Mobile device management now a top priority for vendors

Mobile device management has become a key component of large systems management vendors such as CA, Microsoft and HP, as they see the value to the enterprise.

Mobile device management has recently become a prime target for several vendors that had little or no play in the mobility arena, with marquee vendors like Microsoft and CA coming out of the woodwork to offer device support.

Just this week, systems management vendor CA released its first iteration of a mobile device management solution, called simply CA Mobile Device Management (MDM). In its current state, CA's solution supports just BlackBerry, but in the near future, support for Symbian and Windows Mobile operating systems will be added, according to CA director of product management Allen Houpt.

And late last month, Microsoft announced the System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, a mobile-dedicated server to help enterprises manage Windows Mobile smartphones. Microsoft's device manager lets companies deliver applications and updates over the air and offer mobile VPN connectivity and security-enhanced access to corporate data.

Along with CA and Microsoft, other systems management vendors like Novell, BMC, LANDesk and Symantec have also jumped on the device management trend.

Richard Ptak, managing partner with Ptak, Noel & Associates, said CA's and Microsoft's jump into the mobile device management fray illustrates that some of the major players are now recognising that mobile devices are key to corporate growth.

"The big players have finally realised that this is an era of increasing network-based services and proliferation of mobile devices and data," Ptak said. "They realised they had better get their act together with their systems management and include mobility, or they're going to be totally lost. They're recognising that mobile devices are growing in significance as an endpoint into the network environment."

Stacy Sudan, research analyst of mobile enterprise software at IDC, said that both CA and Microsoft had offered some level of mobile device management in the past, but mostly as a retrofit of their management tools for PCs and laptops. Now they're offering tools that have a core focus on smartphones and other mobile devices.

"There's been very much a renewed interest for large systems management vendors to target mobile devices," Sudan said, adding that it's due mostly to the "attention the converged mobile device market has received over the past several months."

That attention, she said, stems from IT mobile managers struggling to manage both the proliferation of devices that come through the door and the lack of resources that many enterprises have to manage them.

Recent research from IDC estimated that the mobile device management market is poised to grow from US$205.7 million in 2006 to US$345 million by 2011.

"Companies have a really difficult time now figuring out what devices are connecting to their networks," Sudan said.

CA, which released MDM this week, aims to expand management capabilities of BlackBerrys by simplifying provisioning and ongoing management of devices. MDM features over-the-air connections that don't require agents and also offers a self-service portal where device users can register devices, manage passwords and fix common problems without a call to the help desk or to the company BlackBerry manager. The administrator portal unifies all core management tasks -- such as security management, asset inventory, configuration management, policy compliance and reporting -- for every device in the enterprise.

"BlackBerry administrators are getting hammered with every little task," Houpt said, noting that CA decided to "try and remove some of that burden."

The overall goal of CA's MDM is to take a good chunk of the management onus away from administrators and pass it on to the users themselves with the self-service portal, where users can activate devices. Administrators still retain a level of control over exactly what features and functions users can tinker with -- like data wiping, locking and unlocking devices, and resetting passwords. For example, Houpt said, if a user loses a device on a Friday night, he can lock the device through the portal instead of waiting until Monday morning for help desk support.

Administrators can set up policy groups within the CA software, which will take any attributes from Active Directory and push it out through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).

"We're not circumventing BES," Houpt said. "We sit on top of it and augment it."

"[Automation of tasks] removes a lot of the manual process," he added.

Other key features of CA's MDM include:

  • Leveraging BES IT policies to deliver over-the-air management from a Web-based interface, including device lock and unlock and data wipe to prevent access on lost or stolen devices.
  • Automated role-based device security and configuration enforcement, and lifecycle management leveraging Active Directory data.
  • Automatic disablling of devices upon employee termination.
  • Customisable workflow approvals, escalations, event management and support processes.
  • A Bulk Addition feature that enables the rollout of large numbers of devices in a single session.

Like CA, Microsoft is also looking to ease management of mobile devices -- in their case, it's devices running the Windows Mobile platform. In Microsoft's case, organisations can set and control policies in Active Directory and Group Policy; set up phones according to specific needs; encrypt data; manage device inventory; and add and provision Windows Mobile phones, which also features a self-service device enrolment.

At last month's CTIA conference in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer called the device management system Microsoft's first dedicated mobile device management server to help companies take advantage of mobile solutions.

"People expect to be able to do more with their mobile phone," Balmer said in his CTIA keynote. "We're building on our expertise across servers, operating systems and services to deliver Windows Mobile experiences that bridge the things people want to do at work and at home."

Sudan said both CA and Microsoft, among others, are heading down the right path.

"You want a mobile device management solution that integrates with your directory service," she said, adding that any role assigned can be pushed down to the device.

Sudan said systems management players are also starting to offer mobile device management as a standalone product, which can wrap into large systems management tools but doesn't necessarily have to. Microsoft's new solution requires buying the server, while CA's requires buying the software.

CA's model can integrate with other CA tools like CA Asset Management, CA Identity Manager and CA Security Command Center to incorporate BlackBerrys into a broader set of enterprise IT governance best practices.

Ptak said that while jumping on the device management bandwagon is good for big vendors like CA, Microsoft and HP, it may not bode well for smaller vendors. The fact that the major players are jockeying for mobile device management shows that devices are being recognised, however, and that is a trend Ptak believes will continue.

"They'd be really foolish not to support device management," he said. "You need robust mobile device management to go along with network and systems management."


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