Of all the challenges that CIOs face, the most troubling are the unexpected ones.
Virtualization falls into this category, but at least that technology had enough residual benefits to help IT face down some pretty tough operational and organizational challenges. Virtualization, of course, led to the cloud, which came with enough warning that few enterprises were caught flat-footed.
These days, the primary unexpected challenge is the rise of mobile devices. In a few short years, smartphones, tablets and the like are poised to replace the PC as the primary access device for both personal and enterprise data and applications. And this has left many enterprise scrambling to adapt their infrastructures to an entirely new data environment.
As usual in the face of new technology, there's good news and bad news with mobile access. The bad news is that things are probably going to get worse before they get better. Devices like the new iPad (not to be referred to as the iPad 3, mind you, just "the new iPad") sport high-resolution screens and long term evolution (LTE) networking, which could wreak havoc on enterprise LANs and Wi-Fi infrastructure. There are already close to 30 million iPad users out there, a number that is expected to double over the next two years.
On the positive side, new systems are already hitting the channel designed to ease some of the mobile burden on enterprise networks. Extreme Networks has added an Intelligent Mobile Edge Solution to its portfolio, consisting of new Summit Ethernet switches, longer range 802.11n access points and intelligent identity management tailored for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) connectivity across LAN, WLAN and 3G/4G networks.
As well, Array Networks has released a new line of secure access gateways, the AG 1000 series, built around the company's 64-bit SpeedCore architecture. The platform supports up to 256 virtual ports and 128,000 concurrent users, along with 3.2 Gbps SSL throughput and 2048-bit encryption that enables per-user policy and security management.
In many ways, the new mobile infrastructure will be a much tougher beast to manage and monitor than legacy infrastructure. Between Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G and whatever else comes along, the primary challenge will be to ensure user accessibility at the lowest possible cost. To help with this, Wi-Fi platforms like iPass are adding new open layers designed to broaden connectivity between devices, individuals, groups or entire enterprises. The goal is to enable faster deployment of mobile infrastructure and greater visibility into data pathways and usage patterns.
While it's true that the mobile revolution has come on rather suddenly, it doesn't mean the challenges are insurmountable. There is a fleet of new access devices waiting to tap into the enterprise, so on one level it's a question of working the numbers. But enterprise infrastructure needs to be streamlined and efficient above all else these days, and mobility represents an opportunity to build entirely new data environments from the ground up.
And that means the top challenge will be not just determining what you need now, but what you'll need next year and beyond.
Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.