IT has a number of options to enable remote access for employees wanting mobile access to email and work applications from their iPads. There are however pros and cons for each option as well as some prerequisite questions to consider.
Company iPads - For company owned iPads a likely scenario is to treat iPads similar to mobile phones. If company apps or email are allowed to run native on the iPad then Mobile Device Management ( MDM ) software may be necessary to assure corporate security policy is enforced. BES servers may be in place already for Blackberry’s, this type of control may be need to be duplicated for company iPads as well. The forth coming improvements in iOS4 will help with email however additional applications will still require management. If however company data is not allowed to reach the iPad as discussed below, then the management costs and administration could be significantly reduced.
Personal iPads - Many early adopter employees and specifically executives are now bringing their new iPad to work and asking IT for access to company apps. One problem is most companies have policies against storing company data on anything but company owned equipment. While the iPad does include a great email app including support for Exchange, the decision needs to be made to change the company policy or allow exceptions for iPad users. Beyond email, corporate calendars are also supported by the iPad, however most users complain of conflicts and errors compared to Outlook Calendar. The best solution for most companies dealing with personal iPads is to not allow apps or data to run locally. IT can provide safe remote access to hosted email and apps or virtual desktops.
Applications - Beyond Email, determining what apps are required by users and if they are available on the iPad is a big consideration. Many company web apps require specific browsers and are not compatible with mobile Safari on the iPad. Windows apps will obviously not work locally and although iWork and a few Office clones are available, most users will find these limiting.
Other Tablets - Since the iPad was announced it seems like there is a new Tablet announced or rumored every week. Some like the Dell Streak or Cisco Cius run Android but others will run Windows or WebOS or MeeGo or other yet to be named OS. The iPad has a head start but it will not be the only Tablet that needs access to company apps. So solving the problem only for iPads will be another point solution for a growing challenge.
Native iPad Apps - If every app required is available on the iPad, then this may be the right answer for company iPads provided they can be managed through MDM software and administration. The pros for native apps are user experience and offline operation ( app dependent ) For personal iPads however assuring corporate security compliance is a challenge with native apps. Also future support for non iPad Tablets should be considered.
VPN with Web Apps - The iPad does have limited native VPN capability in the OS and can support some web apps. These apps need to be tested and expect many not to be compatible. Again consideration for data left behind on personal iPads needs to be taken into account.
Hosted Virtual Applications - Applications running on Windows servers such as Windows XenApp ( or Terminal Services/RDS ) can be an ideal solution for secure iPad app delivery. In addition to Windows apps, Web Apps that require IE or specific browser plug-ins can easily be delivered to iPads. With XenApp IT can dictate what user gets what app and can easily turn on or off access to applications without managing the iPad itself. Only a single app, the Citrix Receiver is required on the iPad and the configuration can be done via email or clicking a link on an intranet web wage. No MDM software is required or concerns about company data on personal iPads. A con of this method is that a WiFi or 3G connection is required and apps will not work offline.
Over 200,000 companies already have Citrix XenApp infrastructure that can support the iPad although some may need configuration changes to enable access. A Citrix Access Gateway is also recommended for secure access, again already in place at many companies. For companies without Citrix, the implementation can be small as a single Windows server with XenApp Fundamentals which is good for between 5 and 75 users.
Virtual Desktops - Hosted Virtual Desktops or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure ( VDI ) such as XenDesktop provides a full Windows 7 environment for each user running on a server in a company datacenter or service provider. Again only the Citrix Receiver is required on the iPad and IT has complete control to turn on or off access. Applications can be installed in the Windows 7 Virtual Machine ( VM ) image or be streamed to the VM image via Application Virtualization. Citrix XenDesktop is required for this solution along with servers supporting the Virtual Desktop images. A free starter edition is available for up to 10 users called XenDesktop Express .
So now that the iPad has topped 3 million units with no slow down in sight, it’s obvious that the tablet form factor has been legitimized and also has a place in business ( or at least remote access to the business ). If you are in IT and considering how to support the iPad let us know your challenges.