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mobile device management (MDM)

Contributor(s): Colin Steele

Mobile device management (MDM) is software that allows IT administrators to control, secure and enforce policies on smartphones, tablets and other endpoints. MDM is a core component of enterprise mobility management (EMM) which also includes mobile application management, identity and access management and enterprise file sync and share. The intent of MDM is to optimize the functionality and security of mobile devices within the enterprise while simultaneously protecting the corporate network.

How mobile device management works

Mobile device management relies on endpoint software called an MDM agent and an MDM server that lives in a data center (either on premises or in the cloud).

IT administrators configure policies through the MDM server's management console, and the server then pushes those policies over the air to the MDM agent on the device. The agent applies the policies to the device by communicating with application programming interfaces (APIs) built directly into the device operating system.

Similarly, IT administrators can deploy applications to managed devices through the MDM server.

Mobile device management software emerged in the early 2000s as a way to control and secure the personal digital assistants and smartphones that business workers began to use. The consumer smartphone boom that started with the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007 led to the bring your own device trend, which fueled further interest in MDM.

Modern MDM products support not only smartphones but also tablets, Windows 10 and macOS computers and even some internet of things devices. The practice of using MDM to control PCs is known as unified endpoint management.

Mobile device management features

The developers of mobile operating systems and manufacturers of mobile devices control what MDM software can and can't do on their devices through their APIs. As a result, mobile device management has become a commodity, with most vendors offering a similar set of core capabilities. MDM vendor differentiation comes by integrating mobile device management servers with other enterprise software.

Common mobile device management features include:

  • device inventory and tracking;
  • app distribution and/or an enterprise app store;
  • remote wipe;
  • password enforcement;
  • app whitelisting and blacklisting; and
  • data encryption enforcement.
Ways to deploy an MDM solution
Mobile device management deployment options

MDM vendor landscape

The MDM vendor landscape has changed significantly since the early days. Most vendors in the market at that time, such as AirWatch, MobileIron, Sybase, Zenprise and Fiberlink, were solely focused on enterprise mobility.

But as of 2017, MobileIron was the only stand-alone EMM vendor remaining as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. Most of the other major players in the market were large enterprise software vendors. Those included VMware (which acquired AirWatch in 2014), IBM (which acquired Fiberlink in 2013) and BlackBerry (which acquired Good Technology in 2015). Citrix (which acquired Zenprise in 2012) and Microsoft also had substantial market share, according to IDC.

This was last updated in November 2017

Next Steps

Find out which product would best suit your organization's needs, what questions to ask before purchasing an MDM product and get a comparison of the best MDM products in the market today.

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Which MDM software does your organization use, and why?
Mobile device management has become more than just the management of devices, like stated above. This shift to the management of users, apps and content is known as enterprise mobility.
Do you have definition about mobile device configuration?
Mobile Device Management (MDM) can benefit businesses in the many ways. The primary objective of an MDM is to achieve security of the device and its contents.
Developing your own MDM server could be a large amount of work and is likely to require extensive security testing.
The scope of mobile device management is expanding with the growing connected ecosystem. The concept of BYOD is incorporating, not only smartphones, but smartwatches and other connected devices as well. And, an effective device management or Enterprise Mobility Management tool should be capable of deploying, securing, monitoring, integrating and managing any device used by workforce for official purpose.


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