|Issue:||North America 2013|
|Topic:||BYOD and the breakdown of the castle walls: An IT allegory|
Prayson Pate is the Chief Technologist at Overture Networks, which he co-founded; he brings more than 24 years of experience developing software and hardware for networking products to the company. Mr Pate began his career at FiberLAN, moved to Bell Northern Research (Nortel) and then joined Larscom where he served as Director of Engineering. Mr Pate is active in standards bodies such as the MEF and IETF, and he was chosen to be the co-editor of the pseudowire emulation edge-to-edge (PWE3) requirements and architecture documents (RFCs 3916 and 3985).
Prayson Pate holds a BS in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and an MS in electrical and computer engineering from North Carolina State University. He holds nine patents.
BYOD (bring your own device) has been jokingly referred to as “Bring Your Own Disaster”. This allegory – not a form commonly used nowadays, good-humouredly points out some typical corporate reactions to the BYOD phenomenon and its gradual adoption. There are problems, but with careful planning, attention to security, and training, the problems are controllable. In the end, like it or not, the case is compelling, BYOD risks are manageable and the benefits soon become obvious to organisations and users alike.
Recently I was on a late flight returning home from a business trip. I struck up a conversation with my seat mate, who was complaining about his new phone. Our conversation turned to electronic devices, trends in computing and corporate policies. I joked that I had heard BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) referred to as ‘Bring Your Own Disaster’. He suddenly got a serious look and related the following strange tale …
BYOD: Bring Your Own Device
VDI: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
ITopia: The tightly-controlled corporate environment of yore.
Count of Internal Order: CIO (Chief Information Officer)
Cloudistan: The Cloud
Shrines: Desktop/Laptop PCs
Baron Yar of Doume: BYOD
The Baron’s servants: Phones, Tablets, Notebooks, etc.
A Closed Kingdom
Once there was a misty land called ITopia. In that land the people were content, but it was largely due to the great wall built around the kingdom. The wall was so high and so thick none could pass. The wall kept out strangers, so the people were safe. However, the lack of trade and communication meant their lives were dull, and not much happened.
The great wall was pierced by a giant portal with thick doors and protecting turrets. It was the tradition in ITopia that the gateway to the kingdom was opened but once a year. During this annual opening, strangers were allowed to visit. Merchants and peddlers came from far and wide to display their wares. Tasty new foods and exotic clothes dazzled the senses of the citizens. However, none could be purchased until they were inspected and approved by the Count of Internal Order. Many items he deemed to be too exotic or too dangerous, and those he spurned. However, there were always a few he found acceptable. These new treasures were allowed to be purchased by the citizens of ITopia. These annual bazaars were eagerly anticipated, and the new wares were treasured by the buyers.
The Peddler from Cloudistan
Thus it was for many years, until one year an odd little wanderer came to ITopia. The Count said “Peddler, your clothes and speech are very strange to mine eyes and ears. From whence do you hail?”
“I have travelled here from the misty land of Cloudistan,” replied the Peddler. “In that distant and happy land we have many wondrous clothes, buildings, food and services. They change daily, and even the poorest are able to buy what they want. I have come to see if your Excellency will deign to approve my offerings.”
The Count was intrigued by the Peddler’s story, but troubled by the strangeness of the Peddler and his exotic cart. In the end, he sent the Peddler home and refused access to his goods.
Undaunted, the Peddler came back the next year, with the same result. However, at the third visit of the Peddler the citizens beseeched the Count to allow entry to the wondrous treasures of Cloudistan. The Count’s heart was softened by the pleas of his people, and the Peddler was able to sell his entire wagon load. However, there were two conditions of his sale. First, the people had to acquire, maintain and use elaborate shrines to access the Peddler’s goods. The second requirement was that the walls of the castle had to be pierced with windows to allow the shrines to operate.
The people of ITopia soon grew accustomed to the new goods, strange as they were. Even stranger were the parting words of the Peddler. When the Count asked if he would return the next year with more treasures, the Peddler laughed. “That won’t be necessary. Now that you have tasted of the wares of Cloudistan, you may summon up more simply by asking your shrines. Place your payment under your doormat, and it will be collected.”
This process was troubling to the Count and the people, but they soon accepted it. Occasionally a treasure from Cloudistan would go missing, eliciting howls of “where’s my music?” In general, the people were virtually ecstatic with the new situation.
The Painter from Vide
Several years later a colourful character arrived in ITopia. The bright colours on his smock marked him as a painter. “Welcome to ITopia, worthy Painter!” cried the Count. “Will you paint a portrait of me for the castle?”
“Nay, my lord”, replied the Painter. “I paint pictures of shrines, not people.”
“Of what use is a picture of a shrine?”
“I am friends with the Peddler, who is now supplying his services to your subjects,” explained the Painter. “However, many of his customers dislike the need to build and maintain the needed shrines. I offer you the ability to replace the large and elaborate shrines with simple pictures of the shrines. I will maintain the actual shrine for you back in Vide. You can pay me just as you do the Peddler – just leave the gold under your doormat. My only requirement is that you enlarge the windows in the castle”.
The Count and his people were sceptical this could work. However, their experiences with the Peddler made them willing to give it a try. They soon grew accustomed to this new way, and they were happy to replace the maintenance of the shrines with simple dusting of the paintings.
The Baron Yar of Doume
By this time the Count had become quite open to new ideas. The gates were now opened once per week to allow merchants to enter with their offerings, and the Count allowed most after only a cursory glance.
One week a stranger appeared at the opening of the gates. Unlike the Peddler and the Painter, the stranger was handsome and well dressed. His speech and manner were pleasing, and the Count and the citizens looked upon him with favour.
“Greetings, nobleman!” cried the Count, for the stranger must surely be of noble lineage based on his appearance. “Will you sup with me this evening?”
“Of course, my lord” replied the stranger. “And, as a token of my thanks, I have brought a variety of my diminutive servants to leave with you and your people.”
“How should we address you?” asked the Count.
“My formal title is Baron Yar of Doume, my lord, or simply Doume if you prefer.”
After a sumptuous feast and a festive night, the Count and the Baron parted the next morning. As promised, Doume left his small and numerous servants behind.
At first the people were happy with the presence of the servants. They were handy to have around, and their prodigious memories meant they were able to recite stories and sing songs to provide entertainment. Soon the people began to rely on them for keeping track of routine chores, and then family information such as where the gold was buried. Best of all, Baron Doume did not ask for any payment.
Sadly, the situation started to change. First, the servants became increasing demanding in terms of their care and feeding. The feeding was a particular sore point, as each servant claimed to be from a different country, and required a different cuisine. Next, some of them began to go missing. What was worse, it soon became clear the secrets entrusted to the servants did not remain secret. Skeletons were rousted from family closets, and family treasures began to go missing.
The people stormed the Count’s tower, blaming him for not protecting them from the evils of the Baron’s servants. “Why did you let these pestilent imps enter our city?” The Count stood on his balcony and addressed the mob. “You eagerly embraced the entertainment of the Baron’s servants, and forced me to provide strange and expensive foods to satisfy their varied appetites. Now you blame me for their crimes?”
Sadly, the people were beyond reason. They dragged the Count from his tower and burned him on a pyre. None of the Baron’s servants joined him in the flames, as they had disappeared.
MY seatmate had finished his story and I reflected on the strange transformation that had taken place in ITopia. I saw that you cannot judge a technology by its appearance and understandability.
While Cloud computing and VDI seem strange at first, the benefits soon become clear, the ROI is straightforward and the risks are manageable. BYOD is a different prospect entirely. People like their gadgets, so the attractiveness is clear, however the dangers are insidious. Not only do personal devices consume the time and resources of IT groups, they are a huge security risk. But BYOD is here to stay (like the Baron’s servants). The problem is figuring out how to prevent the damage through policy and security add-ons. Numerous firms are offering to help tackle this issue, but first you have to let them in the door.
I happened to notice my seat mate’s phone. “Your phone is quite unusual,” I said. “Did you get it in ITopia?”