Monday, September 16, 2013

Managing Mobile Devices - Platform Reviews

It’s a big world out there. Lots of places to go and people to see. Also, lots of places to lose your mobile device and a fair few people who may want to nab it from you. Fortunately, different developers are coming up with solutions that help you protect your device - or at the very least your data.

Droid Does

First to weigh in, Google has released it’s own device manager for Android devices, called Google Apps Device Policy. You can access this tool from any browser by visiting google.com/apps/mydevices. Installing is super easy: just pull up the app from the Play Store (Or scan the QR code that will display from the device manager on your browser). Once it installs, just ‘add device’ from a browser, sync the device, and you’re good to go.


Your domain’s administrator can require that users have a pin or password, set an idle-out screen lock, and wipe the device. Additionally, the device’s user can remotely change their pin, lock their screen, and cause the device to ring out (for those ‘lost in the couch’ scenarios). Also, if the device’s GPS is active, the user can track it.

This tool does require that the domain you sync to is a Google Apps for Business or Education user as well as a minimum system requirement of Android 2.2 or better, but the app’s integration is pretty seamless. However, being an Android-only solution does limit this tool’s usability in a BYOD environment

Up in the Air

Sand Studio’s AirDroid has recently iterated, and what used to be simply a cable-free way to access the data on your phone from a computer, has added many of the tools Google’s Apps Device Policy brings to the table while maintaining all the other goodies that the app has to offer.

AirDroid 2, as it’s labeled on the Apps Store, will do some of the basics that Apps Device Policy will: Remote wipe, remote screen lock, remote password change, GPS tracking, and ring-out a beacon for phone-finding. There is one additional feature that definitely piques interest, however: You can set the device to snap a photo whenever someone fails to enter a proper lock-code and send that photo to you! A very powerful tool.

Unfortunately, AirDroid 2 is not designed with fleet management in mind, and so there isn’t a tool for managing multiple devices from a single dashboard. Though there is always the make-a-big-clumsy-spreadsheet method of doing things.

Meraki-and-Roll

Meraki offers an absolutely free MDM solution that is rather comprehensive. The install is simple enough: Sign up at Meraki.com to access their Systems Manager, pull the app down from either the Apple or Play store, respectively, then plug in the code that the manager console gives you when you ‘add a device’ from your browser.

Once you’re in and have some devices attached you can configure the extensive options. The dashboard give you an overview of all the devices attached to your account. Pulling up each device gives detailed information including: charge status, storage capacity, serial number, IMEI, phone number, data for the network it’s attached to, plus more. Here, you can also clear your passcode, lock your device, erase the whole thing (or target certain data with a selective wipe), ring a beacon, and send a message to display a-la text message.

You can also review any apps installed on the device and, while you can’t remove them, you can restrict the install of new apps, as well as make a whole other list of restrictions including Face-time, screen capturing, Youtube (for iOS), and camera use (both).
You can also require that a user set a passcode, configure WIFI and VPN settings remotely, and push documents from the web by using the ‘backpack’ feature.

To make MDM life easier, the Meraki platform allows you to create different profiles for different user groups, so you don’t have to configure each device separately.

You can also receive email alerts for a host of events, including network enrollment, app installation, or removal of the Meraki app! Remote destop functionality exists, and while not device-agnostic, it does cater to both Apple and Android users.

Decisions, decisions...

Though all 3 of these options share a lot of basic functionality, there are enough differences to really make these MDMs varied and interesting. If your fleet is all Android or Chrome powered, for example, maybe Mobile Apps Policy is the way your org should go. For a true BYOD environment, however, there’s just no beating Meraki’s device-agnostic platform. Then again, the potentially-thief-stopping snap-shot power of AirDroid 2 is not something to be discounted.

I know there are plenty more MDMs on the market and would love to hear what you’re using. Just leave a quick comment below so that others can find it. I’ll pull from your comments and write up another review.


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Jarad Selner is a new member of Newmind Group's Chromebooks team, working with schools, non-profit groups and businesses to deploy and integrate Google Chrome devices within their organizations.

In his off-time, he can be found booking bands, teaching music lessons, and playing at a variety of venues in and around the great city of Kalamazoo, Mi.