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IBM's MobileFirst adds Fiberlink for enterprise mobility management

IBM's purchase of EMM platform Fiberlink is expected to give the tech giant the tools it needs for a full mobile management service with MaaS360.

IBM is continuing to bolster its MobileFirst offerings with this week's acquisition of an industry leader in enterprise mobility management.

IBM will purchase Blue Bell, Pa.-based Fiberlink Communications and utilize its cloud-based MaaS360 enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform as part of its IBM SoftLayer cloud infrastructure, the company reported.

This is IBM bolting on the last, final tools to provide end-to-end mobile management.
Chris HazeltonMobile Analyst

The move to get MaaS360 into the IBM fold will allow the tech giant to offer cloud-based or on-premises mobile device management (MDM), mobile content management and mobile application management, as well as containerization.

MaaS360 is the latest service to be rolled into the IBM MobileFirst platform, introduced earlier this year and now includes more than 10 of IBM's mobile acquisitions from the last four years. The platform aims to help IT departments not only manage mobile devices but also build customer-facing applications and deploy internal applications.

IBM did not disclose the financial terms of the acquisition, adding the deal is expected to close later this year.

IBM sets its sight on mobility

Analysts reacted to the news without much surprise, believing Fiberlink was a natural play for IBM.

"They're really looking to become a provider focused on mobility," said Chris Hazelton, a mobile analyst and research director at 451 Research.

When IBM acquired Israel-based Worklight in 2012, it gave IBM a development tool for companies to build enterprise applications for themselves. But IBM was still missing the management side of the enterprise mobile equation, and Hazelton believes Fiberlink will give them that with MaaS360.

"[Fiberlink] has very strong management tools for devices," Hazelton said. "As a strategic idea, this is IBM bolting on the last, final tools to provide end-to-end mobile management."

IBM had offered some MDM tools internally but adding Fiberlink will allow them to expand beyond that, according to Michael Finneran, a mobile analyst and president of dBrn Associates in Hewlett Neck, N.Y.

"Fiberlink is entirely a cloud service and what IBM has is a lot of on-premises components," Finneran said. "This lets IBM expand significantly on mobile and they picked a good one [in Fiberlink]."

Finneran added it was "nice to see" the development for Fiberlink after he believed they'd fallen back in the EMM pack, especially following Citrix's purchase of Zenprise, which eventually led into the creation of its XenMobile platform.

"It's good to be in IBM's corner," Finneran said.

The move also contributes to the growing trend of smaller EMM and MDM providers getting gobbled up by bigger shops. Both Hazelton and Finneran noted that with Fiberlink's purchase, only AirWatch and MobileIron remain as independent EMM platforms in what they considered the top tier of services.

"Everyone's buying up everyone," Finneran said. "I think you're going to start to see the smaller guys at the bottom start to disappear."

"It shows the progression of MDM and mobile," Hazelton said. "This is where IT is going to invest for several years to come."

Why Fiberlink for IBM?

IBM executives believe Fiberlink's addition will help companies accept EMM if they'd been unsure in the past. They said a significant factor holding enterprises back is security especially in the "bring-your-own-device" world and Fiberlink, combined with other aspects of the MobileFirst platform, could assuage some of those fears.

"We see a lot of management insecurity," said Phil Buckellew, IBM's vice president of enterprise mobility. "Companies are not confident about putting their capabilities on what they don't own…We're assembling the tools and building a portfolio for enterprise to feel confident."

The combination of Fiberlink and IBM's August acquisition of Israel-based mobile security company Trusteer is expected to add to what Caleb Barlow, IBM's director of application, data and mobile security, called the company's "string of pearls" for EMM.

There were many factors that attracted IBM to Fiberlink, including its organic integration capabilities, fast and simple device enrollment, a trend toward software as a service and cloud-based mobile management, past partnerships with Fiberlink and client recommendations.

For example, an option that would change the native experience on mobile devices was considered a nonstarter for IBM, according to Barlow.

Barlow and Buckellew did not have additional information on when IBM will offer Fiberlink's capabilities since the sale hasn't closed yet. Barlow expects it to come together quickly once regulatory review is completed.

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