Mobile and PC management: The tough but unstoppable union

One day, you'll manage all client devices from a central policy console, but it won't be a fast or easy journey

You know that a trend has peaked when the establishment jumps on board. That's happening in the world of mobile management, pioneered years ago by niche companies such as Good Technology and Zenprise and startups like MobileIron and AirWatch. Now, establishment companies such as CA Technologies, Citrix Systems (which bought Zenprise), Dell, EMC VMware (which bought AirWatch), IBM, and Microsoft are aggressively pushing their mobile management tools.

Just as the establishment is getting into mobile management (aka MDM), the field itself is poised for a shift away from mobile only. Tablets, both the category-defining iPad and the "deconstructed laptops" promoted by Microsoft and other Windows device makers, are both like smartphones and like laptops. For some people, they replace laptops; for others, they supplement them. In any event, the lines between computers and mobile devices are blurring.

Even where there are clear divisions, users are working with multiple devices. Suddenly, any separation on the management side gets hard to keep separate in reality -- password, access, and other policies overlap hugely, no matter if the tools don't.

That's why MDM is shifting away from mobile to encompass anything and everything a user might access: smartphones, tablets, computers, computers, even cloud desktop services. Some are personally owned, some are work-owned, most are mixed-use in practice. They cover a range of operating systems: multiple versions of Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android for sure, perhaps Linux, Windows Phone, Chrome OS, and BlackBerry OS as well.

But getting to that state of universal client management is not easy. Fundamental technology differences exist on these clients, affecting what can be secured and managed and how it can be secured and managed. Still, vendors are moving in that direction because, they say, large businesses have decided that in the not-too-distant future they would like to end the separate PC and mobile silos and manage devices collectively.

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