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Providing mobile device management services via the cloud

Solution providers can reduce mobile device management burdens and gain recurring revenue by offering mobile device management services from the cloud.

Solution provider takeaway: Solution providers can help to reduce mobile device management burdens and garner some recurring revenue by offering mobile device management services, and cloud computing services can help solution providers handle the demand for outsourced mobile device management.

In the past, businesses dealt with mobile device management issues by standardizing on a single style of device and implementing a complete mobile device management infrastructure. In today's business world, a solution like that would be too costly and could not handle the plethora of mobile devices now available from a multitude of vendors, each with its own integration nuances. There is also the issue of cost; traditional monolithic management systems prove to be very expensive to implement and maintain, which effectively reduces the ROI of any mobile initiative. Yet the fact remains that the use of mobile devices is growing; and, ultimately, someone is going to have to manage those devices in a business environment.

As businesses look to solve those problems, more and more will turn to the channel for affordable, reliable solutions, and solution providers need to be ready to take on those revenue-generating services and effectively manage a mobile infrastructure.

If the mobile device connects to the network and is used for business purposes, the IT department ultimately becomes responsible for its operation, support and troubleshooting, as well as the security implications of remote access. The question becomes: Where can channel players turn to solve those thorny mobile device management problems? Surprisingly, it is the cloud. Cloud computing, the very element that creates many of the management problems in the first place, also offers the best solutions to those problems.

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Over the last few years, several cloud services MSPs have sprung up, mostly with the goal of allowing IT departments to shift some of their management burdens over to external sources. Usually those external sources are the channel partners of the MSPs. Savvy solution providers have been slowly building up their repertoires of managed services, preparing themselves for the forthcoming onslaught of outsourced management needs from businesses that can no longer manage their own IT systems.

Cloud computing makes sense in handling the demand for outsourced mobile device management. The cloud creates access to a multitude of services from a variety of vendors, allowing solution providers to mash up multiple managed services into a single comprehensive offering to their customers. Mobile device management fits nicely into that ecosystem of cloud-based services.

There are a few ways to go about offering cloud-based services in conjunction with mobile device management. Solution providers can purchase a management account from a large cloud vendor and then rebrand the service as their own to sell to their customers. Solution providers can also set up their own MSP offerings to manage devices in the cloud, but they will need to invest in some form of data center to make that happen. And finally, solution providers can recommend MSP/cloud service providers directly to their customers (and perhaps earn a commission). Ultimately, it all comes down to the same goal -- using the cloud as a tool to manage mobile devices.

The cloud allows solution providers to eliminate the need for premise-based equipment, such as management appliances and, in some cases, even corporate servers. All of that affects the way in which a solution provider takes on the task of managing mobile devices, especially when one considers the variety of options and capabilities available. For some, wading through the choices can be a daunting task. By following a few simple guidelines, however, solution providers should be able to filter through the choices and pick what fits best. Some of the key capabilities needed are:

  • The ability to access and manage devices through a Web console.
  • Support for the creation of management groups.
  • Creation of default policies for groups.
  • The ability to delegate administrative responsibilities.
  • Unified support of all the organization's mobile device platforms.
  • Granular control of available services for mobile devices.
  • Distribution, updating, management and de-provisioning of enterprise applications to different mobile device platforms.
  • Remote locking or wiping of mobile devices.
  • Enforcement of IT security policies on mobile devices to ensure compliance with regulations.
  • The ability to manage service-level agreements.
  • A mechanism to automate billing and track costs.
  • The capability to segregate multiple customers into separate management domains.
  • Integration support for popular MSP platforms.

While needs may vary between corporate entities and are affected by the use of the mobile devices, it is important to make sure that the hosted service chosen covers the basic needs of the organization, while allowing for flexibility of deployment. Solution providers will find that most of the hosted/MSP style mobile device management platforms will cover the above-mentioned basics and offer an extensive array of add-on capabilities.

Features and capabilities are very important to the selection process, but a solution provider would be remiss not to consider the implications of dealing with a hosted service. Solution providers will also need to gather information relating to the hosted support policies, service-level agreements and contractual requirements and then translate that information into something that guarantees a worthwhile margin. Some hosted services charge by device, while others charge by groups. Some service providers charge different rates depending upon the type of device, number of applications deployed, security desired, number of administrators and so on. That makes it very important to delve into those details before signing on the dotted line.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist and systems professional specializing in testing, deploying and analyzing products and services. He writes for several technology publications. His website can be found at

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