At last month's CTIA show, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a mobile device management server to work with cellphones and PDAs running its Windows Mobile operating system.
The Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, or MSCMDM 08, was billed as helping 'people and businesses better embrace mobile technology'. With it, Microsoft said, "companies can deliver new applications to phones over the air as well as connect people via Mobile VPN with security-enhanced access to critical data such as expense reports or customer information."
Mobile Device Manager enters the market with a fairly extensive initial range of functions. Mobile VPN concentration, comms, and camera disablement based on Active Directory group policy, application enablement and blocking, device encryption, over-the-air provisioning, and software delivery, as well as device inventory and reporting.
It is designed for sale into enterprises directly, though AT&T; did say at the same time that it would be supporting MSCMDM, extending its existing involvement with Microsoft on Windows Mobile devices. It also launched a new WM-based phone, the Samsung Blackjack II.
In parallel with those announcements, Microsoft also said it is entering an alliance with a new company called Enterprise Mobile, formed by 'Corporate Software founder and PC resale pioneer Mort Rosenthal' to build, deploy, and manage custom-made solutions that will work with a variety of mobile operators and phone manufacturers.
The launch provoked a lot of comment about who should be worried by Microsoft's entry into the MDM space. There were no shortage of articles suggesting RIM should look out, because its BlackBerry service would now be seriously challenged by WM devices managed centrally by MSCMDM and getting push Exchange service straight from the corporate e-mail server.
One commentator, Stephen Wellman in InformationWeek's Mobile Weblog, took a different tack, arguing that "Microsoft is not trying to replace RIM. It is trying to recast mobile as an IT issue, not a carrier issue that IT managers pay others to manage for them. Device-agnostic mobility platforms like Sybase iAnywhere, Smith Micro, and Odyssey Software should be scared. Start-ups like Mformation should be really, really scared."
Matt Bancroft, CMO of Mformation, called the Microsoft launch "great validation of the importance of the MDM marketplace as well as the maturing of the enterprise need to mobilise their employees and applications." That is a fairly standard initial response from a small company when a major player enters their market.
However, Bancroft went on to note that "in a typical enterprise, there are many different mobile devices being used, many of which have probably not been provided by the company's IT department. Therefore enterprises need capabilities that enable them to manage and secure ALL device types irrespective of the operating system, manufacturer, mobile network used, or data applications and services supported."
He pointed to Microsoft's traditional strategy of offering management servers for its own clients, rather than heterogeneous ones. "I am sure Microsoft will provide capabilities that address some of the issues highlighted, but only for Microsoft devices," he said. And of course, at least for now, the Symbian OS holds the lion's share of the smartphone market, representing some 72% of all smartphones shipped.
Bancroft was correct in his observation that MSCMDM is aimed at estates of WM phones and PDAs. It is worth noting, however, that Scott Horn, general manager of the mobile and embedded device group at Microsoft, was quoted at the same CTIA show as saying that heterogeneity is an option Microsoft is considering. "Today, we have nothing to announce," he told PC World magazine. "But we are looking at it, we are thinking about it. Who knows what the future brings."
This raises a different question. MSCMDM uses proprietary technology to manage Windows Mobile phones, but to extend its reach to any phone, Microsoft would have two options. It would either need to entice handset makers to embed a client into their non-WM phones to enable it, or it would have to go over to supporting the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management standard, for which around 70% of all phones, smart and otherwise, shipped today already come with the client.
One company that will see competition from MSCMDM is HP, which last year acquired MDM player Bitfone, which traditionally sold to mobile carriers, and soon after launched an enterprise version of its server.
Since the iPAQ runs on Windows Mobile, HP will start to meet Microsoft in enterprise accounts where it wants to sell its MDM server.