It's Black Friday for IT Too

Wayne Rash

It's pretty hard to avoid the nearly constant barrage of Black Friday sales this year, even though Black Friday is generally considered in the retail trades to be the day after Thanksgiving. Retailers call it that because it's the day that everyone rushes into stores to begin their holiday shopping. This year, many retailers, especially electronics retailers, are trying to get a jump on those sales by starting their holiday sales immediately after Halloween. It appears to be working-sales of everything from smartphones to Wi-Fi appear to be up.

But you know already what comes next. Many of your employees will take advantage of those sales to buy a little something for themselves because it's on sale. Why wait for it to be a gift, when you can start having fun now? This in turn means that you're probably already getting people at your door with the Windows Phone 7, asking that they have it integrated into the company e-mail system. Or they're showing up with that cool Wi-Fi router that also lets them attach a USB hard drive, giving them their own private server.

Once again this year, you're seeing what the pundits call the consumerization of IT. Basically, this means that some consumer products are offering capabilities that used to be the exclusive domain of the data center. Just look at Microsoft's Windows Home Server software for a clear example. Or consider the fact that half of RIM's BlackBerry sales are to individuals rather than businesses. Or look at the penetration of the iPhone and iPad into corporate life.

Now that we're past Halloween and the sales have started, you'll start seeing the flood of consumer IT, either when people bring it to you so they can have it set up, or when your intrusion detection system discovers a new Wi-Fi access point or a new server (or both) when it pops up on your network. So what do you do about this?

Smartphones, like Windows Phone 7, are fairly easy to deal with. Assuming your company is using Exchange for e-mail and related functions, you can simply integrate it into your existing network. Just make sure that you enable things like remote wipe, so when your employee loses their new phone, you can keep it from becoming a security risk.

But adding something like a personal server or a Wi-Fi access point to your enterprise network is another story. First, find out why the person feels they need the device. Perhaps the company wireless network is seriously flaky in their work area. If that's the case, you might be better off adding a company access point with the company's management, security and monitoring so that part of the office gets decent coverage.

A personal server or even a USB hard disk on their Wi-Fi device is a tougher problem. Because of the risk to company data, and because of the huge liability in any data loss from a personal device, you need to remove the device from the network. If it's the CEO who wants the device, just mention the words 'liability, risk and data loss' when in earshot of the head counsel, and you'll get it taken care of.

The good news is that as long as you manage the consumer devices properly, they can save the company money with no loss of security. The bad news is that you'll need to be on the lookout for consumer devices in the enterprise even earlier this year than in the past.

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