Mobility is a top trouble spot for IT managers. Whether it's corporate-issued phones or an employee using a personal tablet in the office, the management of mobile devices (MDM) and mobile applications (MAM) has come to represent the dense underbrush of a technology jungle, growing thicker and more bewildering with each new device, operating system, and app.
Symantec hopes it can provide the machete businesses need to hack their way through this mess. With Tuesday's unveiling of its Mobile Management Suite, the company is offering, device-, app-, and security-related tools under a single umbrella, unifying what are often distinct services into a single resource. Symantec also announced two new programs to help enterprises and developers chart the mobile landscape: The App Center Ready Program, which allows app developers to embed Symantec technologies into a product without changing its source code, and the Mobility Solution Specialization Program, which allows channel partners to offer Symantec's enterprise mobility products to their customers.
Brian Duckering, senior manager for Symantec's Enterprise Mobility Group, said in an interview that businesses require multiple technologies to meet different use cases. "They might be thinking, 'Do I start with device management? When do I go to app management? If I only buy one, can I make the other work later?'" he said, asserting that Mobile Management Suite "eliminates all this ... by satisfying all different deployment models." Ready to support most major platforms--including iOS 6, Android 4.1, and Windows Phone 7.5--and equipped for integration with Symantec Endpoint Management and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, the package includes new enhancements such as application blacklisting, email access control, and compliance management.
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Duckering stated that many MDM and MAM vendors don't offer much to distinguish themselves "if you're just checking boxes" for various features. Indeed, parity is somewhat intrinsic to mobile operating systems' limited APIs, which typically do not allow root access. "Symantec's differentiation comes from the breadth of the solution," he said, adding that Symantec's new suite is "unique because [the] technology was built from ground up to plug into management platforms," a capability that he said would allow mobile devices to be added to company rosters without server-side complications.
While Mobile Management Suite's convergence could be attractive to many businesses, its simplified pricing model could appeal as well: it offers user-based--rather than device-based--licenses, and includes options for both perpetual plans and finite subscriptions. Duckering said that previous models have become untenable because many workers now rely on multiple machines. "Cost had started to get out of control," he stated, "but now, one price, one product, piece of cake." He added that certain deployments could still be expensive, but countered, "Even if it's expensive, let's be predictable, let's know what it's going to be."
Duckering additionally shared that Symantec expects corporate management of employee-owned devices will become "marginalized" due to legal liability and privacy concerns that "end users won't tolerate," to say nothing of the complications involved with contract workers, who might be working with multiple companies--and multiple policies--simultaneously. He said the more critical concern should involve controlling apps and documents on a specific basis via encryption wrappers, an approach that enables IT to "not worry about what's going on the rest of the device." He stated that this control can be achieved through a variety of means, including additional authentication controls applied to a specific app, provisions that delete data as soon as an app closes, and features that block access to an app if a device is rooted or jail-broken.
While some advocate using hypervisors to separate work data from personal data, Duckering said such approaches "are going to kill overall performance and productivity," adding that "you've got to realize that a certain amount of interaction occurs between our personal and business lives." He conceded that virtualization options are going to be the best option for some companies, but offered that he doubts "anyone could argue that mode is going to replace native apps."
Turning to the App Center Ready Program, Duckering suggested it could bolster Symantec's app-centric philosophy by "providing apps that are ready to be protected." Based in part on technology the company acquired earlier this year in its Nukona purchase, the program is meant to speed up the development process by making security and management features easier to implement while also "taking whitelisting a step farther" by placing certified apps into a trustworthy catalogue. Duckering said that business app developers are often most familiar with Salesforce.com and other CRMs--not with authentication, encryption, and control policies.
"Let them focus on what they do well while we provide them the tech to add layers on top," he explained.
The program will support iOS and Android apps, and its members already include popular business applications such as Branchfire iAnnotate, Damaka Xavy, Emtrace Moxier, GoodReader, Infraware Polaris Office, and Picsel SmartOffice.
As for the Mobility Solution Specialization Program, which will be available by the end of the year, Duckering said the program will allow channel partners to enroll in courses and training that Symantec provides, and to be certified in the company's entire range of products.