Whether IT likes it or not, mobile devices such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile families are becoming part of IT's job to manage. But the tools are uneven and scattered. Sure, iPhone 3.0, Palm Pre 1.1, and Windows Mobile 6.x devices support Exchange ActiveSync capabilities such as remote wipe and e-mail access for Exchange-based shops, and IBM's intended adoption of ActiveSync for Lotus Notes will extend that reach to mobile Notes users. However, managing e-mail is just part of the issue.
MobileIron is hoping to change that, with a new mobile management platform unveiled today after being in limited trials for a few months. Despite marketing the product as "smartphone data in the cloud," MobileIron actually provides a server that IT runs on-premise to manage mobile devices, with BlackBerry, iPhone, and Windows Mobile currently supported. Google Android and Symbian support is promised, and Palm Pre support is under consideration, says MobileIron CEO Bob Tinker. All devices are managed through a common console, so IT does not need to switch tools for each supported device type.
[ The InfoWorld Test Center puts the new iPhone Configuration Utility through its paces. | See how far you can push an iPhone or a BlackBerry for everyday business use. | Get the InfoWorld editors' mobile deep drive PDF report. ]
What sets the MobileIron Virtual Phone Platform apart is its tracking capabilities over phone service, such as logging signal strength, dropped-call rates, and dead zones. IT has increasingly been forced to manage cellular accounts, and as carriers reduce end-user support, the demands on IT have only grown, says Matt Kesner, CTO of the law firm Fenwick & West, and one of MobileIron's early adopters.
The MobileIron server also lets IT set up dashboards for alerts, so users who make lots of cell calls within the building, use a lot of roaming connections, and use lots of data traffic can be steered to better plans or receive the feedback to change any wasteful behavior. Given reports from Gartner that mobile data services now cost business $80 billion per year, usage and cost management are becoming critical, says MobileIron's Tinker. Plus, the monitoring lets the enterprise better negotiate its contracts with the carriers and validate it's getting what it paid for.
On the data management front, the MobileIron server lets IT manage data access, such as what data is stored on devices. Fenwick & West is testing this capability to see if it can let mobile users access SharePoint servers securely. The server also can track and regulate installed applications, ensure policies are provisioned and updated, lock out devices such as cameras and SD cards, encrypt SD cards, selectively wipe data from mobile devices, and archive SMS message history.