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The iPad, the Enterprise, and Data Armageddon

November 05, 2010
by Robert L. Mitchell

With so many people now carrying personal iPads into the workplace you might be thinking about directly supporting it for business use. Approach with caution or you could be overwhelmed, warns Bill Hewitt, CEO of Kalido, a provider of data management and governance tools.

While the iPad creates an opportunity for innovation and productivity, he thinks it also creates an enormous opportunity for risk.

“Every provider that is thinking about putting out applications for the iPad will be sucked into managing data at the device level as effectively as they can in the data center,” he says.

Here’s why.

Explosion on the edge

Hewitt contends that our view of mobile technology as a content reader is about to change dramatically, as iPads and similar products explode into the market. Apple sold 4 million iPads just in the last quarter and its sales may have been constrained by its ability to make the devices fast enough to keep up with demand.

“There could be hundreds of millions in the hands of people within two years,” Hewitt predicts.

Add to that the ease with which applications can be developed for the platform—and Hewitt’s prediction that Apple will have to relax its restrictions on what apps you can run on the iPad—and you have a perfect storm for data lifecycle management. The iPad is rapidly moving from a reader of content to a device upon which users create, manipulate, transact with and store data.

Indeed, the iPad, as a satellite device tethered to the user’s Mac at home, may already be pulling mail, calendar and contact data down from the corporate Exchange Server—and pushing that data back out to the user’s home computer, its synchronization point. From a data management standpoint, IT is losing control. And that’s just one example.

“The reality is that consumers, people at the end point, are in charge of how this stuff is going to work. Apps for the iPad and other mobile devices will be quickly built—often by smart end users or customers—and just as quickly discarded, to be replaced with something better. “IT won’t be able to control this one,” Hewitt says.

So how do you manage that?

By managing the data independently of the device or app. Hewitt sees each iPad as a unique “stack” containing database, security, systems management, application and presentation layers. All of those are still evolving to some extent, but management of the data piece is practically nonexistent, he says.

IT already struggles with data management issues on personal computers. Businesses are just now moving toward virtualization as a way to centralize personal computer data and applications to allow for better management. iPads and similar devices will have to follow suit, Hewitt contends.

Smarter data

How do you keep data on such devices constantly synchronized and equipped with the best data possible, wherever the user is? “That kind of virtualization just doesn’t exist today,” he says. And it will require a framework in which to manage that data - what Hewitt calls “the business process of data management.”

“Data will have to get smarter to get virtualized, to know where it’s been and where it’s going,” he contends. Where was it created? What business event does it represent? That will require the application of metadata so that the data context can not only be identified, but can change over time as data moves—for example, from a transaction to a report to fodder for analytics.

“If you can put a thin layer of metadata on top of every piece of data, you have a better chance of virtualizing it,” Hewitt says. That metadata tagging process can’t rely on the user. “It must be very programmatic and based on a series of standards.”

Ultimately, Hewitt thinks that apps on the iPad and other edge devices will become independent sources of data for back-end transaction systems as well as for other applications.

Hewitt expects that it will take a decade or more before we get to the point where that metadata tagging process is fully automated.

That’s a long time, he concedes. “But I don’t see any other choice.”

The iPad, the Enterprise, and Data Armageddon

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