Adrian makes a number of excellent points. Enterprises need better usability and management for mobile devices, but co-mingling these goals complicates solutions.
Adrian contrasted two approaches: AZA and KNOX, which I also want to discuss. Let me start by saying I think we are in the first or second inning for mobile. I do not expect today’s architectural choices to stick for 10+ years. I think we will see substantial evolution, root and branch, for a while.
Here is a good example of a mobile project: The Wall St. Journal just published their 1,000th edition on iPad. It is a great example of a mobile app, works in both offline and online modes, is easy to navigate and packed with information (okay – just ignore the editorial page) – it is a great success. The way they started the project is instructive:
Three and a half years ago, The Wall Street Journal locked six people in a windowless room and threw down a secret challenge: Build us an iPad app. You have six weeks.
And so we did.
We started with a blank slate–no one had ever seen a tablet news app before.
This is not uncommon for mobile projects. A few takeaways: We are learning our lessons as we go. There is an architectural vision but it evolves quickly and adapts, and did I mention we are leaning as we go?
Evolution today is less about enterprise-level grand architecture (we already have those, called iOS and Android, themselves evolving while we scramble to keep up) – it is incremental improvement. Looking at AZA vs. KNOX from ground level, I see attractive projects for enterprise, with AZA more focused the here and now. KNOX seems to be shooting for DOD today, and enterprise down the road.
This all reminds me of how Intel does R&D. They roll out platforms with a tick/tock pattern. Ticks are whole new platforms and tocks are incremental improvements. To me AZA looks like classic tock: it cleans up some things for developers, improves capabilities of existing systems, and connects some dots. KNOX is a tick: it is a new ballgame, new management, and a new way to write apps. That doesn’t mean KNOX cannot succeed, but would the WSJ start a new project by learning a new soup-to-nuts architecture just to handle security requirements (remember: you need to launch in six weeks)? I know we as security people wish they would, but how likely is that in the near term, really?
The positive way to look at this choice is that, for a change, we have two interesting options. I may be overly pessimistic. It is certainly possible that soup-to-nuts security models – encompassing hardware, MAC, Apps, Platforms – will rule from here on out. There is no doubt plenty of room for improvement. But the phrase I keep hearing on mobile software projects is MVP: Minimum Viable Product. KNOX doesn’t fit that approach – at least not for most projects today. I can see why Samsung wants to build a platform – they do not want to be just another commoditized Android hardware manufacturer, undifferentiated from HTC or Googorola. But there is more to it than tech platforms – what do customers want? There is at least one very good potential customer for KNOX, with DOD-type requirements. But will it scale to banks? Will KNOX scale to healthcare, manufacturing, and ecommerce? That is an open question, and app developers in those sectors will determine the winner(s).