Sierraware Blog

BYOD for Small Businesses: How to Secure Mobile Data on a Small Business Budget

Enterprises of all sizes have witnessed the emergence of the “Bring Your Own Device” phenomenon. Employees are bringing their phones and tablets to work and they want to use their devices to access business applications. With industry surveys indicating that 9 in 10 Americans use their smartphones for work,[1] BYOD is not just a trend, it is a reality.

BYOD promises many benefits, but also poses challenges for IT security and operations teams. Small businesses, with equally small budgets and limited IT staff, face even greater headaches as they attempt to adopt IT solutions designed for large enterprises. But before we explore the drawbacks, let’s take a look at some of the advantages of BYOD.

BYOD Nirvana

Proponents claim that BYOD improves productivity and employee satisfaction and reduces capital costs. Employees can also work from anywhere—including at home and on the go—allowing an increasingly mobile workforce to respond to inquiries from coworkers and customers more quickly and simply work longer hours because employees are always connected. And employees can use their preferred devices rather than inheriting used laptops or being forced to use company-approved phones.

When employees purchase and use their own phones and laptops at work, everyone benefits, according to BYOD champions. A number of studies back up these claims. A Forrester Consulting report reveals that working hours increased 45 to 60 minutes per employee per week.[2] The same report revealed that organizations saved $350 on phone acquisition costs and $90 per month per device on voice and data services.

BYOD offers small businesses many benefits. And—like it or not—BYOD has become an unavoidable reality as both rank and file employees and executives come to expect it. Unfortunately, many small businesses have started allowing users to access email and other applications from their phones before they had assessed the security and compliance implications. This leaves IT administrators at a crossroads as they try implement controls after they have rolled out access.

BYOD Requirements

Just like large enterprises, small businesses need to provision and support business apps on their employees’ devices. They also need to protect business data and meet compliance requirements.

However, small businesses do not always have the financial resources of large enterprises. If they have developed custom business apps, they cannot port those apps to every type and version of mobile device. They also may not have the resources required to manage and maintain third-party apps, especially if these apps do not support all types of devices, versions of operating systems, or device peripherals.

Small businesses also need to consider security risks like data on lost and stolen devices or the threat of mobile malware. If employees are allowed to access sensitive data like customer records from their phones, then businesses may need to audit employee activity. On top of these requirements small businesses should enforce strong encryption and dual factor authentication to prevent snooping and unauthorized access.

If these requirements were not tricky enough, many businesses must also contend with an ungainly assortment of internally-developed apps and apps from third party vendors. Each app might implement a different type of authentication, encryption and access control. Lax and uneven security controls might be one reason why, in a recent survey, 72 percent of IT professionals claimed that company data is at risks due to mobile device access.[3]

Many BYOD Solutions Designed for Large Enterprises

Enterprises can turn to several solutions to help secure mobile data and streamline management of mobile apps. Security technologies like mobile device management (MDM) can help distribute mobile apps and manage the settings of mobile devices. MDM can even remotely lock or wipe a device. Unfortunately, MDM can be costly and difficult for small businesses to implement. Plus, some employees might not want their employer to control their phone or decide which apps they can install.

Alternatively, organizations can deploy virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). With VDI, organizations host Windows applications centrally on data center servers rather than installing apps and data on mobile devices. Mobile users can access these applications from a Web browser or a mobile client.

VDI offers many advantages; VDI can support virtually any mobile device without forcing IT teams to port applications to various mobile operating systems. VDI also centralizes app management and data storage, keeping sensitive data in the data center and not on mobile devices that can easily get lost or stolen.

However, VDI is not designed for the faint of heart. VDI solutions are costly. They are typically designed for large enterprises usually require dedicated IT staff to manage. Plus, VDI is designed to make Windows desktop apps accessible to mobile users, but it doesn’t support the growing array of mobile apps that were designed for touch input and mobile screen sizes.

The BYOD Solution for Small Businesses: Virtual Mobile Infrastructure

To protect mobile data and streamline app management, small business can deploy Virtual Mobile Infrastructure (VMI). VMI addresses the security challenges imposed by BYOD, allowing small businesses to protect mobile data and achieve compliance. VMI is like VDI, but rather than virtualizing Windows applications, VMI virtualizes Android apps.

Because VMI hosts mobile apps on central servers, it allows small businesses to avoid data loss from lost and stolen phones. It satisfies compliance and improves security by allowing IT staff to enforce dual factor authentication and end-to-end encryption. Plus, if organizations want to, they can audit activity and make sure that users do not download or transfer large amounts of sensitive data.

In addition, VMI can make it easy for small businesses to extend coverage to any type of mobile device, including Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Firefox OS. Either through native clients or HTML5-enabled browsers, mobile users can access the apps they need securely.

The major advantage, though, of VMI is that it is very cost effective to provision and manage. Most VMI solutions are much less expensive than VDI products. Plus, VMI solutions that support mobile app virtualization offer unbeatable density, allowing small businesses to host up to 100 concurrent app sessions on a single, rack-mountable server. IT administrators don’t need to bother with complex VM environments, OpenStack integration, and hypervisor management.

As a plug and play solution, VMI enables small businesses to protect mobile data and streamline app management. VMI levels the playing field for small businesses, allowing them to embrace BYOD initiatives without putting their data at risk.

To learn more about Virtual Mobile Infrastructure solutions and see if they would suit the needs of your small business, download our white paper: “7 Things You Need to Know about Virtual Mobile Infrastructure.”


[1] Cisco Partner BYOD Insights Study

[2] The Total Economic Impact of IBM Managed Mobility for BYOD, Forrester Consulting

[3] TEKsystems 2014 BYOD Study