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IBM's MDM simplifies Apple volume purchase program

IT pros who need to simplify app volume purchases for iOS devices will see enhancements as IBM hints at combining MDM and purchase management.

IBM will enhance its MaaS360 mobile device management offering to simplify the process for IT pros who buy iOS apps through Apple's Volume Purchase Program.

IT administrators who purchase large volume of licenses face not just purchasing challenges for setting up their organization to handle the process but also issues such as redistributing licenses and updating applications throughout their organizations.

IBM will combine its mobile device management (MDM) service and management of volume purchases to simplify the process, said Jim Szafranski, senior vice president, customer platform services at IBM's Fiberlink Communications, based in Blue Bell, Pa. Szafranski declined to provide more details but hinted there would be announcements coming from the IBM and Apple alliance.

Companies who buy the apps in bulk receive redemption codes. Those codes are then distributed to users using a Web portal, email or MDM service.

The IBM/Apple partnership will enable IBM's MaaS360 offering to tie into the Apple database, and simplify management for IT pros, said Chris Silva, research director at Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn.

IBM and Apple formed an enterprise alliance in July to deliver 100 industry-specific enterprise apps and take advantage of IBM's cloud services for iOS devices. Additionally, IBM can now resell Apple's iPhones and iPads through its sales channels.

Customers can now go to Apple for a volume purchase program (VPP) order and download them onto devices that have been placed in a supervised state by IT. In this mode, IT admins must ensure a device is managed by registering iOS devices in Apple's Device Enrollment Program, placed in a supervised state using Apple's Configurator tool, or locked down using an EMM/MDM tool.

IBM's Fiberlink MaaS360 MDM supports Apple's VPP by managing tokens and endorsing the device enrollment program, in addition to enabling IT pros to image devices when they are first powered on by users.

Vendors continue to wrangle with refining their volume purchase programs to help IT pros with the licensing and deployment process.

Apple has continuously refined its VPP to enable large organizations to buy applications through its store, and it has improved, Silva said.

Other enterprise mobility management vendors should also provide this capability because it's best suited for MDM products to manage and keep track of licenses, Silva said. Competitive EMM vendors include VMware's AirWatch, MobileIron, Microsoft's Mobility Enterprise Suite, and a host of others.

"A business application on a phone that is owned by a user is still a device management [issue] because it's provisioning the app on the device," said Wes Miller, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Wash.

IT pros have to revisit how they've managed Windows desktops and policies to account for the new world of BYOD and this is something MDM vendors will own, Miller said.

Organizations that deploy a large number of iOS devices into their environments will find the additional support from IBM useful.

Bancroft, a special needs school based in Haddonfield, N.J., worked with IBM to deploy 300 clinical and educational apps to iPads, all managed by MaaS360. The school has approximately 300 devices enrolled.

"The biggest challenge we had in our deployment is how to set up the volume purchase programs for apps for the Apple store," said Fina Nash, vice president of IT for Bancroft. "Apple was just starting the volume purchase programs and they hadn't thought of all the different ways for apps to be decommissioned…"

Bancroft had to work through a variety of issues that cropped up to manage the applications.

"What happens when you request vouchers for apps and then how [do we] redistribute them? This was a work in progress for a little bit until we streamlined the process," Nash said.

Apple offers a separate enterprise and education VPP.

Apple is improving the education VPP because many schools are going through the same process of deciding how to manage a large number of devices and ensuring licenses are allocated correctly, Nash said.

It's an issue IT pros and vendors must solve to learn the best way to approach each deployment.

Taking Bancroft mobile

For educators such as Bancroft, deploying iPads was not an easy proposition. The school needed to manage a large number of applications and deploy new wireless technology. The wireless infrastructure had to support not only iPads but other devices like smart boards and Chromebooks to allow teachers to be mobile in the classroom. The institution deployed Aerohive Networks technology to provide wireless access points to the cloud. Aerohive Networks provides a mobile platform that employs the cloud and a controller-less architecture.

"[Aerohive] was a front runner because we have this roadmap to transition to the cloud in the next year or two," Nash said. "We don't want to manage an on-premises infrastructure."

Bancroft began migrating to Google Apps a year and a half ago for email, calendar and office productivity. The institution is still transitioning off Microsoft Office on some local devices to Google apps.

While Bancroft wants to replace PCs with Chromebooks to coexist with the iPads, Nash is not against the BYOD movement. Bancroft manages iPads, Android and Kindle devices as well.

While volume purchasing of apps can be a headache, updating the apps and operating system is an issue IT needs to contend with as vendors continuously push out updates at a faster cadence.

"Realistically these [iPads] are consumer devices and apps [and the] model is the user is in charge," Szafranski said. "You cannot stop a user from updating to the latest OS. MDM vendors must stay up to date with the latest provisioning profiles, he added.

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What issues do you encounter when dealing with volume purchases of apps for mobile devices?
What issues are encountered? Well, Apple's VPP is not enterprise-ready. It's basically a spreadsheet for managing licenses that only scales to a manageable number of users - maybe 100 or 200. But when you need to do a real enterprise sale, say 10,000 licenses of your mobile app, Apple's VPP program simply doesn't work.
So do Apple's competitors' programs work better?