Samsung, Motorola to take on Android's enterprise weaknesses without Google

Google may have plans to make Android enterprise-worthy, but Samsung and Motorola are taking the matter into their own hands now rather than waiting for the search giant.

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One of the biggest headaches for IT managers is that most consumer mobile device platforms don't offer a wide range of data/device security or centralized management capabilities. This can prevent IT from ensuring data is secure, but it also makes it hard to provision a user's device with custom or publicly available apps and access to corporate resources (VPN, internal Wi-Fi, intranet bookmarks, contact lists, and so forth). This has been one reason, RIM's BlackBerry has always been favored by businesses. RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server allows very powerful and granular management of devices.

Platforms that are designed more for the consumer market don't tend to include these features. The one exception of today's consumer mobile platforms is Apple, which earned a lot props for adding these capabilities into the iPhone and iPad as part of this year's iOS 4 update (though before last June, iOS devices weren't particularly enterprise-friendly).

The most contentious platform today is Google's Android. Android has enjoyed a lot of success in the consumer space, becoming the top mobile OS in the world. Unfortunately, Android's enterprise score card isn't that great. Features like data encryption, security policy enforcement, and centralized management aren't universally available across Android devices. Recent Android releases are making strides in this area and the upcoming Honeycomb release illustrates that Google is serious about meeting business security needs, but with so many difference devices and different release out there, Android remains a challenge and concern for IT (as does Windows Phone 7 and webOS – at least for the moment).

While Google may be months or even years away from meeting all the security needs of businesses, two Android manufacturers are taking matters into their own hands.

Samsung, one of the premier Android smartphone makers, announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it will be building on-device encryption into its Android devices. Using hardware-based encryption will allow Samsung to add data security without taxing the OS directly, which will prevent overall performance from taking a hit. The company notes that its encryption process will be available to both built-in storage as well as external memory cards. Including encryption on external memory is a big advantage because any data on those cards should remain encrypted even outside of a device – a huge bonus since lost storage cards and flash drives pose an even bigger problem and headache for IT.

Additionally, Samsung will begin integrating Cisco's AnyConnect VPN client into its devices. Android already includes solid VPN support. This tidbit really coincides with the final announcement from Samsung – that it is partnering with Sybase to create a centralized management option for these features. This is big news because simply adding security capabilities has limited value if IT can't manage them and ensure their use.

Sybase's Afaria platform is an existing mobile device management solution that already supports several platforms including iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian, Microsoft's defunct Windows Mobile, and Windows running on portable devices (notebooks, netbooks, tablets). Partnering with Samsung will add Android handsets and tablets (albeit only those from Samsung – and probably only a subset of all Samsung devices).

Motorola also seems to have Android in the enterprise ambitions, though they're less clearly defined at this point. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Motorola will buy a small company called 3LM. 3LM was founded by former members of Google's Android team to develop enterprise applications. It received its first seed money from investors in July.

Little is known about exactly what the company was working on. TechCrunch was able to discover, however, that the company's name is a play on Asimov's three laws of robotics as applied to mobile devices and apps: protect the user (presumably by securing a device), protect yourself (presumably also referring to securing a device or the data stored on it), and obey the user (which could mean provide free access to any/all data so long as that access doesn't violate the other two "laws"). Ultimately, those goals pretty much mirror the goals that IT has when it comes to mobile devices. Given the overall stated intent of the company and that it was founded by Android team members, and it's easy to assume that the company is working on some form of Android security solution.

Exactly when we'll see the fruits of either manufacturer's announcement isn't clear. It also isn't clear if this may exacerbate the concerns that IT professionals have about fragmentation of Android as a platform or how efforts these will impact the efforts Google itself is starting to make.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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