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Dell World headlines might have emphasized high-profile keynote speakers and the company's evolution from hardware maker to service provider, but the event also saw several new products launches, including the K3000, an MDM appliance from Dell KACE.
Equipped with a simple Web-based dashboard for managing smartphones and tablets, the K3000 broadens Dell's mobility portfolio while also providing insight into how the company is handling its numerous acquisitions.
[ Has Dell successfully reinvented itself as a service provider? Read Dell's 'Transformation': Customers Speak. ]
The K3000 allows IT administrators to wrangle mobile devices by providing expected features such as the ability to define user permissions and push apps and patches over the air, and tools to remotely lock, reset, or wipe devices. It also lets admins track device locations, monitor which apps are installed on a specific device, and even see how much battery life remains on a given smartphone or tablet. On the security front, it integrates SonicWall to allow mobile users to securely access data behind the corporate firewall.
The appliance includes some app management capabilities, such as the ability to revoke or deny access to given resources, but it currently lacks others. One notable omission is containerized wrappers -- a feature used by vendors such as Mobile Iron, Good Technology and Zenprise to separate personal data from corporate data. In an interview, Ken Drachnik, director of product marketing for Dell KACE, said these additional tools are on the K3000 roadmap and will be implemented at a later date.
Roger Bjork, Dell's director of enterprise mobility solutions, also took part in the interview. He mentioned that studies show most employees feel that the responsibility for protecting intellectual property falls to their employers, and that most who break company policies do so because restrictions get in the way of productivity. With its ability to monitor app usage, establish permissions, and remotely provision devices, he said, the K3000 offers IT the protection and ease-of-use to avoid such mobility roadblocks.
Drachnik said the K3000 will appeal to many users because it integrates so well with the K1000, KACE's systems management appliance. With the two products, IT admins can manage all devices in the corporate ecosystem, from desktops and servers to smartphones and tablets, from a single console. In an interview, Ron Falkoff -- system analyst for the Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School, an existing KACE customer -- said such integration is indeed an appeal. The school has integrated laptops, tablets and smartphones into its curriculum and has used the K1000 to manage inventory. Falkoff said he considered MDM options, but the K3000's ability to centralize management carried the day. He also cited reduced service desk burdens and the ability to remotely lock lost or misused devices as benefits.
The K3000 will be available as a limited release for KACE customers in January and will be rolled out for general release in early 2013. It supports iOS from version 4.5 onward and Android from version 2.2 onward. Drachnik said support for additional platforms, such as BlackBerry 10, will be added if Dell perceives market demand.
The K3000 is intriguing not only for its feature set but also its place within the overall Dell lineup. Dell Wyse announced its Cloud Client Manager in early November. On paper, the Wyse product offers many of the same MDM functions that headline the new KACE product. Integrating major acquisitions is a difficult challenge for any enterprise, so the ostensible duplication might raise questions about the cohesiveness of Dell's strategy.
Drachnik said a key differentiator is that the K3000 -- which will sell for about $4,500 for 100 nodes -- is built for on-premise management and offers a perpetual license, whereas the Wyse product follows a SaaS model that is priced monthly based on the number of users. "Initial pricing may be similar," he said, "but it will diverge." He stated that most businesses currently prefer on-site solutions to cloud-based ones but that preferences are likely to even out over time. "What we’re doing is giving a choice or an option," he said.
Dell KACE General Manager Rob Meinhardt expressed similar sentiments in an interview. "At the highest level, the demarcation is, if you want something cloud-based, talk to [Wyse], and if you want something on-premise, talk to us." Customers who need to manage thin clients, he said, would fit more cleanly into the Wyse portfolio than the KACE lineup -- but he also mentioned the possibility for convergence later, stating that KACE might support technologies such as Wyse's PocketCloud in the future.
Regarding such convergence efforts, Meinhardt enjoys a particular vantage point; he was the CEO of KACE before Dell acquired the company in 2010. He said that during Dell's "acquisition spree," there have "obviously been companies … that had similar initiatives in play before they were acquired, and so the best-laid strategies go awry when you buy a company and they have something similar going to market."
He said that the KACE-Wyse overlap wasn't necessarily an intentional strategy from the start, but they decided to keep both because the separate products will allow Dell to approach customers' mobility challenges from multiple angles.
Meinhardt said Dell could have forced acquired technologies together but instead took a more considered approach that allowed purchased companies to operate semi-autonomously. In this way, existing customer bases were not disrupted and each business had an opportunity to continue refining its own products.
He suggested that this tactic is effective because Dell has acquired companies with foresight, knowing whether roadmaps were likely to be complementary or in conflict. "When I first met Michael Dell, which was April of 2010, he painted the vision of what he wanted to do, the pieces of the pie he wanted to own," Meinhardt said.
He said that centralized sales and marketing functions are the emerging result of these strategic investments. "If I can run a webinar jointly with [another division], the cost per lead for me when down by half," he pointed out, adding, "If products work together, it makes all the more sense of them to conduct the webinar together." On the topic of collaboration, Meinhardt made references to possible API extensions that will keep product lines distinct but allow them to more harmoniously operate with one another. He also mentioned that Dell could have the opportunity to pilot successful bundling strategies. "Microsoft has been good at bundling strategies, saying, 'Buy this, we'll throw in MySQL or whatever,'" he said. "Now Dell can do something like that."
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