Best mobile device management (MDM) solutions 2021

What are the best enterprise MDM tools available for securing your corporate devices?

A hand holding a modern smartphone over a laptop keyboard

Mobile device management (MDM) is an essential tool used by modern businesses to ensure their employees only have access to the data and apps necessary to do their jobs across their devices.

MDM has grown in popularity over the past few years due to the rise initiatives such as bring your own device (BYOD) and hot-desking. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a widespread shift to remote working, staff demand for the right tools and data has never been greater. And with the changes brought about by COVID-19 likely to remain post-pandemic, it's never been more important for both the safety and security of your business to have a great MDM product in place.

From a data protection perspective, giving your employees access to data they shouldn't be viewing is a huge GDPR no-no and with a well-configured MDM system, you can avoid those hefty fines by easily and remotely restricting data access to the individual and retain data protection if a device is lost.

MDM products can cover mobile devices such as phones, tablets and laptops as well as desktop PCs which makes them an attractive option in situations where one of these devices becomes infected with malware. Whether it's by clicking a dodgy link or downloading a suspicious email attachment, malware is everywhere and it can seep into anything with a CPU. An MDM system is ideal in this case as the phone can be easily treated or wiped remotely before the malware can spread further into the organisation.

Whatever your needs are from an MDM solution, there are many options available from a variety of providers. Here's a round-up of some of the best options, including offerings from IBM, Citrix and more.

Cisco Meraki

A screenshot of Cisco Meraki's MDM software

Perhaps one of the most well-known MDM platforms, Cisco Meraki allows you to manage every type of device in your business from one dashboard. No matter what you need to monitor - be it Android and iOS smartphones, or Linux, macOS and Windows PCs - you can do so. There's also an app for managing devices while not at your computer, monitoring usage and making sure all data is safe and sound.

Cisco Meraki offers a bumper feature set, enabling you to enforce device security policies, deploy software and apps, and perform remote troubleshooting if any problems arise, monitoring calls and more on the devices across your network. Every device managed and monitored is regarded as a separate device, even if they're linked. This means you can, for example, allow certain apps to run on an employee's iPad but not on their linked smartphone.

Cisco Meraki enables all of this to happen over the network, so even if you're trying to manage remote employee devices, it's a breeze. You can keep tabs on everything without anyone needing to be on the same network. It’s also easy to test-drive the platform with a browser-based demo with slated network devices and users. Plus, you can request trial hardware and get technical support to help with setup.

Pricing: Available upon request

IBM MaaS360

A screenshot of IBM MaaS360 with IBM Watson

IBM entered the MDM market following its acquisition of Fiberlink Communications back in 2013. Since then, Big Blue has been making some big improvements to its flagship MDM product. The service, which is powered by Watson AI, will easily integrate with existing IT infrastructure, enabling you to manage a diverse, complex endpoint and mobile environment.

IBM Maas360 also puts security at the forefront, securing and containing data accessed by users and keeping corporate apps and content separated while allowing for easy removal and access revocation. Its integrated threat defence also proactively shields corporate data.

IBM might not be the cheapest out there - especially since some of the services that you'd find bundled with other providers come at an additional cost - but with IBM's lengthy experience in enterprise security, you know you're getting a good quality solution for your money.

Pricing: From $4.00 (£3.22) per client device per month

Hexnode MDM

A screenshot of Hexanode's MDM solution in action

Hexnode MDM lets you provision and manage devices, and prides itself on a user-friendly design. Users can add their own devices by connecting to the network or by using a portal installed on your company's website or intranet. Their device will then be added using their Active Directory credentials.

Once the devices are added, you can manage them whether they're connected to the corporate network or being used remotely. That means you can push configuration settings to the device, restrict functionality, manage mobile applications (including blocking App Store downloads and implementing a black/whitelist), check and enforce compliance and even remotely lock and wipe devices.

Hexnode MDM also offers a 30-day free trial if you want to get give it a test run.

Pricing: From $1 (80p) per device/month

Soti MobiControl

A screenshot of the SOTI MobiControl MDM solution

Soti allows you to manage Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows devices from one place, for the entire lifecycle of the device within the organisation. They can be provisioned when first added to the company's fleet of devices, managed throughout their service and then wiped when it comes to retirement.

The platform was designed for use with ruggedised devices often used by fieldworkers and the healthcare, logistics, retail, and transport sectors.

The MDM platform can be installed on-premise or deployed on Soti's cloud. You can add devices to the platform using its Express Enrollment feature, which automatically delivers the settings, apps, and files a user needs over the air to get them up and running.

Pricing: From $4 (£3.22) per user/month

MobileIron EMM

MobileIron's EMM software displayed on a laptop, tablet and smartphone

MobileIron's enterprise device management offering is probably one of the best-known tools for keeping on top of employee devices, whether a smartphone, tablet or computer.

All devices can be managed from a single console, whether you want to enforce data and security policies, install or manage applications and services allowed on devices, or wipe/restore them on demand.

The MobileIron Client (Mobile@Work) is part of the company's EMM platform and has been specifically designed to enforce corporate email, Wi-Fi, VPN, and security certificate policies on devices, automatically configuring the device to function exactly how the IT department needs it to. It also features mobile application management (MAM), allowing employees to install applications the enterprise approves of from a storefront.

Content is also governed through Mobile@Work, giving workers access to web resources and content sitting behind the firewall using a secure reader to enable employees to securely read encrypted email attachments, something that's not usually allowed on corporate devices.

Pricing: Available on request

Citrix XenMobile

Citrix XenMobile is an MDM tool that allows the containerisation of business apps and personal apps, making it best suited to BYOD workplaces. Every device, including desktop PCs, smartphones and tablets, can be managed from one centralised console and devices don't even need to be enrolled to benefit from MAM, too.

As well as allowing the device owner to use a device provisioned and managed by the organisation, Citrix XenMobile has also been designed to let multiple users have access to one mobile device. This is particularly useful for industries such as healthcare, where field workers and emergency service workers may need shared ownership of one device.

However, it's likely one device will need applications and service provisioned with different access rights and this can be set up simply with XenMobile's MAM capabilities. IT managers can also lock down the device depending on the network location, stopping staff from using certain features outside of the corporate network.

Pricing: From $2.25 (£1.81) per device/month or $2.89 (£2.33) per user/month for up to 10 devices

VMware Workspace ONE

The VMWare Workspace One Airwatch mobile platform

VMware Workspace ONE (formerly called Airwatch prior to its VMware acquisition) offers endpoint protection for all devices, regardless of the operating system, with full device management, whether it's a BYOD or shared corporate device.

You are able to deploy and manage any app via the platform's app catalogue, whether employees are trying to access them natively, on-device, via the web or remotely. The layered security across the individual user, endpoint, data, and network can all be centrally managed using the same mobility platform too.

Workspace ONE uses automation to carry out many everyday MDM tasks, which reduces the strain on IT staff. You don't have to manually provision or enrol devices - this happens without the need for any manpower, making it a perfect option for resource-stretched businesses.

Pricing: From $3.78 (£2.78) per device/month

Next Steps

Protecting employees’ devices has never been more important, particularly if your employees are currently working predominantly from home networks – nearly a third of UK businesses claim that they had suffered a cyber attack as a direct result of an employee working remotely and outside of the organisation's security perimeter. Cyber criminals are quickly finding new and inventive ways to breach company networks.

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MDM is a viable way of keeping your business secure and GDPR-compliant, yet they can come at a high price. Before investing, look at the options and decide which would suit your business best; take into consideration the cost and scalability of the software, the security it offers, and how many employees and devices it supports. There are many more parameters that you could consider before choosing your perfect MDM, but these will give you a good starting point.

Of course, it would also be helpful to devise the appropriate MDM business plan on whether you are likely to see an ROI. However, security should be of paramount importance to any business. Failing to protect data in these times can lead to massive fines so there's no excuse not to take every measure to make sure your business stays afloat.

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