Microsoft gets strategic with its Enterprise Mobility Suite

It can't win every battle in the BYOD world, but it can pick the right fights

Although Apple isn't the sole focus of Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) or of Satya Nadella's new "mobile-first cloud-first" vision for the company, its iOS devices dominate enterprise mobility, meaning that Apple will play a major role in Microsoft's mobility strategy. In pursuing this strategy, Microsoft is, in a way, copying Apple's approach to business and enterprise iOS customers, albeit from a different perspective.

Microsoft began adding the ability to manage iOS and Android devices to its cloud-based Intune management suite last year. Although initial support for iOS device management was very basic, the company updated Microsoft Intune's iOS capabilities in January. While Microsoft has a ways to go before it catches up to the feature sets of the major mobile device management and enterprise mobility management vendors, the company looks committed to advancing its mobile management tools quickly.

The details on EMS

Announced last week alongside the introduction of Office for the iPad, Microsoft's EMS builds on the multi-platform management of Intune by integrating the company's Azure Active Directory Premium service, which extends existing Active Directory credentials and infrastructure to mobile devices. That delivers features like mobile single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, a range of deep reporting capabilities and self-service functionality for password resets and managing group membership.

The suite also incorporates Azure Rights Management, which can be used to secure corporate data that's accessed or stored on mobile devices while also providing secure mobile access to on-premises data resources like SharePoint sites. Microsoft's big pitch for EMS touts both the capabilities it offers as well as a shallow learning curve or deployment process for experienced Windows administrators.

What's most interesting about the announcement (and about the launch of Office for iPad) is Microsoft's change in posture and the way it is now demonstrating that it understands a mobile and post-PC world will likely be far less dominated by Windows than the desktop PC era of the 1980s, '90s, and early 2000s. (That change was underscored on Wednesday, when Microsoft announced that Windows and Windows Phone would be free to device makers building smartphones or tablets with screens smaller than 9-in. )

So what does this have to do with Apple?

Although Apple has been building support for Active Directory into Macs for more than a decade, the company also spent several years producing its own line of enterprise solutions, including servers, storage system, and a server OS that relied on an Apple-designed directory service for user identity and Mac system management. In many ways, Apple pushed its own enterprise products as an alternative to Windows Server, Active Directory and Exchange.

That strategy worked for organizations that were predominantly Apple-based or that had large numbers of Mac users. But it did little for large enterprises with only a handful of Macs because Windows IT managers didn't want to commit to building an Apple-focused infrastructure when they already had one built around Windows.

A different Apple strategy

Today, Apple's enterprise strategy is very different. The company no longer competes in the enterprise server hardware market and its server OS is aimed largely ar the small business market. Instead of competing in the enterprise hardware or server OS space with Microsoft, Apple designs consumer-oriented devices that incorporate support for Microsoft's enterprise solutions. Macs fit into Active Directory environments much better now. The Mail, Calendar and Contacts apps in OS X integrate with Exchange with no additional software required. (Organizations can use Outlook for Mac, as well.) iOS devices support Exchange ActiveSync as well as multi-platform enterprise mobility management solutions.

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