Is policy-based management crucial for mobile remote access? If so, what change in the industry has provoked the need for this specific administrative approach?
In the last several years, the business world has experienced a paradigm shift. IT administrators, who were once able to focus their energy on managing policies and features that supported entire organizations, are now being saddled with the responsibility of managing an endless sea of individual devices and operating systems instead. Advancements in mobile technologies have no doubt made the lives of consumers easier, but the resultant bring your own device (BYOD) movement has decentralized IT management, making network administrators' jobs that much harder.
The IT department is in charge of making a company's operations and networks run smoothly, while developing new and better ways of running things. If it stands any chance of accomplishing such a goal in the new business world, where the consumerization of IT has made BYOD the norm and companies have even started providing various mobile devices to employees, administrators have to be able to centrally manage every IT asset that remotely accesses their corporate networks. Luckily, this somewhat daunting task can be made possible with policy-based management.
The plight of today's IT administrators
Ten years ago, an employee remotely accessing a corporate network was all but guaranteed to be using a company-issued laptop computer. The IT department would have to support one or two basic operating systems used by its entire workforce, and probably about the same number of laptop models. Today, however, it supports myriad smartphones, tablets and laptops of countless makes and models -- all with different features running on any one of a laundry list of operating systems.
Perhaps contend with would be a more appropriate word choice today than support, because nowadays that is oftentimes the task at hand for IT administrators. Without centralized management capabilities, businesses have to spend more on an unnecessarily large number of IT staff to manage thousands of remote users and on specialized training to handle a growing number of individual operating systems and devices.
Due to the unavoidable BYOD movement, even companies that have yet to embrace the use of mobile devices will soon be dealing with iterations of Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and every other operating system that tries to connect to corporate networks. This is somewhat manageable when networks have only a few users, but when the number of remote endpoints creeps into the thousands, it very quickly becomes an untenable situation. When IT administrators are troubleshooting an influx of devices and operating systems, they can't possibly be expected to focus on the projects that will serve the entire corporate network and the company as a whole.
Instead of innovating and developing new software or protocols that will revolutionize how an organization does business, IT staffs are far too often relegated to the role of tech support for consumer devices.
Making remote access manageable
In order for IT administrators to make the contributions to their companies that they are capable of, it's important to move away from this notion of IT as the "technology triage" department. This is accomplished in two ways: centralizing the administration of remote network access and automating as many management tasks as possible -- both of which can be done through policy-based virtual private networks (VPNs).
A policy-based management strategy has advantages for security, including simple and intuitive processes with plausibility checks to prevent network vulnerabilities and data leaks. Centrally managed software lets administrators easily control all aspects of a user's connection, client provisioning and configuration, as well as regulate compliance with security policies.
What this means for IT administrators and the companies they serve
This type of strategy streamlines management of BYOD programs so that the benefits for individual employees don't become the bane of the IT administrator's existence. It also frees up IT staff to focus more time and energy on supporting the entire company rather than constantly being wrapped up in individual employee concerns.
Just as mobile devices have evolved to address the desires of consumers, VPNs have evolved to address the needs of the entire business world. Seamless management of a wide range of communication mediums, operating systems and numerous user accounts lets IT administrators do what they were hired to do in the first place -- make companies stronger.
Improving the management of VPNs not only improves security, but it pays dividends by reducing expenses related to time and effort spent managing remote access. The simpler the management, the more time IT administrators will be able to devote to improving efficiencies and cost-savings in other areas of the business.
About the author: Joerg Hirschmann has been employed at NCP engineering GmbH in Nuremberg since 1994. After his Abitur, he did an apprenticeship as technical sales representative. Between 1989 and 1991, he worked in the IT department of the company Schöller, where he gained experience in the areas of databases, training of employees as well as mainframe computers. More recently, he augmented his knowledge of database programming. Within NCP his fields of activity have been support, consulting, system engineering and training. In 2001 he became technical director.
This was first published in September 2013