The hype and excitement surrounding the Android platform has intensified with the recent release of Google's own handset running the OS, Nexus One. Offering high levels of user-customisation, social networking integration and a 'desktop-like' mobile browsing experience, the device is very attractive to consumers...but is the operating system anywhere close to ready for the Enterprise?
Leaving aside the iPhone effect (consumer desire to use their own smartphones
within a company) and the need for corporate devices to have some kind of roadmap (RIM BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices offer this to business via carriers), there are still a baseline set of criteria that a platform should meet:
An 'Enterprise-ready' operating system should offer the features required by a mobile user as well as conform to the security policy defined by the IT department:
- Wireless access to corporate email (usually Lotus Domino or Microsoft Exchange), contacts and calendar information, ideally updated via 'push' with no user-interaction required. All information exchanges between the device and the server should be secure. Access should preferably be available via both cellular and WiFi connections.
- Support for Virtual Private Networking (VPN) infrastructure enabling access to internal corporate applications and network resources
- Corporate IP PBX support providing free calls over WiFi when in the office between internal extensions, and landline-to-landline call charges for landline numbers.
At the time of writing, only Android 2.1 features native Exchange support
, although only the Nexus One features this version of the OS. HTC-branded Android devices such as the Hero
and the Tattoo
both already feature HTC's own Exchange client which supports full mailbox synchronisation including subfolders as well as contact-lookup and out of office support.
Other third party applications such as Moxier Mail
, Nitrodesk's Touchdown
and Dataviz's RoadSync
are all Exchange ActiveSync licensees, that support baseline Exchange policies
- Android 1.6 (Donut) brought with it support for Virtual Private Networks, including PPTP, L2TP and IPSec protocols as well as certificate authentication.
IP PBX/VoIP Support
: SIPdroid is a free-to-use VoIP client for the Android platform that can be used to interface with any IP PBX that supports the SIP standard.
Naturally there are perils to and open source operating systems (besides fragmentation), such as the ability to freely manipulate and exploit vulnerabilities in the platform. How does Android stack-up here?
- Application-sandboxing: In Android all applications must state what hardware resources and file locations they require access to, and only those areas will be permitted by the operating system. It is not possible to alter these once installed without at least requiring approval by the user. This approval is requested during the initial installation and can be viewed at any point within the Applications setting menu.
- Remote Device Wipe - Although part of the Exchange ActiveSync protocol, it is not currently supported on the HTC Exchange client. This is on the roadmap for HTC Exchange 2.0. A third party Exchange ActgiveSync solution would be required to enable this functionality. Any device marked for wipe from the Exchange server will not be able to synchronise any new information, but any information held on that device will not be erased.
- password Usage - It is not possible to enforce use of a password on the Android platform using the Exchange ActiveSync policy without a third party application. Again, this is on the roadmap for HTC Exchange 2.0
However it is worth noting that Android does support the use of hand gestures as a form of unlocking a device, rather than an alphanumeric password:
- Corporate Usage Policy - It is not possible to remotely enable or disable hardware or software elements on the Android platform at this point, neither does the OS support on-device encryption. However, companies such as Sybase support the Android platform http://www.sybase.co.uk/detail?id=1064587
All in all, Android is nowhere near mature enough yet for a typical business to support Android as a credible platform. Third party providers may be offering the “plumbing”, but there are still a lack of basic enterprise functionality (policy support, password, remote wipe) to make it a credible choice…yet!