Mobile Device Management and RMM Software: Set to Converge?

Brace yourself. The worlds of mobile device management (MDM) software and RMM (remote monitoring and management) software are on a collision course. The reason: MSPs want a single dashboard to manage servers, desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones. Moving beyond Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, top MSPs must now add Apple iOS and Google Android to the management mix. But when will that dream -- RMM platforms blended with MDM software -- become a reality?

Nearly 65 percent of top MSPs claim to offer MDM for tablets and smartphones, according to preliminary data from our fifth-annual MSPmentor 100 survey, which runs through December 23, 2011. But even I have to concede: I think the figure is inflated.

Sure, We Can Support That (But How?)

Generally speaking, I think most MSPs are in reaction mode when it comes to managing tablets and smartphones. In most cases, support is likely a manual process, and I bet most MSPs don't have any documented businesses processes for securing and safeguarding tablets. Moreover, I suspect most MSPs have yet to figure out how they'll charge for mobile device management (beyond existing support contracts for notebooks and netbooks).

Further complicating matters, there's a potential disconnect between traditional managed services software (RMM providers) and MDM software providers. The leading MDM software providers, according to Gartner Inc., include Good Technology, Sybase, AirWatch and MobileIron. Additional "visionary" companies worth watching include Zenprise and Symantec, Gartner adds.

Can RMM Software Companies Get In the Game?

Side note: I frequently downplay the importance of Gartner's Magic Quadrant research, which sometimes looks like a vendor-funded popularity contest. But RMM software providers appear to be glaringly absent from Gartner's view of the MDM market.

A complete MDM solution, Gartner claims, addresses five business needs:
  1. Software Distribution — The ability to manage and support mobile application including deploy, install, update, delete or block.
  2. Policy Management — Development, control and operations of enterprise mobile policy.
  3. Inventory Management — Beyond basic inventory management, this includes provisioning and support.
  4. Security Management — The enforcement of standard device security, authentication and encryption.
  5. Service Management — Rating of telecom services.

Mobile Apps: Don't Get Confused

Many MSP software providers now offer apps for Google Android and Apple iOS (the operating system that drives iPads and iPhones). But in many cases, those apps were designed to run on an MSP's mobile device -- rather than customer devices -- so that the MSP could take care of customer networks from a tablet or smartphone.


Further complicating matters, I think some MSP-centric software companies are overlooking the MDM tidal wave. For instance, many cloud backup providers can't yet protect tablets.

What's On the Way?

Still, there are signs of progress. At the IT Nation conference earlier this month, I heard chatter about LabTech Software's emerging strategy around MDM. A few days ago, Level Platforms CEO Peter Sandiford mentioned his focus on MDM for 2012 to me. And at the N-able Partner Summit a few weeks ago, CEO Gavin Garbutt said MDM capabilities would surface with N-able N-central software by mid-2012.

Meanwhile, Kaseya recently delivered MDM software to its MSP partner base. Gerald Beaulieu, director of product marketing at Kaseya, says MDM software must address seven challenges for MSPs. They include:
  1. Visibility -- allowing MSPs to "see" smartphones and tablets as easily and as effectively as MSPs see and manage servers, PCs and network infrastructure.
  2. Provisioning -- allowing MSPs to provision applications and services for smartphones and tablets, particularly email and WiFi.
  3. Security -- ensuring all devices are locked down even as they allow end-users to be productive.
  4. Recovery -- remote wiping capabilities are important if you want to delete data from lost devices. But MSPs need to track mobile devices with GPS-like services, while also leveraging alarming alerts to help a "lost" device be discovered by those who are within earshot of the device.
  5. Backups -- to protect applications and data, including automatic profile backups.
  6. Reporting and analytics -- to help MSPs discover what's on a device, and how a device is being used.
  7. Integration -- the ability to plug MDM platforms into RMM software and IT automation software.

MDM Pricing Strategies

Let's assume your RMM platform gains MDM capabilities. Or, perhaps you choose to leverage a third-party RMM platform. You still need to figure out an MDM pricing strategy.

When the MDM trend first surfaced, I assumed MSPs would simply include MDM as part of an "all in" fee (per user, per month). The best MSPs, it seems, are charging $100 to $150 per user per month for all-in services, covering everything from remote management to security and cloud storage, asserts TruMethods, a consulting firm that works with MSPs.

Still, it sounds like most MSPs are mulling a per-device monthly fee for MDM. Indeed, more than 60 percent of MSPs attending a recent Channel Expert Hour webcast (hosted by MSPmentor) said they are leaning toward per-device monthly fees for MDM. And Jerry Fetty, president of Smart I.T. Services, a guest speaker on the webcast, says he charges per-device, per-month for MDM.

How much? Fetty says his rule of thumb for MDM is half the price of a traditional monthly PC maintenance fee.

Maybe MSPmentor Is Wrong -- And Right

So perhaps MSPmentor is off the mark when it comes to MDM pricing -- per-device pricing seems to overshadow my per-user thesis.

But this much I do know: All of the major RMM software providers are striving to accelerate their MDM software strategies. The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend will accelerate as executives and employees open up new tablets this holiday season. Many of those tablets will make the journey from employees' homes into corporate offices in January 2012.

Will MSPs -- and their RMM software providers -- be ready? Or will MSPs be forced to seek MDM software solutions outside of the traditional MSP software market?

 
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