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IT pros want consolidated management tools to manage mobile devices

Network management vendors are starting to add mobility management to their platforms as IT pros who manage mobile demand consolidated tools.

Network engineers are trying to streamline their infrastructure management platforms. Consolidated wired and wireless network management has been a priority for a few years. Now network engineers want to consolidate how they manage mobile devices, too.

IT organizations traditionally manage mobile devices via a standalone product, but as their environments grow more complex, IT organizations no longer want multiple management tools for each separate network domain. Mobility management is getting tied into larger network management tool sets.

"We are definitely seeing [vendors] take a migration path towards offering the full package for network management for enterprises," said Todd Day, senior industry analyst of wireless and mobility for Mountain View, Calif.-based Frost and Sullivan Inc. "There are so many aspects involved with mobility and managing it properly, and the more tools that can be [integrated] together, the better the solution for IT."

Who gets to manage mobile devices?

The bring your own device (BYOD) trend has exploded the number of mobile devices connecting to networks, prompting IT organizations to rethink who should be tasked with mobility management. The job originally fell into the laps of the desktop and laptop administrators who were already managing corporate-issued mobile devices, said Michael Disabato, research vice president of wireless and mobility for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "It seemed logical for the people running the phones -- primarily BlackBerrys early on -- to take over the management of new devices," he said.

BYOD has grown exponentially, and some companies -- especially larger organizations -- have designated a mobility manager or a separate mobility team within the IT organization to handle the demand. But a separate mobility team doesn't require separate management tools.

The Andover Public Schools district in Kansas -- which includes 11 schools with 5,500 students and a virtual school environment that supports an additional 5,400 students -- is using Cisco's Identity Services Engine (ISE) for managing access to its wired and wireless infrastructure and for the quick provisioning of new devices, said Rob Dickson, director of technology at Andover Public Schools.

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The district also uses the cloud-based Cisco Meraki platform for MDM of the student's school-sanctioned iPads. The cloud-based interface is making it easier for Dickson and his team to manage the Dell laptops used within the virtual school environment, outside of the school's network, Dickson said.

Prior to using ISE, Dickson and his team had to manually onboard and secure new devices -- an overwhelming prospect for the IT team. Using ISE, network managers can onboard new users, and then the day-to-day mobility management duties can be done by other IT technicians on staff. "Every IT professional has access to ISE, at the very least, on a report-level so they can see new devices and if there is something that isn't provisioned properly."

The consolidated network management platform has given the school district a clearer view of its dynamic network, as well as the ability to support BYOD, Dickson said. "With ISE, we now have the ability to see if the user is connected to the wired or wireless network, and we can see everything about that connection -- like the port or access point, as well as the user authenticated to it," he said.

MDM market: Is more consolidation on the horizon?

Network consolidation could push standalone MDM and mobile application management vendors towards extinction if those companies don't merge their functionally with networking vendor's management tools, Gartner's Disabato said. The professionals who are managing hundreds, or thousands, of endpoints do not want to go to multiple systems and vendors to establish security parameters for each device, he said. "That's a guarantee that there will be inconsistencies between the application profiles and the endpoint profiles."

Some network and wireless LAN vendors are adding MDM to their management offerings through acquisitions. "The only way the Wi-Fi vendors will be able to offer this functionality to enterprises fully -- if they do not have any of these capabilities already -- will be to buy or acquire another company, like how VMware just bought Airwatch," Disabatao said.

After acquiring network access security functionality from Avenda Systems and guest management software from Amigopod Software, Aruba announced its mobility management functionality, ClearPass, in 2011. The ClearPass MDM feature allows IT to monitor mobile device environments on the same interface used for managing the wireless network. ClearPass now automates the configuration of employee personal devices, as well as guest devices on the enterprise network -- a feature that has been wildly popular for many enterprises, said Manav Khurana, senior director for product and solutions marketing at Aruba Networks Inc.

"ClearPass gives the IT organization network management and access control, as well as mobility management, in one platform," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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