Getting started with mobile in the enterprise: The IBM Mobile Technology Preview

Over the last 15 years of my career, I’ve seen several ideas or technology trends capture a significant amount of customer, press, and analyst attention. There was Java, XML, web services, SOA, and cloud. In and around all those were standards and open source. To me, the unquestionably hot technology today is mobile.

To be clear, I’m not talking about what happens in cell phone towers or the so called machine-to-machine communication. I mean smartphones and tablets. Those other areas are important as well, but devices are so front of mind because so many people have them.

Apple is obviously playing a big role with its iPhone and iPad, not to mention the half million apps in their App Store. Google and the Android ecosystem have produced even more smartphones and a whole lot of apps as well. Then there’s been the drama around HP and webOS, plus RIM and the PlayBook and outages. So we’ve got competition, winners and losers, closed ecosystems, and sometimes open ones. What’s not to love about mobile?

It can get confusing, especially for people trying to figure out their enterprise mobile strategy. They are looking for strong statements, for “points of view,” that will help them take advantage of mobile quickly but also aid them in avoiding the biggest risks. This is made even more interesting by employees bringing their own devices to work, the “BYOD” movement.

Not every employee is issued an official company smartphone and the devices they buy themselves are often better than what the company might provide. So they are saying “I’ll pay for my phone and my contract, let me have access to work systems so I can do my job better.” The recent ComputerWorld article “IBM opens up smartphone, tablet support for its workers” discusses some of what’s happening in this space at IBM, my employer.

Next there is the whole web vs. hybrid vs. native discussion regarding how to build apps on the device itself. Should you write it to the core SDK on the device (native), stick to developing standards for continuity and interoperability reasons (web), or something in between (hybrid)? Which is faster and for what kinds of apps? Does the app cause a lot of network traffic or does it require great graphics? Are you willing to bet that HTML5 will get better and better? I’ve started discussing this in a series of blog entries called “Mobile app development: Native vs. hybrid vs. HTML5″ (part 1 and part 2). Your choice will involve tradeoffs among expense, time to market, reuse of web skills, portability, and maintainability.

What about management? If I bring my own device to work, how do the company’s apps get onto it in the first place and then get updated? Is there an enterprise app store? If I leave the company, do they zap my whole phone or just the apps they put on it? There are differences between Mobile Application Management (MAM?) and Mobile Device Management (MDM) that you need to understand.

Let’s not forget security, as if we could. A colleague of mine, Nataraj Nagaratnam, CTO of IBM Security Systems, told me the way to start thinking about that for mobile is that “a secure device is a managed device.” That doesn’t mean that all security falls under management, but rather you need to have device management to have a complete mobile security strategy. You also need to be handle identity management, authorization and authentication, single sign-on across apps, data loss protection, and all the things you need to worry about with the web today such as phishing, viruses, worms, social networking, VPN, etc. Security must be there but it also needs to be unobtrusive. Most mobile users will not know what a certificate is nor whether they should accept it.

Fundamental to managing and securing mobile devices compared to laptops is that people tend to lose their phones a lot more often than they lose their laptops. That’s a good starting point for thinking about the differences.


With that as prolog, let me introduce you to the IBM Mobile Technology Preview on IBM developerWorks at http://ibm.co/ibmmobile.

The Mobile Technology Preview encapsulates several technologies we’ve been working on in the labs. We’re making it available for you to experiment with it, comment on it, share your requirements for your mobile platform, discuss the pros and cons of different approaches to mobile app development on both the device and server side, and join the community to make it better.

We plan to update the Technology Preview as we add or change the feature set, ideally because of your stated requirements. In this release we’ve included

  • an application server runtime that uses the WebSphere Liberty Profile of the WebSphere Application Server 8.5 Alpha (runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows)
  • a notification framework
  • a hybrid app development model using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
  • basic management functions
  • location-based security
  • several samples featuring notifications, Dojo, PhoneGap, and a starter insurance app for handling car accidents.

The Mobile Technology Preview is available for Android devices.

I plan to use the tech preview from time to time to illustrate some of my discussions of mobile in my blog. I encourage you to try it out, track its progress, and influence its roadmap.

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