End Point to Ops: Securing the Mobile Balancing Act

IT professionals today are at the crux of a critical business intersection, where greater productivity through mobility crosses comprehensive security to protect business assets. The keys to optimizing both routes without being a roadblock for the other is a shift in mindset and the right perspective.

Mobility, multi-cloud operations, and practical DevOps were the prevailing themes from VMware VP and CTO Chris Wolf at the 2016 CTO Talks summit in New York City. Wolf gave two presentations to the estimated 200 attendees, primarily senior executives and engineers, who came to discuss and hear about how to scale up security, infrastructure, mobility, and IoT initiatives for their organizations.

During a workshop session, Wolf discussed how in an increasingly centralized technology environment of multi-cloud and converged resources, infrastructure plays a crucial role and is an ideal opportunity to implement a simple yet comprehensive security solution. Security as part of an architecture is a significant departure from security policies, which are often the last concern or an afterthought to trends around increasing productivity, such as mobile device adoption and the development of new apps to run on top of them. Security as architecture may be new to some, but it can be seamlessly integrated as part of a virtualization layer. 

“The question changes from ‘How do I secure virtualization?’ to ‘How do I use virtualization to secure,’” said Wolf. “This mindset shift has numerous advantages because of virtualization’s unique role in the network.”

Wolf explained in his talk that all applications, regardless of platform (e.g., traditional, cloud-native, PaaS or SaaS) require programmatic compute, network, storage and security services. Virtual infrastructure, such as VMware NSX, delivers two key capabilities—alignment and ubiquity—which are inherently related. The virtualization layer sits between the physical infrastructure and the applications so each can understand, or align, around what the other is doing. Secondly, virtualization cuts across compute, network, and storage—even clouds—so it is ubiquitous. All of this is to say that virtualization is the opportune layer to architect security for scale and awareness. As an added sweetener for the audience, Wolf claimed this new mindset will mean that IT will evolve from an operational role to one of strategic business importance. He concluded with a passionate plea for IT operations executives:

Your goal isn’t to regain control or even to meet developers half-way. They are your customer! Your operational solutions should align with developer consumption patters, not IT operational management patterns.

Wolf’s second presentation was a featured talk at the conference and was also around security and productivity within the enterprise, but from the perspective of the endpoint. The number of endpoints, or devices, that employees are carrying have grown from nearly zero, in 1996, to nearly three per person, in 2016. And that number is projected to reach more than six by 2021. Ideally, this much compute translates to more opportunities for employees to be productive, but it suggests more vulnerabilities to account for among IT leaders. This is also why trying to limit or take away devices from employees isn’t realistic and can hurt productivity.

“Our users don’t consume Windows, Web, or mobile applications,” Wolf said. “They consume Windows, Web, AND mobile applications.” He continued, “The business problem you are trying to solve is connecting people to applications and content, and you should look to solutions that holistically address the core business issue.”

The mindset of IT professionals needs to shift to create platforms that allow mobile devices to meet security policies and enable greater productivity while remaining convenient for employees to install and use. These platforms, such as VMware’s Workspace ONE, can not only serve as a security solution but also provide employees with scalabale resources through access to cloud-based or on-premises apps.

Beyond mobile workers, mobile platforms can be used in remote devices, such as vending machines, to more effectively manage distribution and inventory management. This is something VMware customer Coca-Cola does with VMware’s AirWatch mobility technology to monitor over 30,000 machines for maintenance and supply. Secure mobile platforms can turn a concept such as Internet of Things into a reality with real-time data collection, and even dynamic inventories based on ingredient availability in a vending machine.