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When it comes to mobile computing, most of the focus is on the productivity benefits. Yet the specter of increased security breaches is a major concern that is driving more customers into the embrace of their local solution provider.

Beyond the complexity of building and deploying mobile applications, the biggest challenge most IT organizations face is securing them. Few have the necessary expertise to secure mobile computing devices that on any given day can wind up visiting malware-laden Websites through any number of untrusted networks.

Typically, the primary challenge solution providers face when trying to tap that demand is that they are rarely the primary source through which smartphones or tablets are acquired. Most smartphones are acquired through carriers, although Apple dominates the tablet market by largely selling direct.

Inserting themselves into the mobile computing conversation often requires some effort on the part of the solution provider. The good news is that increased demand for everything from more secure wireless network infrastructure to services that encrypt every piece of data on a mobile computing device is providing that opportunity.

Much of that demand is being driven by high-profile security breaches. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, said Caleb Barlow, director for critical infrastructure security application, data and mobile security at IBM.

“Most people have no idea who built that application they are using or where their data is actually going,” said Barlow. “Mobile applications get hijacked all the time by people that set up fake applications that people download.”

To expand its mobile security offerings, IBM recently acquired Fiberlink, a mobile-device management (MDM) service provider, and security specialist Trusteer, Barlow said.

“We think application reputation is about to become very important in the mobile space,” said Barlow. “Long-term customers are going to want vetted application repositories.”

Also pursuing a security-centric approach to mobile computing is Dell, which recently announced the general availability of its enterprise mobile management platform. Coupled with Dell’s acquisition of SonicWALL to provide network security, Dell is helping partners build mobile computing practices around four pillars: device enablement, the network, custom application development and management, and consulting, according to Roger Bjork, director of enterprise mobility solutions for Dell Software.

“The solution provider has the benefit of local touch and customer trust,” said Bjork. “Our goal is to provide the console to integrate the management of data and security.”

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard, as part of an effort to incentivize solution providers to create a mobility practice, just extended the HP Partner Anywhere Program to include sales enablement and training tools specific to mobile computing solutions.

Genefa Murphy, director of product management for user experience for HP Software, said the full gamut of the mobile computing opportunity for solution providers extends from application development and testing to distribution and monitoring of the end-user experience with security built into every phase.

“Enterprise mobility is reality, not a fad,” said Murphy. “The mobile app is only the initial entry point.”

The biggest challenge with mobility, however, may not be the technology, but rather the impact it has on how solution providers deliver support. With the average end user now owning three or more devices, IT support models that were priced based on the number of devices that needed to be supported are growing rapidly.

Vince Arden, founder and chief financial officer for Preferred Communication Systems (PCSI), said that as IT service contracts come up for renewal, PCSI is nudging customers toward per-user pricing models in which the basic assumption is that every user has on average three devices.

“The way we look at is that we’re going to wind up supporting these devices anyway,” said Arden. “With MDM, we can get a small uplift on services.”

Ben Pearce, president of ACP Technologies, said the real concern is that without some standardization on the client, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon can result in support costs spiraling out of control.

“The conversation always has to be around the support agreement, not necessarily about fixing new problems the customer creates,” said Pearce. “You can’t expect to support everything without charging them extra.”

No matter how solution providers approach the challenge, a combination of VPNs, gateways, firewalls, application containers, wrappers, virtualization and encryption technologies will all be in the mix.

The number of devices that need to be supported in most businesses is not likely to decrease any time soon, said David Applebaum, senior vice president of marketing for MokaFive, a provider of desktop virtualization software.

“It’s not likely Microsoft is going to dominate the desktop again,” said Applebaum. “In that regard, it’s been like the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

That means there’s going to be a lot of complexity and mystery involved, which usually creates an opportunity for solution providers to deliver profitable services. At the same time, however, as mobile computing continues to mature, some vendors are already making the case that it is rapidly being folded into IT service management (ITSM) in general.

As such, solution providers are better off with one integrated console for managing both mobile and desktop devices, said Pam Seale, senior director of product marketing for Absolute Software, a provider of IT management and security software.

“The reality today is that there is a lot of swivel-chair management,” said Seale. “We think it’s time to reunify the management of IT.”

Regardless of the approach taken to manage and secure the mobile computing environment, as long as some care is taken in terms of both optimizing the delivery of the service and identifying what devices and applications will, within reason, actually be covered, solution providers stand to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the rise of mobile computing.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.