Three ways to simplify smartphone management in your company

The surge of iPhones and other smartphones in the enterprise is a major headache for IT departments. Now, there are three new medicines that may help to ease that pain.

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All three are hosted solutions for managing and securing smartphones, essentially mobile computers accessing corporate networks and data.

The solutions include a joint effort from Enterprise Mobile and Mobile Iron; a new mobile e-mail protection service from Mobile Active Defense; and a new add-on for Keynote Systems’ automated smartphone application testing service.

All three promise to in effect create some or the entire management infrastructure you need to secure mobile devices as effectively as desktop computers. You don’t have to buy, install, run and manage the software yourself. Instead, a Web-based interface gives IT managers access to monitoring, management and security data for their mobile smartphone users.

One, aimed exclusively at the enterprise, is a joint effort by two companies. Enterprise Mobile is a Microsoft-backed (MSFT) mobile integrator that offers a battery of services to support mobile device rollouts for corporate users. The second is MobileIron,  which offers a server appliance packed with software to monitor the smartphone, its applications and SMS messages, cellular signal strength and dropped voice calls. The server talks to a small agent running on the handset.

With data from the agent, MobileIron creates on the server a virtual replica of each particular smartphone, storing information about its activities, performance and wireless environment.  

Enterprise Mobile will run the MobileIron appliance at a hosting service’s data center, and then offer enterprise customers two options: They can manage their mobile phone users themselves via Web access to the service, or can outsource that function  to Enterprise Mobile’s staff. The service supports the iPhone (its main target at the outset), Windows Mobile (now Windows Phone) and Symbian, with support for Android-based phones by mid-2010. Customers will pay a set-up fee and then a monthly charge per device.

“It’s comparable to an enterprise outsourcing its laptops to a systems integrator,” says Robert Tinker, president and CEO of MobileIron. “Enterprise IT wants to do the same thing with mobile. They don’t have the depth of expertise or the tools to do it themselves.”

“More and more customers want to do a hosted service for simplicity and cost-effectiveness,” says Mort Rosenthal, CEO of Enterprise Mobile. “We worked with MobileIron to create this service and lower the barrier-for-entry for enterprise smartphone deployments.”

The second offering, which has a more targeted focus, is a hosted service to protect smartphone-based e-mail, for both enterprise and consumer users. It’s the brainchild of Mobile Application Development Partners.

The service, dubbed Mobile Active Defense (MAD), is essentially a trusted intermediary authorized to log into your various mail accounts and copy e-mail to its own servers. MAD’s antispam and antiphishing algorithms will scan all the messages and attachments, and filter out junk mail and malware. A GUI lets users or administrators manage e-mail, for example, blocking downloads of messages with attachments bigger than 10MB.

MAD says its service offers iPhone users the kind of e-mail security and management features that have been a hallmark of Research in Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry service.

“We don’t read any passwords, which are encrypted on the phone,” says Rob Smith, founder and CTO for MAD. Users just re-enter their password, turn on the service, and set their configuration settings for the e-mail pass through.

The MAD server logs into the user’s e-mail accounts, copies the e-mails and runs the scans. The service automatically handles security updates, as many as 100 daily, without having to download or update any code to the handset. That means, Smith says, that MAD can respond very quickly to zero-day malware attacks.

Initially, the MAD service supports iPhone, iPad, iTouch, via Apple’s App Store priced at $16.99, and Windows Mobile. Symbian and Android support will follow later this year. The company didn’t announce Windows Mobile pricing.

The initial release will not support Microsoft Exchange, but Smith says that will be added in just a few weeks. An enterprise could host the MAD Enterprise Management Server behind its firewall and apply the filtering to employees’ mobile e-mail. MAD will also offer a version for telecos.

The EMS application internally makes use of Mail-Filters’ antispam software and the open source Clam Anti-Virus code to protect against malware. “We know some of the best hackers on the planet and they’re under contract to us to write [antivirus] signatures for mobile devices,” Smith says.

Keynote Systems has added a new feature to one of its two services for monitoring the performance of mobile applications and mobile Web sites. It does so by deploying physical replica’s of a customer’s mobile portfolio, complete with wireless accounts to the same cellular providers, and then running scripts that continuously mimic a real users’ interaction with the phone. It’s like an early warning system to detect emerging performance problems.

Mobile Application Perspective (MAP) monitors mobile Web sites created by a retailer to detect problems the retailers customers might be encountering as they buy products on the site, for example. Mobile Device Perspective (MDP) monitors native applications running on specific devices: scripts drive screen, keypad actions, and the system captures what’s happening in real time and stores the information in Keynote servers for analysis and alerting.

Keynote is releasing MDP versdion 4.0, adding support for additional phones, and expanding it with a new add-on feature, MDP Interactive. MDPi lets a corporate customer log into the remotely deployed test units — the actual phones — and interact with them directly via a desktop console application.

If your company is deploying iPhones, for example, MDPi lets IT administrators log in, see an exact emulation of the iPhone, and interact with the remote test iPhone as if they were actually holding it. MDPi even supports the iPhone’s accelerometer and you can see the screen mode change from vertical to horizontal.

IT and mobile software developers can work directly with their applications, and evaluate how they’re working, or not working.

MDPi is available either with Keynote’s public test and measurement network of phones, or as part of a private test network that is built, operated and managed by Keynote for a given customer.

MDP 4.0 with the MDPi add-on is available with a variety of flexible pricing options, starting  at $1,000 a month.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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