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How Cloud, Mobile Are Changing IT, Security Management: Study

By: Kelly Sheridan | 22 September 2016

The evolution of technology is changing the role of IT and security pros as more employees use cloud apps and connect personal devices to corporate networks.

Nearly half of North American end-users claim they connect more personally owned devices to corporate networks than they did 10 years ago. Sixty percent of IT pros around the globe claim their businesses permit the use of cloud-based apps.

Both statistics point to the future of productivity and sources of security concern for IT managers. The data points come from two surveys conducted by IT management software provider SolarWinds in celebration of IT Professionals Day on Sept. 20.

Researchers aimed to demonstrate the evolution of IT management beyond corporate-owned devices and on-premises technology. This growth is placing greater demand on IT pros to manage technologies outside their traditional scope of control.

"Our surveys reveal that more than ever, end users are connecting more devices, including those personally-owned, to corporate networks; relying on cloud-based applications; and working outside the four walls of traditional offices," said Joseph Kim, senior vice president and CTO of SolarWinds. 

These findings have significant implications for the future of enterprise security and strategies for protecting organizations from cyberattacks.

Today's businesses are handling more devices than ever on their corporate networks. Lean Adato, head geek and technical evangelist at SolarWinds, notes how the increase in personal device usage has driven end-users' expectations for support from their IT departments.

"At this point, it's a given that people will get to their office with a smartphone, maybe a tablet, and a laptop in addition to their work device," he explains. "You will be supporting these devices, that's just a fact of the matter."

Ten years ago, the iPhone hadn't yet launched. There were no personal phones to connect to the corporate network, and IT and security teams didn't support personal devices because there were so few in the workplace. Now they face the challenge of securing their networks with many outside devices.

The rapid rise of cloud-based applications is also posing a major security risk, says Adato. More than 70% of companies estimate end users "at least occasionally" use non-IT-sanctioned cloud-based apps.

"There are companies that have things locked down, where non-IT-sanctioned cloud-based apps can't be used, but honestly they are few and far between," he says.

Adato points to SolarWinds' discovery that 60% of IT pros claim their businesses facilitate cloud-based apps. This number seems low, he says, noting he doesn't know anyone who isn't using tools like DropBox, Trello, or Slack to be productive.

The challenge is not in knowing whether 40% of respondents forbid cloud apps: It's that these organizations have different definitions of what "cloud-based" means.

Some organizations call an app cloud-based when they buy a cloud server, put one of their apps on the server, and let users run it from there. Defined narrowly like this, the 60% statistic makes sense, explains Adato, but many cloud tools fall outside this narrow scope.

It's difficult to condemn the growth of cloud-based apps because so many of them drive productivity. However, they also pose a security risk.

"They really are changing the way people are getting work done, and changing it for the better," he says. "But the users' tendency to avoid anything that has to do with security means this wonderful, collaborative, game-changing workplace is just asking for trouble in terms of security breaches."

Just as IT pros can expect the rise of personal devices in the workplace, they can anticipate a broader transition to the cloud. This means understanding infrastructure and the definition of cloud-based apps, which businesses leaders won't think about. They'll also have to navigate hybrid IT environments, as many business apps run both in the cloud and on servers.

Cloud apps make it easier for businesses to be successful by helping people enjoy the work they do, which is a "compliment that comes with a consequence," notes Adato. If employees are working around the clock, so too are IT pros.

The reality is users are willingly working longer days. Tech teams are wired to help, but the challenge is finding a way to address the needs of users who are always online without burning out.

"In IT, if the crisis continues beyond 5:30PM, you do, too," he explains. "It's always been a problem and it's always been something we in IT have done very badly."

He recommends companies begin to consider monitoring tools, which can constantly watch for threats and keep things stable so tech pros can focus on other tasks. For many companies, monitoring is still a manual task on someone's to-do list; in the future, it should be seen as its own discipline spanning storage, virtualization, and cloud.


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