Android in enterprises 'severely limited' by weak management support from Google

Mobile device management called fastest-growing enterprise mobile software, Gartner says

Adoption of Android tablets and smartphones in large businesses has been "severely limited" because of the complexities of managing the wide variety of Android-based devices and versions of the operating system, research firm Gartner said in an evaluation of 20 mobile device management (MDM) software vendors released Friday.

In a survey conducted in April, Gartner found that 58% of enterprises have made or plan to make Apple's iOS their primary mobile platform in the next year. In comparison, 20% of enterprises will standardize on RIM's BlackBerry platform and 9% will choose Google's Android.

Google offers "weaker management support" for Android than Apple does for iOS or Research In Motion does for BlackBerry, Gartner added in its new 34-page study.

The broad-ranging study said the explosion in consumer smartphones and tablets used in workplaces is making MDM the "fastest-growing enterprise mobile software ever in terms of number of suppliers, revenue growth and interest from Gartner clients."

MDM license revenues were about $200 million in 2010 and $350 million in 2011, and are expected to reach $500 million in 2012, Gartner said. Research firm IDC recently pegged 2010 MDM revenues at a higher level, $300 million, and it expects the market will reach $1.2 billion in 2015.

A big part of the reason why it's difficult to manage Android systems, Gartner said, is that Google hasn't opened many application programming interfaces (API) to the dozens of MDM vendors, which means they can't connect their management tools to Android. In Android 4.0, Google only provided 16 APIs, compared to more than 500 APIs for the latest version of BlackBerry.

Some MDM vendors have built their own APIs for Android devices, but that process "is time-consuming and expensive to do for each device and version of Android," Gartner said. "This [problem] has severely limited Android adoption in the enterprise, and even today, very few enterprises provide [Android] support."

Google didn't respond to a request for comment about Gartner's report. However, Android vendors such as Motorola Mobility -- which Google is acquiring -- have defended the security and management features in Android for enterprise use. Those capabilities are mainly available through software from 3LM, a software vendor that Motorola acquired in 2011.

In January, Christy Wyatt, general manager of Motorola Mobility's enterprise business unit, said: "We have to get Android as a whole at a stable and secure place, and once Android is behind the firewall [with 3LM], that helps. There's a lot of mythology around Android and whether it's secure or not." Other Android device makers, such as HTC and Sony, have struck agreements to license 3LM software, she said at the time.

Gartner's report noted that Google hasn't disclosed what it plans to do with 3LM as part of Motorola, adding that enterprises Gartner works with are hoping Google will use 3LM as part of an enterprise version of Android for device makers.

Earlier in May, 3LM announced Version 3.0 of its Mobile Device and Application Management platform for handling smartphones and tablets that run Android 4.0, as well as managing iPhones and iPads. Other new features include an easier interface for IT managers and tools to prevent users from copying data from corporate systems to noncorporate systems.

Gartner didn't rank 3LM in its latest review of 20 MDM vendors because it doesn't consider 3LM a true MDM vendor. Gartner analyst Phillip Redman, one of three authors of the report, said in an email interview that 3LM builds APIs and doesn't provide actual MDM capabilities, and he added that those APIs serve as a "layer between MDM and a mobile device."

Claims that Android is broadly secure are "not true," Redman added. "All Android is not created equally." He didn't elaborate.

Enterprise use of BlackBerry smartphones, which have been widely regarded as secure and manageable through RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server, is on the decline. In April, RIM released an MDM platform called Mobile Fusion that provides management for iOS and Android as well as BlackBerry. Gartner didn't evaluate Mobile Fusion for its report because it's too new. But the research firm did say that the software "could be a force if [RIM] decides to invest more in this area."

Of the 20 MDM vendors that Gartner studied, it ranked these five as leaders: MobileIron, AirWatch, Fiberlink, Zenprise and Good Technologies. SAP and Symantec were listed as "challengers," while BoxTone and IBM were described as "visionaries."

Gartner described the other 11 MDM vendors it studied as "niche players." They are McAfee, Sophos, Soti, Trend Micro, Tangoe, OpenPeak, Silverback MDM, Amtel, Landesk, Smith Micro Software and MyMobile Security.

In all, there are probably more than 100 vendors globally that offer some form of MDM capability, Gartner said. To qualify for the group of 20, the MDM vendors had to have a well-rounded set of mobile management tools. For security management, each of the 20 had to have IT tools that were capable of the following: enforcing passwords; wiping data off of a device; remotely locking a device; creating an audit trail for logging in of a device and verifying a device's configuration from a central console; and detecting jailbreaks and rooting. They also had to support at least three mobile operating systems. Other required security components included support for antivirus software, encryption, firewalls and mobile VPNs.

Other requirements included tools to block use of flash cards or other external storage media, and tools to audit changes made on the hardware. For software, the 20 MDM vendors had to support the ability to push or pull apps on a device and to verify the origin of mobile apps. The software also had to support app updates, patches and an enterprise and third-party app store.

All 20 MDM vendors in the Gartner group had to have MDM-specific revenue of at least $1.5 million. The average price for MDM software is about $60 per user per year, Gartner said, and that price should drop to $40 per user per year by 2015 as more cloud-based MDM systems emerge.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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