BoxTone’s Brian Reed: Securing Android for the Enterprise

digital security

BoxTone’s enterprise mobility management platform is designed to bring Android security up to levels better suited to the rigors of the business workforce, but in making Android enterprise-hardened, the company left Android’s open-source trappings intact.

As part of that EMM platform, BoxTone delivers its service in three categories of functionality, according to Brian Reed, the company’s chief marketing officer and chief product officer. Mobile device management is generally the most well-known functional area; the second one is an emerging market called Web services management. The third category, mobile services management, focuses on reliability, service quality, and cost efficiency.

BoxTone's Brian Reed

BoxTone’s Brian Reed

BoxTone recently took over Google/Motorola’s 3LM security technology, which makes all manner of Android phones and tablets more enterprise-ready and secure.

A big complaint about Android is that too many different devices make securing them in the workplace an IT nightmare. Handset OEMs and carriers are embedding the 3LM technology to manage and secure all flavors of these devices through one EMM platform.

Android devices and tablets are quickly growing in popularity among end users in the enterprise, but unlike BlackBerry and iOS devices, Android devices and tablets have lacked key OS-level security features and a robust set of IT management features key for enterprise usage — until now, that is.

In this interview, LinuxInsider talks to BoxTone’s Brian Reed about the EMM platform’s relevance to open source and the bring-your-own-device market.

LinuxInsider: How is BoxTone’s enterprise platform different from those of other enterprise mobile management companies?

Brian Reed: Traditional companies look at mobility as helping customers deploy, configure, and manage the life cycle of their devices. We find that service management — when it comes to scaling reliably and efficiently — is just as important as deploying in place.

Think of it as the two sides of a coin that go together. The head side represents a mobile user. The tail side of the coin is the building with its enterprise IT guys. We see those two things as coming together.

How does BoxTone’s control of Google/Motorola’s 3LM security technology affect Android phone and tablet security issues?

Reed: 3LM was started by some former Google employees to create a secure management layer for Android. They recognized that largely regulated industry-type enterprises like financial services and health care were going to want a flavor of Android that could enable very high security and management capabilities. With Google focused on the consumer market, 3LM’s founders saw the opportunity with the permission of Google to create this business.

Does making Android enterprise-grade fork the open-source consumer version?

Reed: BoxTone partnered with 3LM in order to leverage its secure Android technology — we embedded and resold their technology.

Fast forward a few years into that partnership, and we were able to take control of that technology. Now, we own the intellectual property and are carrying it forward as part of the BoxTone portfolio. Arguably, 3LM was the best way to make Android enterprise-grade.

Where did you draw the line between open-source and commercial enterprise Android?

Reed: All of our products are not open source — some we sell commercially and protected — but obviously, Android as an operating system is open source. We work a lot with the Android OEM handset manufacturers. These are the ones that literally take the Android license, enhance the code, and then compile it and turn it into their devices.

Is BoxTone legitimately selling an open-source OS?

Reed: Our position around open source is that we take all existing platforms and make them work with our products embedded in them. If it is open source, so be it. If it is a licensed IP, so be it. We make everything work together in one package.

Obviously, BoxTone is playing both sides of the marketing aisle with open-source and commercial technology. What does your success foretell for open source down the road?

Reed: I think that open source is largely swimming at the operating-system layer and some of the development-tools infrastructure, but we are still seeing the bulk of the market as commercially perfected IP. We think that is the way it will go.

Mobile management is developing as systems management did. For the first 15 or 20 years, systems management was all protected IT. There have been a few open-source vendors. It would not surprise me downstream a few years from now that some of those vendors might wind up with open source for mobile management, but right now we are in the traditional part of the market emergence where it is protected code.

So, given the absence of significant open-source activity, what do you see developing in the EMM space in the next few years?

Reed: There are a handful of things going on right now. The first is a kind of giant gold rush with mobile. Organizations are deploying devices en masse. Whether it is a BYOD model, corporate-owned, or a hybrid of the two, we are seeing it grow.

Two to three years ago, the average number of employees at companies that had a mobile device connected to enterprise data was 10, 15, or 20 percent. That was mostly Blackberries and a few iPhones or iPads. Last year, we saw that number grow.

I am seeing independent statistics that talk about some 30 percent of employees in the average enterprise having a mobile device connected to enterprise data. We expect that within two years, you will see widespread adoption of mobile in the enterprise where from 70 to 100 percent of the employees have mobile devices.

How will that affect software and security development?

Reed: If you think about that sort of growth curve, that is a pretty severe hockey stick going from mobile as a hobby for 10 or 20 percent of the employees to 30 percent with a bunch of BYODs to everything running on mobile. Mobile is a core service in a series of services that might also include Internet services or email and a website shopping cart and things like that which IT delivers. So, the industry will clearly be one sector of challenge and opportunity as that time evolves.

What other challenges is mobile growth bringing?

Reed: The second thing is largely around service management, where a lot of the market today is obsessed with security concerns. Once you have 50 percent of your employees running mobile devices, and once they replace a laptop with a tablet, mobile becomes mission-critical.

There will be a need in the demand curve for service management, high reliability, and high availability in the next two years as people move from the connect-a-thon to the support-a-thon.

Is there much recognition in the workplace yet for the security risks that come with massive movement to mobile?

Reed: People look at mobile and say, “Well, we will just make it BYOD and hook it up to the enterprise.” They do not think about people doing their jobs on that mobile device.

Once that happens, any application or service they use is mission-critical to get the job done. Some of those jobs involve protecting people if you are in the government generating revenue or serving customers. When the point-of-care medical application stops working while the patient is in cardiac arrest, that is a bad thing.

There are lots of scenarios like that where we expect to see high mobile reliability and availability demands that pose challenges.

That said, do you see a movement towards replacing desktop and laptop computers entirely with smartphones and tablets as the primary work tools?

Reed: Whether the company gives it to them or they have their own, most people in business seem to have a smartphone. Already, it is a core tool for work, just like the fax machine became core for work and email. That wall is down, so mobile is just going to go that way.

Is there a preference for smartphone over tablet?

Reed: The smartphone really is not designed to do a lot of things that the tablet can do. I think we are going to see a wide hybrid mix. If you are doing hard-core content creation, you are more likely to live in a real PC world with the office applications and the other desktop programs that you need.

If you are a salesperson who is doing presentations and filling out order entry forms, you might be more likely to end up with a tablet that is optimized for sitting in front of a customer. So we think there will be a heavy hybrid environment where the PCs will not fully go away but will not grow as fast as they used to.

Do you see signs of that happening in your own company?

Reed: I look at our salesforce today, for example. They all have three: a tablet, a smartphone, and a laptop. Some of them tried to live on the tablet and smartphone alone and found that they hadn’t been able to do it because all of the applications and experiences were not there.

Over time, that might happen. We have a couple of salespeople now who are experimenting with the Windows 8 Pro tablet, which is a full-blown tablet with a detachable keyboard. We have other people who tried to live on Android and iPad. Generally, there are certain job functions or applications where they feel they need a laptop, but you can see a path where there can be a blend.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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