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Apple, IPhone 5 Change Balance of Power Between IT, Vendors

With the release of the iPhone 5, corporate network managers get a glimpse of their unpleasant future in vendor contract management.

All of this nonsense--the semantically slippery and changeable terms of service, prices, too-frequent upgrades, too-thin security and asset control, difficulty in determining what features will actually ship and how long financial terms will hold--is the kind of thing corporate IT buyers round file in the first conversation they hold with any vendor.

No company of any size can afford to continually upgrade its hardware, face invoices significantly higher than the prices to which it agreed or deal with a company that changes the definition of unlimited without getting the support of customers first.

IT, in particular, can't afford to deal with hardware vendors or carriers that either plan capacity so badly that their networks are swamped by increases in traffic that are entirely predictable, or use that incompetence as an excuse to make the terms harsher after all the negotiations have been finished.

Unfortunately, in the era of BYOD, even enterprises often have to deal with carriers, cloud providers or other service companies whose pricing, customer support and negotiating policies were designed for consumers with no influence and less technical knowledge.

Since the beginning of the consumerization/BYOD mania, everyone from business-unit managers to tech-industry analysts to bloggers to news reporters have harangued IT about the need to adapt their corporate, enterprise-IT aloofness to the new reality of actual consumers having influence over corporate IT decisions.

In consumer technology, the balance of power skews the opposite way, and carriers don't seem too eager to change things to make them more efficient.

Rather than learning from their enterprise sales staffs the proper way to sell technology to big companies with big IT departments-- no hard sell, plenty of support, as much stability as possible on hardware configurations, software patches and security updates--carriers seem to have gone the other way, by making IT deal with the same nonsense that apparently works on consumers.

There are a couple of good, IT-manageable things about the iPhone 5, of course:

• Siri is more accurate, so now all the bandwidth users waste will be put to slightly better use.

• 4G LTE is the base protocol for iPhone 5s, offering much faster connection speeds than ADSL--when and where LTE is available, of course (which is in very few places, so far).

There are a couple of good, IT-centric reasons not to use the iPhone 5, too. The one with the biggest impact on the network is that the data-hogging iPhone isn't the only device iPhone users carry, and likely isn't the only data hog. So iPhone 5 users will drag down the performance of networks lacking the endless network-upgrade budgets of major carriers.

There are also plenty of security concerns, even apart from issues that have been widely publicized: the growing body of malware now available for iOS and the increasingly good odds that an end user will use the large onboard storage, lack of full-device encryption, and the likelihood that users will indulge a penchant for convenience by turning off most of the security so all the data is available when the iPhone is left on the seat of a commuter train.

None of those things will slow the influx of iPhones or the extra load they put on your network. One way or the other, you're going to have to deal with that.

Despite all its drawbacks, contractual traps, performance issues and misperceptions, the iPhone 5 should quickly become the fastest-selling gadget of all time, according to Bloomberg, which predicts Apple will gross $36 billion in new iPhone sales from it.

With all its drawbacks--including the decision by Apple not to give customers a free cable that uses the newly designed proprietary data port on the iPhone 5 the way it did with every other edition so customers could buy one for $28 each instead--the iPhone will continue to get more popular and continue (justifiably) as the poster child for consumerization and BYOD.

Network managers have no more real choice in how or whether to deal with all the nonsense than anyone else in IT, as long as the iPhone's glamour outshines its reality.

IT will have to continue compensating for the weaknesses of the iPhone and effort of carriers to be difficult because, as Huffington Post's Neil Katz points out, millions of people are willing to pay full price or change carriers just to get their hands on an iPhone 5, even if they don't really know why.

Welcome to the next-generation downside of BYOD and consumerization. Kevin Fogarty is a freelance writer covering networking, security, virtualization, cloud computing, big data and IT innovation. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN.com, CIO, Computerworld, Network World and other leading IT publications. View Full Bio

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