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Sybase Afaria Versus Third-Party MDM Vendors: How Does It Stack Up?

Sure, Sybase Afaria is pricey, but how does it compare with third-party vendors? It all depends on what you’re looking for when it comes to issues like cost and level of security, according to experts.

Companies wavering between Sybase Afaria and third-party mobile device management (MDM) vendors should consider a variety of factors, including security, scalability and cost, according to experts.

While Sybase Afaria can provide full control over the entire MDM process and can be hosted in-house or in the cloud, price can be a downside.

“Sybase is often at a higher cost than competitors,” said Phillip Redman, an analyst with Gartner Research Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

As a result, companies may want a system that is smaller and cheaper, or perhaps something that is completely cloud-based, for example.

But businesses can cut costs by hosting an Afaria instance in the cloud, given that on-site installation requires a separate server and more on-site IT staff. Through an agreement with SAP, Amazon also recently began hosting services for the Afaria platform through its Amazon Web Services, which Redman indicated would help drive more competitive pricing for customers.

If Afaria is still too expensive, companies have their choice of MDM vendors if they prefer something on the lower end of the pricing scale. Stacy Crook, senior analyst for mobile enterprise at Massachusetts-based IDC says the number of vendors is between 90 and 100.

Crook noted that other vendors offer lighter-weight software with fewer features that are easier to deploy and cost less.

“For maybe an SMB [small or medium-sized business] on the small side, Afaria may be more than a company needs,” she said.

Deploying Sybase Afaria 
SAP plans to integrate Afaria more tightly with Sybase Unwired Platform, which Crook calls a comprehensive mobility platform for building applications, as well as SAP’s back-end products. So security and application management on mobile devices can be more extensive, she said.

Some experts note that Afaria is so complex that it’s difficult to deploy. That’s partly because it covers so much ground, according to Fernando Alvarez, global head of mobile systems at Paris-based consultancy Capgemini. He cautioned against comparing Afaria’s complexity with other MDM vendors because the software is mature and also because Sybase has been focused on mobility. So making a comparison with vendors that do not have the history or functionality of Afaria isn’t fair, he said.

Afaria’s UI challenges
Although the Afaria user interface (UI) has improved according to some reports, it still has a way to go, Alvarez said. In the administrator portal, reporting is difficult, and so is application control, because the provisioning profile is separate from the application policy. On the self-service side, an obscure small, blue “I” accesses the management portion—and that’s hard to click on using a mobile phone, he said. The applications also do not automatically refresh, he added.

The UI issue is minor, however, when compared with Afaria’s feature set, according to Alvarez.

“We've seen vendors with ease of use with an appliance with a nice user interface, but what else is behind it?” he said, referring to vendors that bundle their products with a particular device. Afaria is not device-based, and that sets it apart from other vendors, he said.

Security: Afaria versus other MDM vendors 
Many variables come into play, according to Gartner’s Redman, but companies that want a more intuitive interface or data loss prevention (DLP) encryption may want to go with a competitor, while large companies that use SAP applications may be better served by Afaria.

DLP prevents sensitive data from being leaked outside the application, network or business context where it’s being used and is often combined with encryption to protect highly sensitive data, like payment card processing. Afaria doesn’t offer DLP encryption, he said.

But analysts agree that Sybase offers compliance capabilities and a higher level of encryption that can be used on the platform as well as the device.

“Other MDM providers may use [encryption] only on the device,” Redman said.


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