with other problems such as shadow IT. At first shadow IT might seem to be an unrelated problem, but the challenges of shadow IT and application management are often closely related For those who might not be familiar with the term, shadow IT refers to a trend in which employees go around corporate IT to get what they want. So how is this related to application management? Suppose for a moment that a user approaches the IT manager to request the iOS version of a particular line of business application. If the IT manager were to tell the user that IT will only authorize the Windows version, the user might decide to take matters into their own hands. There is nothing stopping the user from using a corporate credit card to purchase the application licenses from Apple’s app store or to run the application in the cloud without the IT department’s knowledge.
As daunting as the challenges of multi-platform application delivery and shadow IT can be, these problems actually stem from something very simple. IT pros and employees want completely different things. IT pros want to maintain order. They want to make sure that the applications that they deploy aren’t going to introduce any problems. They also need to ensure that the applications are secure, properly licensed, and perhaps most importantly, cost effective. In contrast, employees want full, unlimited, unrestricted access to whatever applications they feel could help them to better do their job at a given moment. In some ways, the employee expectations are understandable. Users have become conditioned to expect on demand access to apps through the app stores on their personal devices. Whether a user has a Windows desktop, a Mac, a mobile device, or something else, the user knows that the device’s app store will provide them with on demand access to many thousands of apps. These app stores have become so popular and so commonplace that users have begun to expect a similar experience while at work. The best solution to these problems is to create an enterprise app store. Doing so allows IT to offer apps to users in a way that is familiar to them, while also retaining control of which apps are made available. This allows IT to properly vet all apps so as to avoid apps that might introduce security risks. There are a number of solutions available for doing so. However, a closer examination of the available solutions reveals that most do not adequately address the problems that are commonly associated with application lifecycle management in enterprise environments.
There are a number of criteria that must be met if an enterprise app store is to deal with governance and the application delivery challenges that IT pros are facing today.