As smartphones and tablets proliferate in the enterprise, IT professionals are under pressure to implement enterprise mobile device management (MDM) systems that can protect enterprise handsets from potential attacks.
Ultimately, organisations aim to support corporate email and other applications on consumer products, such as iPhone, iPad and Android devices, but they face tough decisions when it comes to choosing an MDM solution.
MDM software secures, monitors and manages an array of personal and enterprise-issued mobile devices. It also supports over-the-air distribution of applications, data and configuration settings.
The need for enterprise MDM is evident. According to software company G Data’s malware report on current online threats, Android devices are now being targeted as they continue to grow in popularity. Cyber criminals are increasingly using these mobile devices to spread malware code.
Business unit VP and general manager Sanjay Beri said: “Android devices are prime targets because the online marketplace for third-party applications, such as games, does nothing to check software for hidden threats.”
Yet while all MDM applications aim to optimise the functionality and security of a mobile communications network, the marketplace is cluttered with products that take varying approaches and promise different specific features.
Phillip Redman, vice president of research at Gartner, who co-authored the Critical Capabilities for Mobile Device Management report, separates the approaches into lightweight and heavyweight categories. He describes the lightweight management approach as systems that are limited and where deep control is not accepted by employees using personal devices. These systems tend to have a small mobile agent running on the device, using application interfaces provided by the mobile OS platform, but they do not have a complete mobile management client. Examples include offerings from Zenprise, Fiberlink and AirWatch.
Contrasting this is the heavyweight management approach that involves systems that deliver secure and manageable corporate email to consumer and personal devices when strict security and compliance requirements apply. Examples include offerings from Good Technology, Excitor and Sybase.
In a recently published report on behalf of Oracle, entitled "Rethinking IT strategy… can it enable a step change in Communication Service Provider performance?," PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that CIOs will look to differentiate between commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) MDM applications -- not by considering lightweight vs. heavyweight -- but by looking for solutions that will address three key mobility trends expected in the UK in 2012:
• 4G and Wi-Fi: Investment in long-term evolution will increase as the need for greater voice and data bandwidth becomes pressing. Next-generation Wi-Fi will force companies to quickly develop and execute relevant strategies. MDM must be prepared for the increase in speeds and the inherent risks these will bring with them as cyber criminals seek to take advantage of the beta phases of these new innovations.
• Security: Mobile device security will be vital with the proliferation of smart mobile computing devices. As more users gather online, IT managers will be reliant on the MDM system to ensure high-strength protocols are in place to avoid misdemeanours and threats to company servers.
• Cloud: Data security and privacy in the cloud will open up opportunities to develop deep relationships with customers as they start to make use of cloud services. Consumer-facing companies will be reliant on enterprise MDM offerings to maintain data protection standards and ensure that the highest levels of encryption protect customer data from falling into the wrong hands.
Major players are now looking into launching such COTS applications. Earlier this week, Research In Motion (RIM) unveiled an MDM system for all operating systems, called BlackBerry Mobile Fusion. General availability is expected in late March 2012.
Currently in beta testing, it will provide management for assets, configuration, security and policy definition and connectivity. It will also help to secure and protect lost or stolen devices via remote lock or wipe. The tool will be run by a centralised console offering user- and group-based administration across any smartphone operating system.
SonicWall has also unveiled a Mobile Connect App, enabling companies running Apple devices to have secure access to network resources. 3LM, a subsidiary of Motorola Mobility Holdings, introduced an enterprise server console for Android devices.
SonicWall Mobile Connect is a single unified client available on the App Store that lets IT managers define and enable easy iOS device access via SonicWall SSL VPN and Next-Generation Firewall appliances. 3LM’s console runs via the Web and gives enterprises the tools to control which applications get installed and are accessible on their devices. They can be modified to be either user-aware or application-aware, dependent on the company requirements.
Meanwhile, UK operators have also jumped onto the bandwagon. O2 has unveiled a service called Joined Up People to help organisations manage the flood of new devices being brought into the workplace by employees, known as BYOD (bring your own device).
The system works with Fiberlink to enable automatic discovery of all devices in an organisation. Joined Up People also enables security enforcement, device policy and remote lock down of all common smartphones and tablets from a cloud-based portal. Security firm Zenprise can also work behind the firewall device management, covering all smartphone and tablet operating systems and having access to a knowledge base of 6,500 common faults and fixes.
It is clear that enterprise mobile device management software is reaching its goal of securing, monitoring, managing and supporting mobile devices deployed across mobile operators, service providers and enterprises. Yet, there is still some way to go before it achieves the stringent standards many expect of it.