Managing Windows Mobile Devices

RIM has dominated enterprise-class mobility deployments to date because they have an end-to-end solution, providing an evolving and attractive mix of devices, a development platform for customized applications and a central management component that addresses ongoing provisioning, updating and reporting needs. While Microsoft has for awhile been able to emulate

RIM has dominated enterprise-class mobility deployments to date because they have an end-to-end solution, providing an evolving and attractive mix of devices, a development platform for customized applications and a central management component that addresses ongoing provisioning, updating and reporting needs. While Microsoft has for awhile been able to emulate the first two criteria, only with their recently announced System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (expected to ship in Q2), has the company been able to hint at closing the management gap. In beta right now, System Center MDM 2008, promises to hook Windows Mobile devices into the corporate Active Directory, providing administrators the ability to centrally control security, connectivity and application provisioning of mobile devices through constructs well familiar to Windows administrators.

But don't expect this new set of capabilities will solve the problem of consumers bringing their own devices into the corporate network, particularly in the short term.

In a recent conversation with Enterprise Mobile (a Microsoft partner that's providing MDM 2008 planning, installation and support services), CEO Mort Rosenthal told me that many (more than 50 percent of early adopters) beta adopters have leveraged Enterprise Mobile's services to kick start their System Center MDM 2008 testing programs.

Rosenthal sees MDM 2008 as a very different animal than many software solutions because the server component (available now in beta) is out before the client piece necessary to bring the devices into management is complete. MDM 2008 requires Windows Mobile 6.1 be installed on the client devices (this version includes the MDM client), but 6.1 is not available to the public at this time.

While this could be a sticking point in the beta program, Rosenthal argues this currently incomplete beta program confers benefits nonetheless. "In an enterprise, they [administrators] need to be familiar with the management console and platform, and they need to be comfortable with the level of security and device management that is available before deployment," said Rosenthal.

Of course, this condition is also a benefit for Enterprise Mobile during the beta trials, as the company can help get their customers' devices up to speed as well. According to Rosenthal, Enterprise Mobile has created 6.1-enabled devices from 6.0 versions on behalf of both their customers and OEMs.

Obviously, it is very early in the lifecycle of MDM 2008, but it seems like the client upgrade issue will be a problem ongoing with Windows Mobile devices, particularly for companies considering whether it is feasible to pull their end-users' devices into the management mix.

Devices purchased directly from carriers are generally subject to a drastically different upgrade path from those purchased from the device manufacturer directly. Carriers are notoriously slow at approving system-level updates to consumer devices - for instance, in December Palm announced its upgrade from Windows Mobile 5 to Windows Mobile Professional 6 for the Treo 750 (Update 2.25) on AT&T's network, many months after the first native WM 6 devices started appearing.

We can likely assume that in most cases, the upgrade to version 6.1 will also take a fair amount of time - and may not become available at all to the current generation of Windows Mobile devices, as product lifecycles are similar to that of a fruit fly. A company thinking of letting users bring their own devices will then have to deal with (or wait out) the upgrade cycles of an undetermined number of devices - a practice that few if any administrators will have the time, patience or inclination for.