Managing Smartphones Calls for New Realism and Flexibility
Apple iOS shows maturity
Of the three, iOS is the most mature. And that's reflected in some large-scale enterprise deployments such as RehabCare, a rehab hospital provider that's deployed nearly 9,000 iOS devices, most of them iPod touches.
In iOS 4.0, Apple made available a set of device management APIs (and added with file-based encryption), developed by working closely with MDM vendors such as MobileIron and Sybase (which offers the Afaria product). Other vendors include Absolute Software, AirWatch, Boxtone, TrustDigital and Zenprise. With the just-released 4.2 version, these APIs and additional management and security features are now available for enterprise iPads.
Apple's approach is to use an App Store download to set up a direct link between the iPhone and a server application from one of the vendors, says Jesse Lindeman, MobileIron's director of product management. Technically, the downloaded app has no other function, and the MDM server's capabilities are limited to what Apple has enabled in iOS, such as pushing a configuration change to the iPhone without involving the end user, or downloading native enterprise-built iOS apps.
But some vendors, such as MobileIron and Sybase (Afaria), are adding value to their on-device clients to enable additional features, such as running tests to determine if the iPhone has been jailbroken (allowing it to load applications outside of the App Store), or to make use of the phone's location information.
By contrast, Android 2.2 is not as advanced. It added support for Microsoft Exchange Server, and lets IT set password policies on Android phones, remotely lock them, and if needed reset them to factory defaults (thereby wiping them of data, but not data stored on an SD card). MobileIron, for example, issues a second command to erase the card.
"I don't see Google [yet] having the same approach as Apple in terms of the level of study, collaboration and software development to address enterprise management and security," says Andrew Borg, senior research analyst at Aberdeen.
Borg's ongoing surveys of enterprise IT groups confirm the very rapid adoption of smartphone platforms. The most recent study, "Enterprise-Grade Mobile Apps: Secure Information When and Where It's Needed," reveals that those companies seeing the most dramatic measurable payback from smartphone mobility are those who are now rapidly developing a new style of application.
These are lightweight, simple, highly focused apps - of the type pioneered by the iPhone - which can pull data from wherever it resides and bring it to smartphone users, singly or in groups, to be used in quickly making critical business decisions.
The increasing importance of such mobile apps underscores the need for effectively managing these diverse and fast-changing deployments.
"It is impossible to provide identical levels of support for all users and all smartphone platform types," according to Gartner's DeBeasi. "Enterprises must put in place policies and procedures that enable the management of mobile diversity."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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