The struggling mobile device maker refocuses on the enterprise with a complement to BES that manages Apple and other mobile devices. How Fusion will add Balance, and why one CIO is cautiously optimistic

RIM

Research in Motion Ltd. has announced an upcoming management platform allowing enterprises secure management of employees’ mobile devices on Apple Inc.’s iOS and Google Inc.’s Android platforms along with its own BlackBerry operating system.

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion will go into beta in January and be in general availability in March, Alan Panezic, vice-president of enterprise product management and marketing for Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM, announced in a Webcast today.

That timing is significant in that next year the company’s long-delayed QNX-based operating system — called BBX — will  also debut on its BlackBerry smart phones and PlayBook tablet computers.

Mobile Fusion meets the demands from RIM customers who are increasingly allowing staff to bring in their own handsets and tablets for a single mobile management system, the company said. Many have chosen third-party applications from companies such as Airwatch, Good Technology, iAnywhere and others to manage Android or iOS-based devices along side RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). In that sense Mobile Fusion — built around technology RIM gained earlier this year when it bought a company called  ubitexx — will help RIM stave off competitors and hopefully keep the loyalty of IT departments to RIM.
But in the Webcast Panezic said the co-called consumerization of corporate IT isn’t simply about users wanting to bring their personal devices into the enterprise.

“We find that consumerization is much broader than that,” he said. The generation of “digital natives” coming into the workforce have very different experiences about how technology works, he said. They’re not going to go to two-day training sessions; they expect their devices to work simply,. And they expect to use it for what they have to do in their personal lives as well as their business lives.

Mobile Fusion is what RIM calls its next-generation management framework. For the time being it won’t force an upgrade from BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.3. Its management console will work with the features already exposed on BES, including asset, configuration, security and device management. One key capability will be remote wipe. Ultimately, however, BES will be rolled into Mobile Fusion.
 
Mobile Fusion works through the APIs in handset software and doesn’t need an agent on devices, David Heit, RIM’s director of enteprise software management, said in an interview. He also made it clear that security capabilities unique to BES that leverage the BlackBerry operating systems will only be available to their devices and not to Android or iOS devices.
Mobile Fusion will also support an enterprise app store. “I like to think of it as giving customers shelf space within (RIM’s) AppWorld,” Panezic said.

It will also take advantage of the new operating system’s Balance feature to personal and corporate apps and data separate. “End users want choice, end users want flexibility, and, most importantly, end users want fun,” Panezic said. When IT puts limitations on third-party apps for security purposes, users will try to find a workaround, exposing even more security risks.

Balance keeps third-party apps downloaded by the user in a personal perimeter, while apps pushed by the company to devices or downloaded from the corporate app store are kept in a corporate perimeter, with 256-bit AES encryption at the storage level, Panezic said. Users have to log in to access the corporate perimeter, and data and apps can’t be moved to the personal side.

“You have to keep that separation between the sheep (the corporate apps and data) and the wolves (what the user wants to do with the device),” he said.

Charaka Kithulegoda, chief information officer of ING Direct Canada, called the announcement “interesting” in an interview.

“It sounds promising,” he said. There’s a variety of mobile platforms in use by ING staff; in fact, it was the first bank to support customer transactions on every major mobile platform.

“It’s difficult to say no” to employees who want to use their own devices on the corporate network, he said.

“We’re actively looking for solutions” to manage across mobile platforms, he said. He’ll be evaluating how much of the offering is realistic, whether or not he can use the bank’s existing infrastructure and how complex the integration would be, he said.
 
Panezic insisted in the Webcast that the complexity would be minimal. “IT doesn’t have to do anything special except provision (the devices),” he said. And app developers don’t have to do anything more, either, as Mobile Fusion will automatically pen third-party apps in the personal perimeter.
 
Mark Tauschek, a lead analyst at Info-Tech Research in London, Ont., said IT departments will likely see the ability to have only one mobile management software solution for all mobile platforms as “awesome” — assuming Mobile Fusion works well.
 
But, he added, RIM may have made the move too late. “They should have been on this a year ago,” he said.
 
 
(With additional material from Howard Solomon, Network World Canada)
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