The world of consumer app stores has quickly dominated the delivery of software applications across a variety of different platforms. Started by Apple for the iPhone, it has quickly spread; even the iMac, that staple of static computing, no longer has a DVD or CD drive integrated into its sleek look. Not only have app stores replaced the slow and expensive world of physical CDs, we now expect the application to install itself and work immediately. This brilliantly convenient consumption model has driven billions of downloads from Apple alone and kick started an entire resurgence in application programming by anyone with the skills, commitment and an eye for an ever decreasing gap in the market.
The enterprise applications world and specifically many IT professionals have eyed this development with a mix of envy, nervousness and trepidation. On one hand wouldn't it be great if after your CEO buys a new company that integration was a simple visit to your online store CTRL C, CTRL V and you're back to playing Angry Birds, job done. Albeit with the inevitable feeling that if it's become that easy maybe you'll have a lot more time on your hands to play Angry Birds in the future.
But will it really be that simple? There are enterprise app stores that purport to do this, but in many cases the parallel falls apart once you have downloaded the app. In the consumer world we are downloading an app onto a tightly controlled platform (or let's say 5 or 6 variants) Apple, IOS and OSX, Windows, Android, HTML and latterly RIM. Either way working your way through 4 or 5, or maybe 6 application environments to standardise the delivery of millions of applications is a small price to pay for the scale economics. The app store not only replaces the downloading of the app (i.e. the CD) but also the installing and configuration so you're up and running in no time.
The challenge of the enterprise app store
For this model to work in the world of corporate IT, you not only need to deliver a 'package' but install and configure it to some level. Otherwise you are simply replacing a small part of the problem (i.e. the acquisition of the application license). For the enterprise app store to make a difference it also needs to help simplify the IT infrastructure, its creation, offering scale and security in equal measure. This not only helps the app developers create greater opportunity, but it also aids the beleaguered IT professional who, in order to meet the demands of the new multi-platform mobile IT edge, needs to greatly simplify their infrastructure regardless of what else they may have on their mind.
The challenge with most app stores aimed at the enterprise is that they either do nothing to help with the infrastructure i.e. they are straightforward images or only use the internet as an access method because it's simple and maximises the market you can reach. However, for the typical corporate IT manager the app store is fraught with 'what if's and concerns; where is my data exactly, is it mine or can you move it, how do I secure content that is private from my corporate web presence; or, unified communication is great but how do I use it to call outside my corporate network of connected devices, without becoming a phone company? These concerns are fed by those with the most to lose; typically the consultants and tin shifters who have grown fat on years of slow laborious IT projects.
So what's the answer? The IT professional wants to simplify infrastructure, but bunging it all out onto the Internet is simply a step too far, especially in Europe where member states have strict requirements on data sovereignty and if not that then the tax man does.
The SDN opportunity
The answer lies in the less well known, and very dry but emerging world of Software Defined Networking (SDN), which is facilitating the convergence of computing and networks on a massive scale. When the the network and the computing are automated it allows service providers to create sophisticated, automated solutions that allow the IT professional to know where their data is, maintain data confidentiality and integrity and generally retain control. But also it means service providers are able to layer on automation and crucially integrate the app with the infrastructure thereby going a long way to replicating the world of the smartphone app store in the enterprise space.
It's very much in its infancy, but the ability to create a sophisticated ICT solution without compromise, eliminating painful and slow IT projects and instead being able to react with fast IT solutions may yet convince your CEO to let you carrying on playing Angry Birds. After all,l if you're smart it's simply ALT TAB and no one will everknow.