Mobile devices are hot. But managing dozens of different products, each with varying OSs, levels of Exchange ActiveSync support, and software versions? Not so much.

Mobile device management (MDM) is also a business question. Will the company subsidize the cost of the phone, or should staff bring their own devices to work? Should these 'BYOD' phones be able to connect to the corporate network, and if so, what level of control should the organization feel comfortable taking with the phone? These questions will have different answers for every organization, depending on company size, industry, sensitivity of data, and corporate and technology-related philosophy.

Below are descriptions of three different products that claim to offer the best solution to these problems. There are certainly a number of other vendors in this space, but these three products represent three different takes on the MDM issue. See the pros and cons and decide for yourself what makes the most sense.

Comprehensive Device Management: Zenprise MobileManager

Zenprise has, in many ways, set the bar for MDM. The company tends to be the first to offer new features (such as remote control of mobile devices), or the first to support a new smartphone OS. MobileManager is probably what you expect when you think of MDM—a comprehensive, wrapped-up console that provides information such as:

  • Performance monitoring: quickly see how your company's mobile devices are performing and proactively spot problems.
  • Security features such as remote wipe and the ability to control application use.
  • A variety of other features, such as policy management, finding lost or stolen devices, pushing documents to devices, etc.

Pros: Very extensive monitoring features—no product that I've seen gives you the depth of data on which devices are having network connection issues, carrier coverage issues, or performance issues. The dashboard also lets you view all this data by specific groups of staff (e.g., VIPs/executives), by devices (e.g., BlackBerry devices only), and by carrier (e.g., all T-Mobile devices).

Cons: Some organizations will see having to install and use the MobileManager dashboard as a disadvantage because it's one more tool to manage. At about $25-$35 per user, cost is also higher than leaner solutions.

Related Articles:

Integrated Device Management: Odyssey Software's Athena

Athena offers many of the same features as MobileManager, but with a different twist. Rather than requiring a new tool, Athena integrates with System Center Configuration Manager to provide MDM, which means IT doesn't have to learn a new management console.

Odyssey Software has just launched Athena 5.0 for Configuration Manager, which is a substantial improvement over the previous version of the product. Athena now integrates directly with Android and iOS rather than through Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). For the customer, this means you'll have comprehensive policy management regardless of the EAS support of each individual device. (While most of today's smartphones support EAS, they all do so to varying degrees, so it makes it difficult to impose widespread policies through EAS.)

Features of Athena include policy management (including having policies specific to employer-owned or employee-owned devices), a mobile library to push supported apps and other forms of content, and performance monitoring.

Pros: Comprehensive support for all smartphone OSs (Windows Phone support coming soon) via Configuration Manager. Athena integrates with each OS, not EAS, enabling far greater control. Don't need to install a new console.

Cons: You need Configuration Manager to utilize the full features of Athena and support all OSs, which is a con if you don't already have it installed. Also, does not offer the depth of performance monitoring that MobileManager does.

Related Articles:

Application Management: Rhomobile's RhoGallery

Rhomobile, creator of the open source, application development product Rhodes, has released an application management product called RhoGallery. The premise of RhoGallery is this: in BYOD organizations where the company doesn't subsidize the device, why manage it? Why not, instead, simply have a gallery of company applications that are available to each user? You can push the relevant apps to users based on the department they're in, and when that employee leaves the company, you simply cut off access to the app gallery.

Sounds simple enough, right? Personally, I'm skeptical that application management alone will be sufficient for most organizations. What happens when a device with confidential files is lost or stolen?

EDIT: The above information is incorrect. In addition to application management, RhoGallery also has remote wipe capabilities for data. You can learn more here. 

Pros: In organizations where users don't handle confidential information on their mobile devices, or small organizations with responsible, power users, RhoGallery offers a simple way to secure company apps and leave control in the hands of the device owner.

Cons: Lacks certain security features many IT departments that more comprehensive MDM solutions have.

Which Model Is Best for You?

Certainly, these three products do not fully represent the dozens of different takes on MDM. But, in a broad sense, hopefully this product comparison gives you a feel for some of the options available to your organization. Other vendors that I've spoken to include BoxTone, which offers a comprehensive service somewhat similar to Zenprise, or vendors that offer remote support without all the other monitoring features, such as LogMeIn and Bomgar.

Related articles on these other MDM solutions:

There is no right answer for everyone. Each company is different—your role is to be able to look at where your company is today in terms of mobile device use, where it will likely be in the next few years, and determine what type of solution will best balance your company needs in terms of security, cost, ease of management, and employee flexibility.

Follow Brian Reinholz on Twitter