What is the AirWatch App Configuration for Enterprise initiative?

Last week at Mobile World Congress AirWatch announced an initiative called App Configuration for Enterprise (or ACE). ACE is defines a way to think about mobile app management, app configuration, and the idea of MAM standards—issues that will grow rapidly in importance as enterprise mobile app adoption takes off.

So just what exactly is ACE and how will it change MAM? Let’s take a look.

What is ACE?

Here’s VMware’s Noah Wasmer describing ACE last week at Mobile World Congress:

And here’s the description from the developer resources section of appconfigforenterprise.org, a new website AirWatch created for the effort:

“The App Configuration for Enterprise (ACE) initiative defines a standard way for enterprise application developers to interpret app configurations and security policies from EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) systems, and for EMM systems to configure and secure mobile applications.

“With ACE, app developers can build a single application that works across all EMM vendors. The app developer does not need to maintain multiple copies of their application, does not need to integrate any proprietary code, and no SDK or legacy App Wrapping solutions are required. In fact, many of the capabilities specified in ACE, such as “App Tunnel”, Kerberos based “Single Sign On”, and some security settings, do not require any development effort to take advantage of. Some capabilities such as certificate based “Single Sign On”, “App Configuration”, and certain security settings do require minor development effort. This is all accomplished by leveraging standard APIs and capabilities that are built into the operating system platforms, and made available to EMM vendors to selectively enable on devices.

“By leveraging ACE, Customers benefit with seamless and secure access to certified business apps, App developers benefit with increased adoption, and EMM vendors can integrate with a much broader ecosystem of mobile applications.”

So ACE is promoting the MAM frameworks that are a part of iOS 7 and 8, and now Android for Work. (By the way, it’s definitely worth reading through the rest of developer resources if you have time, as they give a good window into Android for Work.)

I refer to this type of MAM as “OS-based MAM,” since it’s dependent on frameworks that are built into the underlying operating system. I refer to the alternative (app wrapping, SDKs, and specially-developed apps and app ecosystems) as “app-based MAM.”

Besides AirWatch, the initial ACE partners are Box, Cisco, Workday, and Xamarin.

How ACE will affect MAM

Clearly from the descriptions there’s a lot to like about the ACE concept. However, it’s crucial that we remind ourselves of the differences between the OS-based MAM and app-based MAM.

There’s no doubt that OS-based MAM has been a revolution. Dealing with app wrapping, custom SDKs, and the array of proprietary vendor-specific app-based MAM platforms is indeed daunting.

Despite this, there are several reasons why app-based MAM will continue to be important.

First, OS-bases MAM requires that devices be managed with MDM, while app-based MAM does not. There are many situations where device management is not desired, and devices can only be managed by one server at a time. Believe me, even in 2015 managing devices with MDM is still debated (depending on the use case) and there are strong voices on both sides.

Second, OS-based MAM is in general much more reliant on the integrity and capabilities of the device. If you’re using OS-based MAM, you’ll need to be sure the operating system is a certain version, and you’ll also want to have an agent on the device that make sure it’s not jailbroken or rooted. In contrast, app-based MAM is often designed to be “self defending,” ensuring that it will keep corporate data secure even if the host device is compromised.

Finally, also note that some of the features described by ACE require the participation of the app developer, the exact same contingency as with app-based MAM.

All this means is that ISVs will still want to support the various proprietary app-based MAM frameworks, SDKs, and app wrapping. ACE is yet another one of these frameworks... but that’s okay.

For companies that have the prerequisites in place to take advantage of the ACE concept (devices that support Android for Work, devices that can be managed, ISV support where necessary) it will be a great advantage. As enterprise mobility grows, we’ll see more and more companies managing and deploying dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of unique mobile apps—obviously any standardization will help.

The other thing that I like about ACE is that even though it’s not quite the MAM standard I’ve been looking for, it will indeed be truly universal. Since it’s based on frameworks provided by iOS and Android, any EMM provider can support it by default.

Overall, though, it’s important to be aware of and consider the differences between OS-based and app-based MAM.

You can find the rest of our Mobile World Congress coverage at our 2015 recap article.

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