An acquisition by Google this week might represent its first foray into enterprise mobility management, possibly giving IT a preloaded management option on Android devices.
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Google purchased Divide, formerly Enterproid, a startup specializing in workspace containers for Android and Apple iOS smartphones, for an undisclosed sum.
Divide stated on its website it will be part of the Android team going forward and "will work as it always has" for existing customers.
Google declined to comment on the acquisition, so it's unclear how exactly the tech behemoth plans to incorporate the technology into the Android operating system going forward, or what may become of Divide's iOS version.
Google hasn't had core enterprise software preinstalled on Android devices but IT insiders suspect that could become the case once its plans for Divide become evident.
"This is a realization by Google that the enterprise is important and they have to give enterprises the tools they need to deploy these devices," said Jack Gold, mobile analyst and principal at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Massachusetts.
[Google has] to give enterprises the tools they need to deploy these devices.
Jack Gold, mobile analyst, J. Gold Associates
A container product built into Android could give Google a leg up on the competition in the mobile environment, according to Robert Debault, systems analyst with a maintenance product distribution company in Texas.
"The No. 1 complaint right now about Android is being able to deploy and support applications on the different platforms and security," he said. "Android devices are so wide open, it's ridiculous."
Google's plans with Divide may also impact Samsung, the Korean hardware OEM that recently launched an update to its Knox secure container platform, dubbed Knox EMM [enterprise mobility management], with support for Android and iOS devices.
Samsung may bypass what Google chooses to do with Divide because it has its own flavor of Android and can integrate Knox all the way down to the device chipset, according to Chris Hazelton, mobile and wireless director at 451 Research in New York.
While Divide might not directly impact what Samsung is offering as an EMM play, it could give other Android-based OEMs a similar option already built in.
"[Samsung's competitors] will have something that's Google-branded, for whatever that's worth to IT, that is an EMM play by Google," Hazelton said.
A challenge for IT administrators is Android OS fragmentation within an environment, as well as the security concerns presented within Android itself.
"It presents a real dilemma for enterprises trying to deploy [Android devices]," analyst Gold said. "If I let my users bring in their Android devices, which one are they bringing in? Is it the latest one? Is it a year old?"
Divide is available as in both free and paid enterprise versions. The free version includes separate work environment, FIPS-140-2-validated 256-bit encryption, remote wipe and locate, among other features. The paid enterprise version that hooks in with IT policy enforcement, remote management capability, enterprise app deployment, branding and customization, among other features, costs $60 per user per year.
For IT departments on tight budgets, that price may be prohibitive, especially when it's compared to the price of other platforms that include more features. For example, for $60 per device per year, AirWatch by VMware gives customers mobile device management (MDM), workspace, an app catalogue and the AirWatch Inbox email app.
However, the trend for IT is moving away from MDM to other aspects of EMM, thanks to the prevalence of bring your own device, making application-centric features like containerization more palatable, according to 451 Research's Hazelton. "What Divide provides is essentially real estate for IT on Android devices without having to worry about the device and the owner," he said.
Companies that specialize in mobile containerization exist in part because OS companies haven't put those tools in place, according to Gold. "It's annoying for enterprises to have to pay for this additional thing that should have been in the OS to begin with," he said.
The need for containerization depends on the implementation within an environment. If an administrator were dealing with very sensitive information while supporting a wide range of devices and didn't need device-specific functionality, containerization would be a great option, according to systems analyst Debault.
"It makes deploying devices easier, because you can deploy the container as a separate object," he said. "You don't have to worry about separate install routines."