IT Experts Consider iPhone Perils

From security to Exchange integration issues, could iPhones be the next big storage challenge?

July 14, 2007

4 Min Read
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A week after it was launched in a blaze of publicity, the Apple iPhone is already starting to make IT managers nervous. Experts cite the security risks posed by yet another network device, as well as the impact on firms' back-end storage. (See Getting & Securing Your iPhone and AEP Extends Security to Apple iPhone.)

With consumers snapping up more than half a million devices during their first few days on the market, service providers are likely to be the first to feel the iPhone storage burn. "It may change the way that service providers work," says Eric Birch, executive vice president of data center facilities specialist Degree Controls. "It's going to accelerate the ability of people in having everything available at their fingertips."

The exec expects the first signs of this change will be when consumers start downloading even more rich content. "The ability to download movies will mean more storage demand from service providers," he says.

For enterprises, the main challenge posed by iPhones is less about adding storage capacity, but more about making sure sensitive data is not plucked out of back-end arrays.

At least one user says he is already concerned about the security implications of hooking iPhones up to his servers and storage. "It's basically like another USB Flash drive -- it's something else that would be dangerous on the network," says Marty Hurd, network administrator of Concord, N.C.-based Cardinal Logistics.Although iPhones are being sold as consumer devices, it is inevitable that the technology will find its way onto corporate networks, particularly in firms where executives love the latest gizmo. "If your CIO or CEO wants an iPhone device, an IT manager is not going to be able to say 'I am not providing that access,' " says Keith McCall, CTO and founder of managed email specialist Azaleos. "It's something that IT managers will have to deal with and provide more secure connections to their corporate servers and corporate storage."

USB drives and other portable media are already a major source of sleepless nights for IT managers and CIOs, who cite the technology as a major achilles heel in their security strategies. (See Users Confess Security Fears, On the Brink of Storage Disaster, Users Confess Security Fears , Vendors Dive Into Data Protection, and USBs' Giant Sucking Sound.)

Cardinal Logistics's Hurd says that, at this stage, his firm has no plans to roll out iPhones to corporate users, although he is already thinking about the possible security impact. "If that happens, I would imagine that we would put down restrictions on what can be accessed, either from or to the iPhones."

Like other mobile devices, such as BlackBerries, iPhones can be password-protected. Still, IT pros may want to think about encrypting and authenticating data sent to the devices.

The main concern is about having another form of data access in circulation. "Does it violate security processes in a lot of IT shops? Absolutely," says Marc Staimer, president of analyst firm Dragon Slayer Consulting. "It's no different to [connecting] a Treo device."Not all experts feel that iPhones present the same degree of security risk as USB drives and other portable media. Azaleos's McCall, for example, believes the security threat is much less apparent. (See Azaleos, Avnet Team Up, NetApp, Azaleos Team , and Azaleos Updates OneServer.) "USB drives are orders of magnitude less secure than iPhones," he says, explaining that it could take just a few minutes to download Gbytes of information onto one of the drives. "It would take you hours to download that information on an iPhone."

One area where McCall feels that iPhones do pose a major storage challenge for enterprises is with regard to Microsoft Exchange. "iPhones don't have as complete access to information that is stored in Microsoft Exchange as RIM BlackBerry devices or Windows mobile devices," he says. "Because iPhones use a completely different protocol to talk to Exchange, it doesn't have the whistles and bells."

Specifically, iPhones currently lack the level of synchronization with Exchange's calendar feature offered by BlackBerries or other mobile devices. "That can reduce [users'] personal productivity when using the iPhone," says McCall, although he expects Apple to address this issue within the next six months.

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)

  • Azaleos Corp.

  • Degree Controls Inc. (degreeC)

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM)

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