I’ve been thinking about this issue for quite some time now….but candidly, I haven’t been necessarily able to put my thoughts to keyboard until today. I guess my key theme is that I have been struck to a certain extent by the evolving role and position of Microsoft’s ActiveSync technology and its role in mobile device management.
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Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane. Circa 1995/96, Microsoft developed ActiveSync and its DirectPush technology as a clear response to Research in Motion’s push technology and smartly integrated it directly into Exchange, its dominant (at least in terms of market share) enterprise messaging solution. Since then, Exchange ActiveSync has been licensed by every major mobile platform (other than RIM of course). EAS is used today on the iPhone, HP’s webOS, Symbian, and even Google’s Android platform…and of course the Windows Phone platform.
The cool thing of course is that Microsoft baked into EAS a number of IT policies, such as remote wipe and lock, to provide IT administrators a baseline level of mobile device management capabilities. Eighteen months ago, I considered this Microsoft’s miracle Trojan Horse (not the virus) that would give the Company a dominant position in cross platform mobile device management. There was only one problem with this theory. While Exchange 2007 provides up to 50 different policies, the onus is on the platform manufacturers to actually support them. You can see here how well that went. Only Microsoft supported all 50 policies in Windows Phone 6.5 (for simplicity’s sake, let’s not talk today about the EAS IT policy support in Windows Phone 7).
Let’s jump to the present. Apple announced with iOS 4 that it would have its own native device management APIs. Mobility management vendors can partner with Apple (should Apple allow them to) and gain access to the core device APIs to build their own mobile device management solutions for iOS. Google’s EAS support is still weak in Android 2.2, but there are plenty of rumors out there that Google will follow Apple’s lead and provide its own mobile device management APIs when it releases the next version of Android currently known as “Gingerbread.”
So where does that leave EAS? I’m not sure frankly. There’s no question that Apple, Google, et al. will continue licensing EAS for Exchange synchronization (at least for the forseeable future). However, where does this leave the IT manager? S/He could very soon see a day when the platform manufacturers will say something to the effect of “We’re using EAS for DirectPush, but Exchange’s IT policies won’t provide you access or control of your employees’ devices (regardless of who owns them).” Let’s not forget that even Microsoft had its own extended device management solution in the ill fated System Center Mobile Device Management – a.k.a. SCMDM – a.k.a. ScumDum – solution.
Like it or not and regardless of its strengths and weaknesses, EAS provides IT managers a baseline level of control of the mobile workforce with zero marginal cost. As vendors continue to try to disassociate themselves from dependencies on 3rd parties, who’s going to win out in the end and who’s going to suffer?