Last week, Apple unveiled its iCloud service to cheers at its WWDC in San Francisco. CIOs, though, weren't so thrilled. How will iCloud impact the enterprise? This question needs to be answered, hopefully before Apple launches iCloud this autumn.
"Professionally, iCloud will provide a lot of enterprise challenges," says CIO Rob Rennie of Florida State College at Jacksonville, an early iPad enterprise adopter.
Apple has been busy building a massive data center to be a "digital hub" for iTunes users, called iCloud. The service will automatically sync and store data on iPod Touches, iPads and iPhones. The Apple devices will no longer need to be tethered to a PC or Mac for syncing to iTunes on the desktop.
"We're going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at the WWDC keynote.
For consumers, iCloud will make managing iOS devices easier. You'll rely little or not at all on your PC anymore, the only thing you'll need is a regular Internet connection. For companies, iCloud represents a new computing paradigm for iPads and iPhones, whose rapid rise in the enterprise has been well-documented.
How IT will manage iOS devices and apps-not to mention securing data-in the iCloud environment is anyone's guess. It is still unclear if IT will have the capabilities to separate work-related apps and data from personal apps and data syncing to iCloud. A few CIOs who recently adopted iPads indicated they weren't in a position to really make or discuss their plans given the lack of information about iCloud from Apple.
Data security looms as a significant problem. There is a good chance iPad-toting employees will upload sensitive work data to iCloud, which, in turn, will automatically sync to all of the user's iOS devices. Some of those devices might not be authorized by IT; they might be used by friends or family. The risk of data loss can mushroom with iCloud.
"There's many-to-many multiuser, multi-device situations, work versus personal synching to the cloud," Rennie says. "We'll be spending some time as more info becomes available figuring this out."
Traditionally, Apple hasn't been forthcoming with information to help IT prepare. Apple's modus operandi has been to announce a product or service after months of hype-building secrecy, launch the product or service shortly after, watch consumers flock to the new product or service, and then let IT deal with it.
This time, though, Apple's iCloud has a new wrinkle: The service won't be available until the fall. During the past few quarterly earnings announcements, Apple has been touting iPad and iPhone enterprise adoption. Perhaps iCloud's longer lead time is to help companies prepare. Will Apple answer CIOs' questions? The next few months will be telling.
At least one IT exec thinks iCloud will benefit companies with iPads and iPhones. Apple has helped (some might say "forced") companies to look at computing in a different way, from needing to have a mobile apps strategy to less reliance on powerful-yet-underutilized desktop computers. iCloud might sway companies sitting on the fence with cloud computing.
"I think the significance of iCloud for enterprises is more in terms of mindshare, helping gain buy-in for the concept of software-as-a-service," says Ferdinand Velasco, M.D., chief medical information officer at Texas Health. Velasco is overseeing a mobile health strategy where iPads and iPhones sever the desktop computing cord and allow doctors and nurses to spend more time with their patients.