We are trying to control device and data usage at the enterprise level, but the very nature of devices and how we should regard them is changing. As incongruous as this statement might sound, it speaks of the one of the greatest truisms (and most dynamic development areas) in information technology today.
In the face of spiralling Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and device form-factor abundance, firms now look to control users via the practice that we define as Mobile Device Management (MDM) with its close family relationships to Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM)… and its slightly more distant associations to Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) and Virtual Client Management (VCM).
Of course MDM isn’t a practice as such despite its name; it is a set of services, functions and controls usually packaged up as a complete MDM ‘solution’ from specialised vendors. Players including Spiceworks, Citrix, Good Technology, MobileIron and AirWatch fill up the usual suspects line up here, plus of course there are offerings from SAP, IBM and Microsoft if you care to flip through the big guys’ selection packs.
MDM in motion, in theory
So MDM in motion is where laptops (and remote desktops) smartphones & tablets fall under administrative IT departmental control to control their operating systems, applications and data policies/privileges. Devices are costed, planned, architected, deployed, secured, optimised and integrated into the business’s network so that they can then be monitored, managed and deleted if necessary. For perfect MDM to work, all of this has to happen remotely — these devices are mobile, after all.
But there are problems. Perfect MDM relies on over-the-air communication channels being open, consistent and secure; this is not always possible, especially if employees start to travel internationally.
All technology ‘things’ are, essentially, endpoints
But there are more problems. The arrival of so-called Internet of Things (IoT) devices from ‘wearables’ to sensors to home control systems and electronic fridges also now collides with the PCs, laptops, smartphones & tablets that we are trying to manage.
All of these things become user ‘endpoints’ if you like — and there is now a pressing need to ‘unify’ these devices so that we can ‘manage’ them. Hence, analyst house Gartner asserts that we should look forward and think about Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) rather than any of our previously tabled acronyms.
Everything is changing
Gartner analysts Ken Dulaney and Terrence Cosgrove write in their May 2014 report entitled ‘Managing PCs, Smartphones and Tablets and the Future Ahead’ to say that everything about PC and mobile device management is changing, including necessary skills and IT processes.
“Enterprises are supporting two radically different management architectures — one for PCs and another for smartphones. PCs are managed though system images, while smartphones and their cousins, tablets, are managed via a more complex mechanism that adapts to their sandboxed architectures. Yet, in many cases, IT attempts to make smartphones act like PCs through strategies such as containerisation, which is a pseudo system image. IT should understand the differences between the management styles of the two types of devices and recognize that sandboxed architectures represent the future. Thus, the management framework approach going forward will result in a product category called Unified Endpoint Management,” write Dulaney and Cosgrove.
What do we do next?
Asking users themselves to maintain their own system integrity has never been simple. It maybe was comparatively simple compared to today before the PC market matured in the 1980s and the notion of a ‘portfolio of applications’ started to embed in users’ minds in the following decade. Into the new millennium and we all started using smartphones and (eventually) tablets. The iPad only arrived in January 2010, so it hasn’t quite been five years yet — these are still early days.
Sand is not the only fruit
Sandboxing is one step of the way forward here, but may not be the complete solution; try Googling ‘is sandboxing the answer’ and you’ll see that the jury is out. For the record, sandboxing dictates that each application (and its data) must reside in a delineated and delimited area such that it may not (unless approved) make calls to other applications or the device operating system. But enterprises today allow BYOD, they allow users to run around without system level sandboxing and they allow a variety of devices and operating systems to be used.
If we follow Gartner’s long-term advice (the firm predicts Unified Endpoint Management to flourish seven years from now) then we may have a safe path out of BYOD, virtualised desktops and shorter-term sandboxing. Or someone might just invent another iPad level shake up and all of this will be irrelevant.