Organizations mulling the purchase of mobile device management software from SAP or other vendors should remember to keep some important considerations in mind, according to a new report from Stamford, Conn.-based IT research firm Gartner Inc.
For starters, potential buyers should know that many of the features at the heart of mobile device management (MDM) platforms are beginning to look alike no matter which vendor is selling the product. Some of these increasingly commoditized features include provisioning, policy enforcement, and asset management and reporting capabilities.
What is mobile device management?
The phrase "mobile device management" refers to the range of products and services that enable organizations to deploy and support corporate applications on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. MDM software also helps organizations enforce security and regulatory compliance policies while maintaining the desired level of IT control across multiple platforms.
Demand for MDM is rising fast as consumer mobility and bring-your-own-device programs continue grow in popularity at companies of all sizes. The MDM marketplace, which is made up of more than 100 vendors, is growing quickly and is expected to bring in about $500 million in revenue in 2012.
Source: Gartner Inc.
The new Gartner report, Critical Capabilities for Mobile Device Management, goes on to explain that the real differences between the major MDM vendors can be seen in their varying approaches to policy enforcement and compliance, security, containerization, mobile application management, document sharing and management, scalability, and "as-a-service" and cloud delivery models.
"Some of those are [approaches] that you wouldn't automatically think of as part of mobile device management," said Gartner analyst Phillip Redman, co-author of the report. "But they're [increasingly] being bundled in because the mobile enterprise is demanding them."
The Gartner report then provides a brief definition for each of the seven "critical" areas in which MDM vendors are differentiating themselves today. It also evaluates several MDM providers and lists Gartner's picks for vendors to watch in each area.
Policy enforcement and compliance
This category includes tools that allow IT managers to enforce access policies on eligible devices, detect jail-broken devices, enforce application policies and restrict downloadable applications through whitelists and blacklists. Tools in this category can also enforce rules related to separating personal and corporate content and detect any separation violations.
SAP's flagship MDM package, SAP's Sybase Afaria 7.0, supports many policy enforcement and compliance features, including acceptable use, centralized administration and "over-the-air" provisioning. Gartner listed vendors MobileIron, BoxTone and Zenprise as leaders in this category.
The security category includes mechanisms intended to protect any corporate data stored on a device, as well as corporate back-end systems. It includes such functions as password enforcement, device locking, remote wiping, and firewall and antivirus protection.
SAP Afaria supports security features such as access restriction, enforced password capabilities, inactivity timeouts, user authentication, device authentication, identity management and secure configuration profiles. Vendors Zenprise and AirWatch are listed as leaders in the security category.
One of the biggest areas for differentiation among MDM vendors is containerization technology, which allows companies to separate corporate and personal content on mobile devices. Containerization is critical for companies that have strong security and regulatory compliance mandates.
Gartner gives SAP a low score for containerization, although Redman said he expects the company to improve in this area over time. Good Technology, which offers a richer set of containerization features than SAP, was the overall leader in the category, according to the report.
Mobile application management
Mobile application management software is also becoming important as companies increasingly seek to deploy sophisticated third-party and in-house developed applications as part of their mobile landscape. Such applications focus on helping IT properly deliver software and updates to mobile devices. They also help IT deal with mobile software licensing and configuration issues.
Gartner listed MobileIron and Zenprise as leaders in the category.
Document sharing and management
Among other things, this category includes mechanisms designed to support file synchronization and backup as well as file sharing with other employees, according to Gartner.
Gartner reports that SAP Afaria does not support document sharing and management. Zenprise and AirWatch were listed as the category leaders.
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SAP ranked highly in the category of scalability, which focuses on the software ability to support a large volume of simultaneous deployments. But SAP was bested by vendors AirWatch and Fiberlink, according to the report.
"The [SAP] Afaria solution is highly scalable and can support large installations," the report reads. "It supports highly available instances and can synchronize content across distributed servers located in separate physical locations."
As-a-service and cloud delivery models
SAP recently introduced a new Software-as-a-Service-based MDM service via Amazon Web Services that allows users to sign up for plans with perpetual or subscription pricing, according to Gartner.
AirWatch and Fiberlink were listed as leaders cloud delivery category.
Advice for mobile device management software buyers
Before running out to purchase SAP Afaria, MobileIron, Zenprise or another mobile management platform, Gartner recommends that organizations take a good amount of time to determine their precise mobility requirements. It's also a good idea for organizations to make sure they fully understand any security, regulatory compliance or other constraints on mobile deployments.
"Before conducting MDM product selection analysis, organizations must identify the risks and benefits of introducing support for corporate applications on personal devices," the report reads. "They then need to identify the IT policies required to control deployments, manage risks and support users."
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