Consolidation in the mobile device management market points to changes afoot.
There were five acquisitions this year, five last year, three in 2010 and two more that will become public in the first quarter next year, according to Chris Hazelton, an analyst at the 451 Group.
The problem isn't just a crowded market, although it is.
The bigger story is that IT and vendors are realizing that the device management tools available in resources like Exchange are enough, and that other, newer kinds of tools, like mobile application management, are equally important.
A key barrier for MDM is that businesses are just using Exchange and ActiveSync to enforce passwords, provision email, and perform other basic MDM functions, Hazelton said. They aren't finding the need for the full blown MDM apps.
"MDM may become less of an interest or not a key driver, but [vendors] are using that as a stepping stone to provide the next generation of mobile management products," Hazelton said.
In a recent report Hazelton found that just 15 percent of enterprises use MDM apps beyond the tools available in Exchange.
But what's interesting is that he found that number grows to more than 20 percent when you include things like mobile virtualization or secure app containers. That shows that businesses are taking steps to manage mobility.
In the coming 12 to 18 months, he expects to see more usage of mobility management products but not necessarily from the sources you'd expect.
Some of the independent MDM providers have been adding new kinds of services to their products and so might continue to appeal to users. For instance, MobileIron and AirWatch have both added app management. Zenprise is now part of Citrix, which plans to combine its app management with Zenprise's MDM.
But mobile management has finally caught the attention of the big enterprise vendors too. IBM has been integrating its acquisitions of Worklight and BigFix to better handle mobility. Just this week Dell launched an appliance, built on its acquisition of Kace, for mobile management. Microsoft's Intune now lets users manage iOS and Android phones. "These large companies are getting their acts together," Hazelton said.
In fact, the shift away from standalone MDM is becoming so apparent that researchers like Hazelton and internal enterprise mobile managers are dumping the term mobile device management in favor or a more generic "mobility management" or "enterprise mobility management."