IBM-Fiberlink Deal Could Extend Mobile Security Beyond MDM


IBM's pending acquisition of mobile device management vendor Fiberlink Communications validates the efficacy of its technology and could be a boon to existing Fiberlink partners, especially those that can sell into Big Blue's broad portfolio, solution providers told CRN.

Blue Bell, Penn.-based Fiberlink is a maker of MaaS360, a mobile device management platform that can be deployed as a standalone appliance or a SaaS offering. The market for MDM is estimated at $784 million and is heavily competitive with 120 or more vendors vying for customers with their products, according to Gartner, which has predicted consolidation in the MDM market. The research firm's recent estimate of market penetration is less than 30 percent, with many businesses still evaluating platforms or waiting for prices of the technology to fall more in line with their budgets.

Prices are beginning to drop, said John Leek, chief technology officer of Kansas City, Kan.-based managed service provider NetStandard. Three years ago, an MDM deployment was as high as $7 a device. Today it is between $3 and $5 a device, depending on the capabilities required and the extent of the deployment, Leek said.

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Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said the Fiberlink deal, which the company announced Wednesday, could help existing channel partners discuss a complete mobility strategy with their clients, rather than selling point products that solve solo problems.

The acquisition of one of the top-tiered mobile device management vendors should have no near-term impact on the channel, but IBM told CRN this week that once the deal, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, receives regulatory approval, it will be put into its sales pipeline. IBM said it is retaining the company's leadership, and its engineering and support staff will remain on board.

Fiberlink has been a favorite among some NetStandard clients that sought to reduce the risks posed by the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon. The company also provides partners with solid support, an area Leek said he hopes won't change under the IBM umbrella. Leek, said his firm chose to partner with Fiberlink after a bakeoff of MDM vendors resulted in Fiberlink being in line with two other top-tier competitors: Airwatch and MobileIron.

"Fiberlink was a well-run company, and although it wasn't the cheapest product, the difference came in the support you got," Leek said.

IBM sees Fiberlink as being complimentary to its strategy of combining different technologies into a complete mobility threat reduction platform, said Caleb Barlow, director of application, data and mobile security and critical infrastructure security at IBM Security Solutions. Fiberlink's MaaS360 can be deployed as a cloud-based offering. It also addresses application security through application policy wrapping and a software development kit that extends support to third-party applications, Barlow said.

The Fiberlink acquisition also integrates nicely with IBM's recent acquisition of Trusteer, a maker of Web fraud detection software, and combined with the threat intelligence engine in IBM QRadar, the company's security information event management platform, the additional capabilities, Barlow said, extend mobile device security beyond the mobile device itself, he said.

"Fiberlink partners can now talk about the complete mobile story versus [piecemealing] traditional MDM features," Barlow said. "We needed something that scaled, and a whole lot of MDM platforms failed to do that," he said, adding that they ultimately led to a broken user experience.

Fiberlink also integrates with IBM Endpoint Manager, which uses technology the company gained through its acquisition of BigFix and was developed to extend IT management of servers, desktops and laptops to mobile devices, Barlow said.

IBM has had a strong partner community and a loyal one, said Charles Zwicker, director of commercial sales at Reading, Penn.-based Weidenhammer Systems, a longtime IBM partner that has also been a Fiberlink partner for several years. The acquisition will likely cause some disruption to the channel once other IBM partners pick up the platform, but Zwicker said he anticipated consolidation and the potential of Fiberlink being acquired.

"As a technology consulting firm, we are constantly evaluating technology trends and best-of-breed products relative to our client's needs," he told CRN. "IBM is coming at it more holistically, and that is a real win for mobile device management."

PUBLISHED NOV. 14, 2013