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New York-based IT solution provider BlueWater Communications Group is on the front lines of an emerging trend for VARs and MSPs – how to secure an increasingly mobile fleet of consumer devices that are accessing corporate information and networks.

From iPads to iPhones to Android smartphones and tablets, increasingly company boundaries are being pushed. Corporate-issued Blackberry smartphones are in decline. Executives and other workers want to use their own tablets and phones. They want to BYOD (bring your own device.)

“A lot of our customers are coming to us because their own employees and executives in their organizations are asking the IT leaders to enable access to the network for their personal devices, their tablets and smartphones, and it’s creating a burden on the IT department in being able to process these requests securely,” said John Marchese, senior vice president of sales engineering BlueWater Communications Group which offers a host of solutions to customers, including unified communications, in several verticals, including finance, manufacturing and healthcare.

The trend is gaining steam now more than ever.  Why the sense of urgency?

“Because there’s a demand from the employees to be able to leverage their own investments they’ve made in this. If they can find that they are more productive using these devices even in their personal lives, why should they be held back using these personal devices in the corporate environment?” Marchese said.

However, there’s a catch. IT is accustomed to being able to control devices on the network and user experiences with those devices.

Indeed, customers’ three biggest concerns in fulfilling these BYOD requests are security, performance and manageability, Marchese said. By design, consumer devices are not managed by the corporate IT department, and that lack of corporate control that can put the company’s data and other IT infrastructure at risk. Additionally, when the devices access corporate resources, they can’t always deliver the performance required to reap the productivity benefits mobile devices are expect to offer.

It’s a daunting challenge. Businesses need visibility into the devices accessing company resources, and visibility and performance must be consistent whether the connection is cellular, or via a home network, a VPN or a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

“Many of the customers across multiple verticals, including financial and healthcare, are looking for help in really defining their strategies” Marchese said. Customers in financial and healthcare are among the first verticals looking for help due to security and compliance concerns that come with non-secure mobile devices in the network. Plus, executives and workers in these fields tend to be mobile, pushing the boundaries of security. It’s a balancing act.

The BlueWater approach to solving problems associated with BYOD (bring your own device) is to develop strategies based on the use cases of the industry and user. The BYOD problem often is tied into an opportunity that begins as a mobility or wireless deployment, and then BlueWater focuses on building a policy engine on Cisco ISE (Identity Services Engine), part of the Cisco TrustSec solution, that can be used across wired and wireless environments, as well as via VPN. BlueWater is a Cisco Gold Partner.

The use cases are as varied as the companies enabling BYOD policies, according to Marchese.

For instance, BlueWater recently worked with a customer in the healthcare industry that needed to ensure granular security policies on its wired network to meet industry regulations. BlueWater built an access control policy solution based on ISE. As the customer began to realize the benefits of the policy engine, it realized it could do more. BlueWater drafted a BYOD initiative and rolled out the access control policy for use on the company’s wireless network. Now, employees can bring in their devices of choice, including iPads or other tablets, and connect securely to the network without putting customer data at risk.

In a completely different type of use case, BlueWater worked with a museum that was interested in gaining visibility into the types of devices visitors were bringing onto its network. The goal was to provide a more dynamic museum experience through exhibit-specific applications. BlueWater designed a system that can identify and profile mobile IP devices within the museum, providing the museum with information about how many smartphones and tablets are on the network at the same time. Additionally, the museum can segment the devices and push them into a captive portal where content can be pushed to the customer or exhibit-specific applications can be provided to customers.

In the future, the museum will be able to integrate the infrastructure with a location-based system that will enable it to push relevant exhibit content to devices in specific locations. When this becomes a reality, customers standing in the vicinity of a specific exhibit will get customized information pushed directly to their mobile devices for additional exhibit data.

Mobile devices are everywhere these days, from the smartphone in your pocket to the iPad in your client’s briefcase. Why not leverage them to increase worker productivity and customer experience?