With virtualization, a way to wrangle mobile data costs in the enterprise

Are you an IT pro who's tired of rising mobile bills?Does incorporating personal smartphones under the enterprise security umbrella keep you up at night?

Are you an IT pro who's tired of rising mobile bills?

Does incorporating personal smartphones under the enterprise security umbrella keep you up at night?

Bob Tinker may have a solution.

Tinker, chief executive of mobile enterprise solutions provider MobileIron, is excited about his company's new Virtual Smartphone Platform, which allows data-driven smartphone management and real-time wireless cost control.

Like many IT pros, Tinker is tired of seeing skyrocketing wireless costs in the enterprise. ZDNet spoke with him about how the mobile phone trend ruined IT budgets and why it's a risk if it isn't brought under control.

ZDNet: What's happening with mobile in the enterprise?

Bob Tinker: There are a couple of big trends going on inside enterprise mobility.

First, smartphones are growing like a weed in the enterprise. They started in the C-suite and now everyone has them. They're crashing like a wave. It's not just a single platform -- there's a layer of complexity inside enterprise mobility that wasn't there in laptop land.

At the same time, costs are exploding, because of data plans. The expense line associated to mobile is now becoming a mainline expense item. You have a combination of unit volume and expense growing. Add it all up, and mobility is becoming a headline issue for the CIO, rather than somewhat of a rounding error.

The single-OS strategy is collapsing in the enterprise. But it's actually driven by the end-user.

IT is realizing that smartphones are way harder than laptops are: There's no Wintel in smartphones; multiple OSes. They're also more expensive -- now everybody's spending $1,000 per year on them. One customer of ours, a tech company, spent $60 million on it.

U.S. enterprise organizations will spend something like $44 billion on mobile services this year. Typical end-users expense on an annual basis $500 per year when it was just a cell phone. Now it's $1,000 for a smartphone. Add international roaming and you end up with a $5,000 roaming bill.

ZDNet: How can companies wrangle mobile data costs?

BT: Enterprise data is moving to smartphones whether enterprises want it or not. With smartphones, the end-user matters in the equation. It's just different. It's personal. The end-user both wants and demands a say in mobile. That creates issues and opportunities for IT. Issues, in multiple OSes.

How do you embrace corporate-owned smartphones and personal phones? That's where MobileIron comes in. You need to take a different approach.

At the end of the day, smartphones aren't phones, they're computers.

That's where we came up with the virtual smartphone platform. The industry needs to move beyond the device and focus on the data inside it. The enterprise content; the activity; the applications. That's a fundamentally new approach.

Think about it as the smartphone meets the enterprise cloud. The platform delivers a central view inside the enterprise data center into the content, activity and applications on the smartphone giving IT a central view so they can secure the boundary and simplify operations.

[MobileIron] can help them reduce their costs up to 20 percent. The CFO has no idea how much they spend on mobile services until they get the bill at the end of the month. How many things in the enterprise work that day? We allow them to understand the aggregate: real-time cost control.

Being able to know, hey Andrew is roaming in China, let's make sure he's on the right roaming bill. The ability to holistically address how smartphones are handled.

It also allows visibility into service quality: dropped calls, signal strength, et cetera.

Mobile is one of the few things that end-users get excited about that IT gives them. IT is trying to be more services-oriented. Being able to understand that.

ZDNet: How can IT pros keep things secure without Draconian measures?

BT: Take our Selective Wipe feature. When the enterprise embraces employee-owned smartphones, it's all about defining the enterprise data boundary. What information on that phone is personal and what is the enterprise? When you leave the organization in two years, instead of bricking the phone, you can selectively wipe the data and leave the photos of the family and kids.

By taking a more computer-centric approach to the smartphone, it enables lots of things. Drawing an enterprise boundary, reducing costs, service quality, the ability to deliver some of these services to the end-user.

Employee self-service is going to be a big deal in the enterprise.

There's also our enterprise app store. Take some of these services that exist in the consumer world and put the right kind of IT wrapper around it is great. Frictionless distribution of relevant applications to end-users? Great!

There's also file-sharing, like MobileMe. Those types of things represent legitimate security risks to the enterprise. But to have the right kind of wrappers to keep it in the enterprise? That's when IT becomes the hero.

ZDNet: What will MobileIron support at launch?

BT: What we're supporting out of the gate is BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and iPhone. We will be adding Symbian and Android in the near future.

In the future, we can start to add additional services on top of the platform, such as an app store. And we plan on expanding to other OSes, too.

MobileIron is a product of the realization that customers needed a new way to tackle mobile. It's all in the name: "Mobile" -- as in new, hot, fleeting -- plus "Iron," a base of strength and comfort.

It's a data-centric view of the mobile platform.