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This content is part of the Essential Guide: Evaluating mobile device management products and services
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How to evaluate mobile device management features

No two enterprises are alike, and no mobile device management product is one-size-fits-all. Learn about two different MDM considerations you need to keep in mind during the evaluation process: platforms and deployment options.

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on evaluating mobile device management features. Here, we...

explain how to evaluate mobile platforms and deployment strategies. In part two, we will cover more evaluation considerations.

As the mobile device management market has matured over the years, its products have become extremely diverse and sophisticated. Early MDM offerings consisted of software that was deployed and administered in-house. This approach continues to appeal to large enterprises, but many vendors now also employ cloud computing to offer private, hosted MDM technologies and public, multi-tenant cloud MDM services. Most MDM technologies have expanded beyond basic device management to incorporate advanced capabilities that help IT control mobile data, applications, expenses and more.

As your organization evaluates MDM strategies to improve business productivity through workforce mobility, it is imperative that you understand the different products now available and how each might fit into your environment. It is also essential that you approach potential MDM software vendors or service providers armed with questions enabling an apples-to-apples comparison, to help you assess how each technology satisfies your organization's needs.

Below are two of the top considerations you should keep in mind when evaluating the mobile device management features of products and services.

Mobile platforms: Depth trumps breadth

Heterogeneous MDM technologies can help IT administer many kinds of mobile devices, but supported platforms vary. Today, most MDM products can manage and monitor smartphones and tablets running Apple iOS 4 or later, Google Android 2.3 or later, and Windows Mobile 6 and Windows Phone 7. BlackBerry OS 10 and Windows Phone 8/RT support is growing, while Symbian and WebOS are waning. Some technologies also offer legacy device support via Exchange ActiveSync, or a unified console for both mobile and desktop management.

Products often deliver greater control or visibility for specific mobile OS types, versions and even device manufacturers and models.

During evaluation, drill beyond device checklists to understand support depth and limitations. Products often deliver greater control or visibility for specific mobile OS types, versions and even device manufacturers and models. For example, while most MDM products can manage native Apple iPhone and iPad settings, you'll still find differences in features and usability. Ask which proprietary features require agent applications or specific device models.

Deployment strategies: One size does not fit all

Like other IT infrastructure, MDM technologies must be integrated into your environment. Software or services may be geared toward meeting the needs of service providers, large enterprises or small to medium enterprises (SMEs); this impacts cost, scalability and systems integration. For example, products for large enterprises can usually be integrated with external authentication servers, while those appealing to SMEs may be bundled with wireless LAN offerings for all-in-one simplicity.

Some MDM vendors focus on software (in-house or hosted), while others focus on public cloud services. Some vendors offer both models, often through partnerships with managed service providers or cellular companies. Like other cloud offerings, MDM services can speed activation, reduce up-front cost and allow scalability -- but they also leave you dependent on a provider that must be trustworthy and reliable. It is important to inquire about these characteristics before making a choice.

About the author:
Lisa Phifer owns and is president of Core Competence Inc., a consulting firm specializing in leading-edge network technology. She has been involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of networking and security products for over 25 years. She has advised companies large and small regarding needs, product assessment and the use of emerging technologies and best practices.

Next Steps

Check out the seven things Gartner says you should look for in an MDM software product, as well as five MDM products that will help management mobile in corporate environments.

This was last published in October 2014

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