Microsoft finally joins the BYOD revolution it enabled

System Center 2012 SP1 and the next version of Intune offer greater BYOD support for Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT

The latest Forrester stats show that the majority of enterprises support BYOD. Whether you think it's a good idea or not, it doesn't matter. It's reality.

So it makes sense that Microsoft plans to increases its support for BYOD, such as in the Service Pack 1 release of System Center 2012. After all, it was Microsoft that provided the core technology, Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), allowing mobile devices to be managed when connected to Exchange servers. When Microsoft licensed that technology to Apple for iOS and OS X, and then to Google and others for Google Apps and Android, safe BYOD became first a possibility then a reality.

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Exchange ActiveSync policies provide a few dozen controls and settings, such as password length and history, camera disablement, encryption requirement, remote lock or wipe, and so forth. But in Exchange, EAS policies can only go so far. That's why most large businesses use mobile device management (MDM) software that exploits the additional settings native to Apple's iOS or implemented on Android by some manufacturers such as Motorola Mobility and Samsung.

It's ironic, given that the long-defunct Windows Mobile supported a large set of EAS policies, Microsoft has been a laggard in such capabiltiies in its own device platforms, with very few control mechanisms in Windows Phone 7. Fortunately, the forthcoming Windows Phone 8 looks as if it will remedy that surprising security hole.

It's not just Windows Phone 8 where Microsoft is making a BYOD-enabling move. System Center 2012 SP1 will support a wide array of mobile devices via EAS, including Windows Phone, iOS, and Android devices. But it does more than deploy and enforce policies. Managing and tracking devices -- mobile and desktop -- in the enterprise is a huge challenge, so it makes sense that Microsoft has migrated EAS to System Center as part of a cross-device management approach. (Exchange will continue to support EAS as it had before, so using System Center 2012 is not a requirement, just a more centralized alternative.)

As you would expect, System Center 2012 adds support for Microsoft's own post-PC offerings, the forthcoming Windows Phone 8 smartphones and the forthcoming Windows RT tablets (the ones that don't support the legacy Windows Desktop environment, just the new "Metro" part of Windows 8 and a special runtime version of Office and IE10).

Windows RT doesn't support for domain joining to Active Directory, so Windows RT tablets can't support group policy controls. Windows RT does support EAS, so many IT admins wondered if they would have to manage Windows RT tablets as if they were iOS or Android devices via EAS, or if Microsoft would provide direct management for them as it does for Windows PCs via System Center.

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