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From product to feature in 3, 2...

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Virtualisation guru Chad Sakac hit on something interesting in one of his recent blog posts: he wrote of how a product becomes a feature: in this case "sync 'n' share" functionality.

We’ve seen products become features before: remember when deduplication has moved from being a product to becoming a feature of most storage arrays. And I don’t think it’ll be too long before we see it beginning to appear in consumer storage devices either.

But "sync 'n' share" is of a whole different order – the valuations of some the companies is quite scary and Chad is probably right about the general unrealism of them. The sync 'n' share companies are vulnerable to attack via a number of vectors, and this is not a criticism of the products… Dropbox, for example, is a great product on many levels; it has great functionality, but perhaps has to deal with some questions about security and privacy.

However the product's ease of use and access means that it has been embraced by both the consumer and the business user (yes, I know they are consumers), and this has scared the crap out of the IT department who find it very hard to compete with "free"… Have you ever tried to build a business case which competes with free? You can talk until you are tired about security concerns, and the boss won't blink.

Few want to pay for a new feature, certainly at scale, especially when it starts to amount to a frightening figure. So what happens is the end-users, even if banned by security policies, will continue to use the services. The services are just too damn useful.

And as mobile/BYOD/desktop/laptop/home-working proliferates, they become necessary. People’s home directories are migrating to these services. Work on a document on your desktop, present it on your tablet…without having to transfer it; this workflow simply works.

What we are going to see is vendors of operating systems and storage systems start to build this functionality into their products as a feature.

If you are a NAS vendor, you are going to provide an app that allows the user to access their home directories from their mobile device or the web etc… If you are Microsoft or Apple, you are going build this into the operating system. If you are sensible, you are not going to charge a huge amount to provide this functionality. Those business cases can become a lot simpler, especially if you are simply layering on top of existing home directories and shares.

Et voila: what was once a product is now simply a feature.

Those valuations are going to plummet – and I don’t think that application integration and APIs will save them. If I were Dropbox or Box, I’d be looking to sell myself off to a vendor who wants the feature.

Comparisons with the fate of Netscape might well be made. ®

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