Fiberlink boosts mobile device management

Its MaaS360 AppCloud will host apps, while AppExtender will help developers secure them

Fiberlink is moving beyond just managing the delivery of enterprise mobile applications with the launch of MaaS360 AppCloud, a service in which Fiberlink will host the apps.

Fiberlink's MaaS360, which stands for "mobile as a service," is a cloud-based system designed to help enterprise IT departments manage both company-issued and employee-owned devices. Among other things, MaaS360 can maintain catalogs of native mobile apps and manage the distribution of those apps to devices. The service is designed to save companies from much of the work involved in maintaining and securing mobile devices.

At the CTIA Enterprise & Applications trade show this week, the company is announcing two new offerings. MaaS360 AppCloud is a service to host custom enterprise applications on Fiberlink's infrastructure. MaaS360 AppExtender is a library of tools for enterprises to add new management features to their applications.

Hawthorne Pharmaceuticals is adopting MaaS360 to manage iPads it distributed to a sales force of 120. The company needed a management system for functions such as remotely removing data if devices were lost or stolen, as well as for hosting an app being used for doctors to sign off on deliveries of samples, said Clay Hilton, Hawthorne's director of information technology. MaaS360 matched the features of management software it would have had to run on its own infrastructure, he said.

"It was the fact that they hosted it and I could deploy it so quickly," Hilton said. Rolling out MaaS360 took about two weeks, compared with an estimated six weeks or more for the alternatives, he said.

By having their apps hosted in the cloud, enterprises can better scale up those apps to run on many devices, said Josh Lambert, Fiberlink's director of product management. Enterprises can now offer an app to hundreds of thousands of users without building out their own infrastructure, he said.

Instead of adding enough servers to host its own app for all those users, the enterprise would buy a per-device or per-user license for the MaaS360 service. Rates vary from about US$4 to $6 per device, or companies can buy licenses that allow one employee to take advantage of MaaS360 on multiple devices, said Neil Florio, vice president of marketing.

AppExtender is a library for enterprise developers now available to MaaS360 customers through a free software development kit. It lets developers add features including user authentication against corporate directories and authorization for individual users to run the app based on their roles or departments.

Enterprises can also use AppExtender to make internally developed apps automatically update themselves over the air. There is a set of tools for generating reports about many aspects of a mobile device, such as app use and performance statistics, available storage and battery life, and whether the device is roaming. Developers can also add reporting on the security status of the device, such as what form of encryption it is using.

That information can be used to enforce enterprise policies, such as preventing the device from downloading large attachments from e-mail when it is roaming in another country and facing potentially high data charges, Lambert said.

AppExtender can be used to enhance most apps developed for Apple iOS or Google Android devices, he said.

Enterprises may not develop a large number of business applications for their employees, but if each one needs to be duplicated for three different mobile OSes, they may soon be faced with a sprawling portfolio, said Forrester Research analyst Christian Kane. Cloud-based hosting such as Fiberlink's may make sense for those shops.

Securing mobile devices for enterprise use is shaping up to be a big topic for this week's conference. Among other news in this area, AT&T and Verizon both are readying dual-persona software that can separate the business from the personal use of a device.

With AppExtender, Fiberlink is taking an opposite approach to dual-persona systems, offering ways to manage and secure apps rather than the device environment in which they operate, Kane said. Doing so will probably remain a job for third parties such as Fiberlink, because it's unlikely Apple or Google will open up their mobile platforms enough to let enterprise developers impose use tracking or other controls, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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