For years, companies paid little attention tomobile device management platforms like Sybase Afaria, according to analysts. After all, there wasn’t much of a need for them, given that mobile enterprise computing was in its early stages.
But now, as the mobile landscape continues to grow with each new smartphone and tablet -- and the platforms and applications that run on them -- that need is changing, according to Kevin Benedict, CEO and founder of the IT consulting firm Netcentric Strategies.
“Because of the plethora of new operating systems and new versions of operating systems, you can instantly see that it becomes overwhelmingly complex to manage who has what, who has access to corporate data and that the assets are managed in a standardized, methodical way,” Benedict said.
What Sybase Afaria does
Originally developed by a company called XcelleNet in 1997, and later acquired by Sybase in 2004, Afaria is a mobile device management platform that lets companies manage their mobile applications, as well as the maintenance and security for those devices.
SAP acquired the device management platform last year when it bought database and mobility vendor Sybase for $5.8 billion dollars and is using the technology as the primary way to deploy and manage applications on the Sybase Unwired Platform.
Afaria fits into SAP’s drive to mobilize its enterprise applications, while at the same time giving companies a way to secure and manage the very same devices those applications are sitting on, according to Philippe Winthrop, managing director at the Enterprise Mobility Foundation, a think tank that focuses on enterprise mobile computing.
“In a nutshell, it really is that simple,” Winthrop said.
Managing mobile applications and the devices they run on is a challenge that a growing number of companies are struggling with, he said. At a recent mobile computing conference in Amsterdam, a number of companies were trying to determine whether they should be supporting more than one platform, and if they do, whether they can still do it with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, an application that allows mobile devices to access email and calendar functions over the Internet.
‘It was before its time’
While there’s a growing demand for Afaria, it took years for the product to get much traction, according to Benedict.
For the longest time, the only operating systems that companies were deploying in the mobile space were Windows mobile or Windows CE, he said.
“We’re finally coming to the point where [Afaria] makes sense,”
Mark Jordan, senior product manager for Sybase Afaria.
“With those two, it wasn’t that hard to manage your devices,” he said, and as a result, companies didn’t need it. “[Afaria] was before its time.”
Companies also had to have applications custom built, and that was expensive, Benedict said. “Organizations were out of money by the time the app was built. As a result, they excluded mobile device management from their budget.”
That’s since changed, he said.
“Today, people will look at it and say, ‘Yes, we’re going to have Afaria. Now let’s talk about apps.’ That’s because they don’t anticipate having one mobile app. They anticipate having 50 mobile apps.”
Mark Jordan, senior product manager for Afaria, agreed.
“We’re finally coming to the point where [Afaria] makes sense,” he said.
Not easy to learn
One of the downsides of the application is that it can be difficult to learn, with training sessions lasting days, according to experts. Overall, there are 11 different components to Afaria, stretching from firewall protections to inventory management and data archiving.
“It does so much, it becomes overwhelming,” Benedict said. “It’s like an ERP by itself.”
Is it or isn’t it?
While Afaria has gotten positive reviews from analysts like Benedict and Winthrop, there’s also some confusion in the marketplace as to whether parts of Afaria were built into the Sybase Unwired Platform -- namely, the ability to remotely install applications onto mobile devices.
It wasn't, according to Dan Ortega, senior director of product marketing for Sybase.
“Afaria is a separate product from [the Sybase Unwired Platform],” Ortega said. However, the Sybase Unwired Platform was designed “from the ground up,” with the idea being that Afaria is the distribution and management software for Sybase Unwired Platform–enabled platforms, he said.
“There's not much point in mobilizing an application if you don't secure the device that is accessing it,” Ortega said. “The products are generally sold together as a comprehensive mobility solution, since they are complementary.”