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5 Reasons To Take Mobile Device Management To The Cloud

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Ben Conner
April 26, 2012

Ben Conner

Ben Conner is a product manager for Virtela, the largest independent managed network, security and cloud services company.

Ben Conner has written 1 articles for WebKnowHow.
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The evolution of mobile devices and their role in the enterprise is a topic that has garnered much discussion among IT administrators. Not that long ago, the majority of people used traditional “flip” phones as opposed to today’s smartphones and tablets that connect to the Internet, run mobile apps and access corporate data.  Now smartphones and tablets are everywhere, with one third of all adults owning one, according to Pew. And, businesses are adopting these devices in droves. In fact, according to Gartner, 90% of organizations will support apps on smartphones by 2014 and 80% of businesses will support a workforce using tablets by 2013. These trends have quickly made mobile device management (MDM) a regular part of today’s IT vocabulary and a top priority among businesses.

Traditionally most companies did not have to worry about managing mobile devices themselves; they managed very few assets and/or managed only one type of device. However, as more employees began to use smartphones and tablets for business use and as businesses saw a wider variety of mobile devices, companies soon discovered that implementing and managing a robust MDM solution has become both necessary and much more complicated.  And, it’s about to get even more complex as businesses increasingly support both company- and employee-owned devices with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.

The reality: Limited IT resources

With the downturn of the economy a few years ago, many internal corporate budgets were slashed and many firms still have not recovered. IT departments were hit especially hard and many administrators found themselves called to produce the same results with less time and resources and significantly fewer team members. While the economy has improved somewhat, this model still persists, and many IT departments struggle with a heavy management burden and limited resources. Managing mobile devices is just one of the many IT needs that companies struggle to resource.

To address the problems related to reduced budgets and limited IT resources, some companies turned to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) hosted MDM solutions. While these solutions provide companies the benefit of not having to purchase, deploy and manage software and servers, they’re still self-service. That means companies need to take on the implementation of all users, define their own policies and navigate through application features and functionality.

Another option exists, however, beyond SaaS or on-premise offerings. A cloud-based managed service approach to MDM is ideal for companies that don’t have the resources or expertise to build and manage a solution in-house. This type of solution has limited capital expenditure (capex) and operational expenditure (opex) contributing to company-wide cost savings, and offers simple management as well as fast deployment. Here are five reasons a cloud-based MDM service offers clear advantages:

1) Reduced drain on IT staff

IT departments can outsource their MDM burden to a service provider to handle the management of all of their devices worldwide, giving IT some relief. Leveraging the cloud as part of the fully-managed service, the provider is responsible for the MDM infrastructure including design, deployment, upgrades, management and maintenance. The service provider also helps with the initial configuration of the various devices, users and notification parameters as well as establishing groups to control access and policies.  Some of these policies may include restricting access to certain applications, identifying which data to wipe in the case of loss or theft or setting mobile data usage threshold levels, ensuring users and IT managers are alerted should an overage occur.

In addition, fully-managed services offer Service Level Agreements, 24x7x365 global support and a self-service online customer portal that IT managers can use to make changes and updates (e.g. adding employees, adding devices, changing a policy, etc.)

2)  Easy and fast deployment

Unlike traditional on-premise approaches, which may take days or even months to implement, cloud-based managed MDM services do not require companies to acquire any hardware, space, power or licenses. Hence, the service can be deployed quickly and easily. The result: Companies are up and running quickly with limited impact on the IT department. There’s no need to set up servers across regions for global implementations, for example, or hire or re-allocate IT staff to support those servers.

3) Cost savings

In addition to the money saved by not having to purchase hardware, space, power and licenses, companies can also achieve significant OPEX savings by eliminating the need for dedicated IT staff.  In addition, most managed offerings require no installation charges and are equipped with minimal monthly per-device charges, which also drive down overall costs.

A managed cloud approach can also reinforce corporate policies and provide automatic alerts when users exceed preset roaming, data or usage thresholds. This reduces (and often eliminates) unexpected charges or expenses, which can be significant for large companies with thousands of employees using mobile devices for business-related purposes across the globe.  Additionally, companies can leverage usage (including SMS, data, voice usage, toll calls and roaming by user and country) and service quality (including information on signal quality, 3G availability, dropped calls etc.) reports, making it easy to manage their mobile data and voice plans.

4) Increased security and protection

When it comes to the cloud, many companies have expressed concern around the issue of security. How secure is the cloud really? Can sensitive company data fall into the wrong hands? These are legitimate questions that the industry is still trying to answer. When it comes to MDM, however, the right solution can actually improve security.

If a mobile device is lost or stolen, the third-party cloud provider can automatically lock and/or wipe the device, preventing any sensitive company data from falling into the wrong hands. The service can also lock down specific device interfaces such as camera, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

This function prevents users from downloading corrupted files and controls who has access to certain applications, both of which strengthen the company’s security strategy.  Companies also have the ability to blacklist or whitelist applications.  For example, they can blacklist applications that are deemed productivity killers or are known to host malware.  And similar to usage cost control alerts, the service provider issues alerts if an acceptable use policy is violated.

5) Compliance with regulationsNot all cloud-based MDM services are created equally.  Service providers that support MDM from multiple data centers around the world can help companies meet regulations and compliance requirements.  For an example, with multiple data centers, data can be kept in-country or in-region for compliance purposes. In addition, managed MDM services also offer storage and retrieval of SMS messages for compliance purposes.

In conclusion

The case for implementing a cloud-based MDM service is very strong. This type of approach addresses management, cost control, security and compliance concerns, relieves the burden from the IT department and allows companies to achieve all of the benefits associated with mobile devices, including increasing productivity, cutting costs and retaining a competitive advantage.

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