Management boost for business mobiles

Management boost for business mobiles

Microsoft and O2 launch separate solutions to help firms link corporate systems to mobile devices

Windows Mobile devices are to be integrated with Active Directory, enabling enterprises to manage smartphones using the same policies and infrastructure already used to control Windows PCs, according to Microsoft.

The Active Directory support will come in 2008 with a new version of the Windows Mobile platform, plus a new server product called System Centre Mobile Device Manager 2008 (SCMDM). As well as providing end-to-end security and management, this will include a virtual private network (VPN) to allow secure mobile access to enterprise resources, such as line-of-business applications.

Microsoft UK’s mobility business manager, Jason Langridge, said that Windows Mobile will effectively become part of the corporate domain, enabling devices to be managed through group policy just like PCs.

“You can set policies to turn off the camera or Wi-Fi connection, enforce encryption, and provision applications over the air,” Langridge said. More importantly, it means that any handset bought through a retail channel or a mobile operator can be turned into an enterprise-managed device, he added.

The new VPN channels all traffic from the handset through a company’s existing firewall and security infrastructure, and is optimised for mobile use. “If the connection gets dropped, the VPN will quickly re-establish it, and any open session is maintained,” Langridge said.

Ovum analyst Tony Cripps said Microsoft is trying to address perceived problems with mobile support in Exchange Server. In particular, it has been seen as falling short of RIM’s BlackBerry in terms of security and management, he said. “This should bring [Microsoft] closer in terms of features with the things necessary to keep IT managers happy,” he added.

Enterprises currently have to deploy a number of third-party point solutions to manage and secure communications with mobile devices, according to Langridge, whereas SCMDM will cover everything. “It delivers on the need to manage all clients in a single solution,” he said.

However, Cripps said that the software’s support only for Windows Mobile devices means that most IT departments will still lack the capability to manage a mix of handheld systems from one centralised console.

Support for SCMDM will come with a forthcoming version of Windows Mobile, due in the first half of 2008 along with SCMDM itself. Microsoft said that other versions of Windows Mobile will not support the Active Directory integration, but stated it is working with partners such as HTC, Motorola, Palm and Intermec to enable devices to be upgraded to the new platform.

Also last week, O2 unveiled a mobile service based on technology from Motorola’s Good Technology Group. The firm said it can offer customers an end-to-end solution for access to email and enterprise applications.

Motorola’s Good Technology can deliver mobile access to corporate email systems based on Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino/Notes, and offers management of device hardware through a single console with complete over-the-air control. The software is compatible with devices using the Windows Mobile operating system, including selected O2 Xdas, Palm and Motorola devices.