RIM makes move to manage iOS and Android devices

The upcoming BlackBerry Mobile Fusion web console will be able to manage not only BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook tablets, but also iOS and Android devices
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Research In Motion has entered the multi-platform mobile device management market with BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, a console that lets companies manage their employees' Android and iOS devices as well as their BlackBerry smartphones.

BlackBerry Playbook

RIM is to launch BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, a web-based console that lets companies manage BlackBerry, Android and iOS devices. Photo credit: Ben Woods

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion was officially unveiled on Tuesday, although it was first trailed half a year ago when RIM announced it was buying the mobile device management (MDM) company Ubitexx.

"BlackBerry Mobile Fusion brings together our industry-leading BlackBerry Enterprise Server technology for BlackBerry devices with mobile device management capabilities for iOS and Android devices, all managed from one web-based console," RIM enterprise product management chief Alan Panezic said in a statement.

Panezic said that the console would let IT departments manage company phones and tablets, as well as those brought in by employees. This 'bring-your-own-device' (BYOD) trend, sometimes referred to as the 'consumerisation' of the enterprise, is seen by many IT managers as a security risk.

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion includes BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.3 for managing RIM's smartphones, and also has specific management capabilities for the company's PlayBook tablet. This, along with the fact that RIM has had years to develop over 500 IT policies for its own devices, means the new console can manage Blackberry and PlayBook devices to a greater degree than it can devices from rival manufacturers.

According to RIM, BlackBerry Mobile Fusion can provide some functionality for all supported mobile devices. This includes asset management; configuration management; security and policy definition and management; application and connectivity management; and user- and group-based administration.

Varying functionality

However, functionality will vary depending on the device in question, RIM's enterprise marketing director for the EMEA region, Tim Hodkinson, said on Tuesday.

Our goal is to provide as much manageability and security of those iOS and Android devices as the operating systems and hardware allow us.
– Tim Hodkinson, RIM

"With other consumer platforms there simply aren't the same levels of manageability," Hodkinson told ZDNet UK. "Our goal is to provide as much manageability and security of those iOS and Android devices as the operating systems and hardware allow us."

Hodkinson pointed out that, even within the Android platform, there can be significant variation in the capabilities of device hardware and the version of the operating system used on different devices. Nonetheless, he said companies were much more open to bring-your-own-device policies than they were two or three years ago.

Indeed, Hodkinson said RIM's main motivation in releasing BlackBerry Mobile Fusion was that its customers had been clamouring for such a console. "It's a multi-platform world now," he said.

'Defensive move'

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi agreed with that analysis, telling ZDNet UK that the release was "about RIM remaining relevant in the enterprise market where organisations are adopting a multi-platform strategy".

"For now I see this as a defensive move by RIM, not an aggressive move to compete with mobile device management companies. Maybe in time this is something they will want to pursue more aggressively, but for now it is about staying in the enterprise market by giving options to their customers," Milanesi said.

Hodkinson stressed that RIM did not see BlackBerry Mobile Fusion as a "separate standalone product line", but as "very much of the BlackBerry platform". He also said the company stood a good chance against MDM competitors such as Google, IBM, HP and Afaria.

"MDM is a nascent market we've been very excited about," he said. "There is a lot of competition, but there's everything to win. We do see the MDM space as an opportunity for us."

Hodkinson also pointed out that RIM already has a large presence in the enterprise and small-to-medium-sized business markets.

"Those customers are already used to our management experience for both corporate BlackBerry devices and BlackBerry devices that individuals bring in themselves," he said. "We already have a big customer base in that space [and now] customer demand has helped us deal with other devices."

Pricing for the new console has not yet been announced, although Hodkinson indicated it would not be far off what RIM charges for its existing BlackBerry management tools.

Some enterprise customers are already testing BlackBerry Mobile Fusion in an early beta phase. Other customers can register now to be selected for a closed beta in January, and the product will be available in late March.

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