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Mobile management morphs

Robert L. Mitchell | May 16, 2013
Customers are pushing the limits of the software -- asking it to manage and do many more things than it was originally created to do -- and vendors are happy to oblige.

"In some places we're not allowed to have a camera active on the device. In others, management doesn't want anything but business resources on the phones so we whitelist or blacklist apps." The app store, he says, provides quick access to apps that the user knows are approved.

Limitations and disclaimers
Users can sometimes get around policy controls. For example, jailbreak detection can be defeated by jailbreak spoofing apps users can download that make it look like the device hasn't been jailbroken, says Guinn. "If technology doesn't enable them to get access to the data, there's probably two or three ways they can work around that," he says.

" Apple will not allow MDM software to password-protect a root-level MDM profile on the user's device, so any user with a little knowledge can unenroll themselves without putting in a password," says Roman. "And with Android it drives me crazy that I cannot deliver my Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync settings down to the phones without using a third-party application."

When a user is unenrolled, MDM can remove the certificate on iOS devices. "But with Android we have to do a complete device wipe or send someone from IT to unenroll them and remove the certificate manually," he says.

Neither iOS nor Android allows mobile device management software to control when users can install operating system updates, and that drives Bond nuts. "If you're putting out a trivial JavaScript app you can run it on anything you want. We have a complex, heavyweight app" that measures and designs custom-built blinds, he says. "They could release an update that breaks my application for 1,000 users."

Mobile OS update requests get pushed to users before Bond's team has a chance to test them, and while he warns users not to jump the gun, he says they're so accustomed to various updates that they tend to accept them without thinking. "The user doesn't know whether it's a big or a little update. And you can't expect people who aren't employees to exercise the same level of care," he says.

Costs versus benefits
MDM software can also be expensive. IT executives say they typically encounter prices in the range of $25 to $50 per device for a perpetual license, plus maintenance fees that can tack on another 20% or more per year.

But there's room to negotiate. "MDM vendors are still trying to figure out their price points," says Abraham, who recently reviewed pricing from BoxTone, MobileIron, Good Technology and AirWatch.

Several MDM vendors either currently offer or are adding SaaS versions of their software, which usually come with a different licensing model. AirWatch offers both perpetual licensing and subscription pricing for its cloud service.


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