Consumer-Grade but Enterprise-Class: Can IT Have Both?

Arthur Cole
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At one time, digital technology occupied two different worlds: consumer and professional. IT pros, of course, tended to look down on consumer gear as lacking the reliability and durability of high-volume production environments.

All of that has been turned on its head over the past few years, though, as mobile devices and cloud-based sharing technologies started to encroach upon the workspace. Nowadays, knowledge workers are just as liable to conduct business on their smartphones as on PCs and store data in the cloud rather than the enterprise storage array.

As the business world becomes steeped in 21st Century applications like file sync and collaboration, expect reliance on consumer infrastructure to grow. According to a recent survey by Ovum, nearly 90 percent of workers prefer consumer-grade cloud storage for sync and sharing support over enterprise-driven solutions provided by their own IT shops. This may be a case of IT having to catch up with the profit-driven cloud industry, but if so, it indicates that the enterprise still has a long way to go toward meeting workers’ needs. The same survey also revealed that nearly 45 percent of workers are still using email and memory sticks to share data, which indicates that the use of consumer cloud resources still has a lot of growth potential.

But while the enterprise has a clear interest in improving its cloud capabilities, does the consumer cloud have an equal interest in adopting more enterprise-class capabilities? Without doubt, says ZDNet’s Jason Perlow. The recent hacking of sensitive pictures of A-list celebrities should be a wake-up call for everyone with a cell phone that data in the cloud is not secure. At the very least, mobile operating systems should stop building cloud back-up as a default setting to give users more control of where their data goes and how it is managed. Naked pictures of young starlets are bad enough – release of enterprise crown jewels would be devastating to the company and the overall economy.

Of course, there are those who are starting to question whether the professional gear in the enterprise is really better than consumer-grade devices. According to cloud provider Backblaze, consumer drives like the Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000 are just as reliable as, or even more so than, professional products from Western Digital and Seagate. And what’s worse, drives like the Seagate 3TB Barracuda are failing at a higher rate, jumping from 9 percent just last January to 15 percent in the most recent survey. A three-year-old Deskstar, by contrast, had a failure rate of only 1.1 percent.

It is also worth noting that hardware is not the only side of the data equation that is being affected by consumerism. Just as digital technology and the Internet have given rise to citizen journalists and the citizen punditry, so too are we seeing the advent of citizen developers, says Forbes’ Adrian Bridgewater. With drag-and-drop development tools taking much of the mystery away from application building, it’s no wonder that many workers are starting to build their own tools for the management and sharing of corporate data. Gartner, in fact, predicts that these programs will account for a quarter of new business applications by the end of the year. This could become a real problem for the enterprise as individuals are more often concerned with solving their own immediate problems rather than addressing enterprise-wide concerns like security and data governance.

So how should IT cope with this rising tide of consumerism? Do you fight it? Embrace it? Try to manage it? The answers to these questions will probably be as diverse as the enterprise community itself, influenced by everything from technology and infrastructure to business processes and corporate cultures.

When confronted with any given problem, however, there is bound to be a solution that works – and whether that solution is labeled “professional” or “consumer” should be of little consequence.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.

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