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11/4/2011
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Jim Rapoza
Jim Rapoza
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Lessons From Our MDM Buyer's Guide

Choose your mobile device management vendor wisely by focusing on five key areas.

Mobile device management products promise to give IT control over a company's mobile workforce. However, MDM is still a relatively new category, with a variety of vendors and offerings. Some products focus on one specific mobile platform, such as Apple's iOS. Some are designed for tight security, while others are tuned for inventory, reporting, and tracking. Our MDM Buyer's Guide, available at informationweek.com/reports/mdm, provides an overview of the systems from Absolute Software, AirWatch, Fiberlink Communications, JAMF Software, MobileIron, Odyssey Software, Symantec, Tangoe, and Zenprise, as well as guidelines for choosing a system that fits your company's needs.

While some features, such as company directory integration and remote wipe, cut across all the products, you'll find differentiation in plenty of areas. The first questions to ask: Which types of mobile devices and platforms do we need to manage? Will our business require a system that supports various Android versions, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone? Once that's settled, focus on these five areas, which we expand on in our full report.

Security: When it comes to finding a lost or stolen device, nearly all MDM products use geolocation, great for determining if the phone or tablet has been misplaced or if it's speeding away. If a device can't be recovered, the last line of defense to protect sensitive data is a remote wipe, which cleans all or some data off the device. All the products in our survey have remote wipe capabilities. Several, such as AirWatch's, can also do selective wipes. This feature gives IT the option of destroying only company data and access mechanisms, such as email, leaving personal data on the device untouched. That's a useful level of granularity in an era when employees are bringing their own smartphones and tablets into the office.

Administration: A bread-and-butter feature of any system management product is the ability to install, update, and remove applications, and to remotely patch and update operating systems. However, MDM products have limitations in this area, particularly around apps. This can be problematic: Just because an app is on the market doesn't mean it's safe (though Apple does a good job of preventing malicious software from getting into its App Store). Seven of the nine vendors in our Buyer's Guide offer whitelists and blacklists for applications and can stop blacklisted apps from accessing corporate resources. This is typically done through a form of network policy enforcement. When it comes to in-house mobile applications, many MDM vendors offer internal app stores that let IT distribute and update corporate software and let users browse for approved apps.

Inventory tracking: All of the MDM vendors we surveyed offer some form of inventory tracking, but their capabilities vary. Some are highly detailed, showing every bit of information on the device, operating system, and apps, as well as usage history. Some provide basic hardware inventory lists. Another valuable feature lets IT set alerts around, or prevent specific types of, expensive mobile usage, such as roaming or exceeding a bandwidth cap.

Deployment options: MDM products need to touch the devices, with either a full client or a lightweight agent. A central management platform collects data from the agents and lets administrators monitor the devices, push out policies, update software, and more. Some vendors in our Buyer's Guide offer the choice of either on-premises MDM software or software as a service hosted off site.

Cost: Starting prices range from as low as $9.95 per device per year and go up to $85. Costs may change based on volume and feature set, and some vendors offer monthly plans. The monthly option will reduce the initial expense but may cost more in the long term.

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