(Featured on itWire)

Mobile Device Management (MDM) is one of the fastest growing areas in the IT industry. As smartphones and tablets proliferate, and as more and more people bring their personal devices into the workplace, the management of these devices is becoming a very important issue for CIOs and corporate management.

So much so that a whole new breed of software has come into being to help them solve the many problems that mobile technology brings. Enter MDM. Depending on the product, MDM works in a number of different ways, but the ultimate aim is the same – the enable organisations to bring some control and security to the proliferation of mobile devices in the organisation – whether they are given to workers as part of their jobs, or whether the workers bring them into the job themselves.

When employees use their own devices, this is known as BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. It is one of the biggest trends, and one of the biggest headaches, in modern corporate computing.

But it is an unstoppable trend. Much as many organisations might not want end users to use their own smartphones and tablets at work, the fact is that they will do this, and continue to do it. Smarter organisations are embracing the trend rather than fighting against it, but to do that they need some sort of MDM platform to bring some order to the chaos.

There are many MDM vendors. Analyst group Gartner, of course, has developed a Magic Quadrant to describe how these vendors’ products and strategies compare with each other. Gartner does such a comparison for most IT product and service categories, and they are eagerly seized upon by vendors who do well.

The quadrant has two axes: completeness of vision, and ability to execute, which means there are four quadrants, hence the name. Vendors aspire to be in the top right hand quadrant, meaning they have vision and the means to execute that vision. Gartner calls vendors in this quadrant “leaders. There are five vendors in the leaders quadrant in the Gartner MDM Magic Quadrant. All are US companies, represented in Australia with a direct presence and through local partners and distributors:

  • Airwatch: Probably the market leader in Australia through its strong relationship with Telstra, established in early 2011. Local MD Rob Roe spent nearly ten years with Telstra.
  • Fiberlink: Has an entirely cloud-based solution, which has advantages and disadvantages. Has a small presence in Australia, but is often confused with the Melbourne-based cabling company of the same name.
  • Good Technology: It relies on a “containerised” approach that puts an entire secure apps suite within the device. Aggressive marketing in Australia, headed by former Gartner sales head Jim Watson/
  • Mobileiron: Strong user base and good reputation. Supported by Optus in Australia, though also has a deal with Telstra.
  • Zenprise: Entered Australia only in the last month (see previous article), but was already had a few major clients through direct sales from the USA.

There are also a slew of others, including most of the traditional security vendors. Companies like McAfee, Sophos and Trend Micro all claim to play in the field, as does SAP, but their products are very much rooted in their traditional past and they lack the functionality of the specialist players.

The market has matured very quickly. The smart phone market has only existed since the iPhone defined it five years ago, and the tablet market – also initially defined by Apple – is even newer. Smartphones and tablets are everywhere. Gartner says many MDM vendors are seeing fast growth, bringing on 30 to 40 new deals each week, compared with a quarter of that 12 months ago. MDM licensing revenue alone is expected to top $500 million globally in 2012.

Source: Gartner

Gartner says Interest in MDM will continue to grow. “The introduction of tablets in the enterprise is also driving the growth of MDM. Although most enterprises are not replacing a PC or phone with a tablet, nor are they paying for them, users are purchasing and using their own tablets to access enterprise data. The larger format of a tablet makes reading enterprise content easier and more convenient. It also presents the need for more security and policy to manage the greater amounts of data found on these employee-owned devices.”

Gartner says the MDM vendors differentiate their products from other management consoles by their focus on mobility and the ease of use and design of their interface. “This is becoming more important in the light of BYOD programs at many companies.

“Many users have already moved to synchronise their data with Internet-based cloud file synchronisation systems like Dropbox. The basic offerings were not explicitly meant for enterprise data. As a result, they represent security risks. Another big area of growth has been in the enterprise application store. Again, most MDM vendors support the ability to store and transfer enterprise applications, as well as link to popular application stores from Apple and Google.”

As mobile devices continue to displace PCs and laptops, MDM will continue to grow. The whole landscape of end user computing has changed, almost overnight, and many people are having difficulties coming to terms with the fact.