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Review: Best tools for mobile device management

Choosing between AirWatch, Apperian, BES 10, Divide, Fixmo and Good Technology depends on specific use cases

By David Strom, Network World
December 09, 2013 06:53 AM ET

Network World - Mobile device management tools make sense when you are trying to control who can access your enterprise network and applications from particular phones and tablets. But to effectively evaluate these products, you should first identify what you're trying to control: the apps on particular devices, the pairing of a user with his device, the device itself, or the files on each device.

We looked at six products: AirWatch, Apperian EASE, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES10), Divide, Fixmo, and Good Technology's Good for Enterprise.  Each has a somewhat different perspective and different strengths in terms of what it can control best. (Watch the slideshow version.)

All support Android and iOS devices, and some also support BlackBerries, Windows Phones, and even (in the case of AirWatch) desktops. Pricing varied between $20 to $75 per user or per device per year, and will depend on the particular features, with quantity discounts typically available. The most transparent pricing schemes came from AirWatch and BlackBerry. We wish others would follow their lead.

Certainly, assembling the various bits and pieces of a typical MDM solution isn't easy: in between the server and client components there is a lot of other stuff that interacts with a great portion of your network infrastructure, including Active Directory, Web proxies, email servers and firewall rules.

For example, some of the solutions we tested tightly couple with Active Synch so that you can save deployment time and use your existing security policy frameworks in Active Directory. But your own Active Directory implementation may not have any of these fields enumerated, so this may not be as useful as it sounds.

[ALSO: 5 ways to lock down your mobile device]

If you have a variety of mobile phones from various vendors running vintage OSs, you will quickly run into installation issues. (We used our Kindle Fire as the oddest of oddball Android versions for that specific reason.)

mobile device management

MDMs are not quite mature protection devices on two other counts: First, for iOS in particular, you can't have more than one vendor's profile active at any given time. This means if your phone or tablet has to traverse two or more networks that are using different MDMs, you are going to have problems. Second, while these products can identify once a phone has been rooted, they can't "unroot" it: you'll have to go through the process on each phone individually.

But there is some good news. Apple has been listening to enterprise users and iOS 7, which came out just as we began our review, offers better certificate management and APIs to incorporate into MDM tools. The new iOS also includes other corporate features, such as support for single sign-on, automatic app updates, and a mechanism to prevent reactivation of stolen phones.

No winners

No single MDM product won this review; all had flaws. But all had strong points as well.

For example, AirWatch had the widest phone/tablet/desktop support. But it also requires a messy collection of different downloaded apps that could be confusing to actually use.

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