Every organization that wants to deploy a large fleet of devices has to make a decision: build your own device infrastructure from scratch, or buy an MDM solution (or similar). Comparing the cost of those options is a logical first step, and MDM pricing makes this relatively simple on paper.

The natural way to compare these options is price. MDM cost per device can be used to calculate total expense based on the projected size of your device fleet. You can then compare this figure — which is deceptively simple and concrete — to the much fuzzier internal projections for the cost of building your own solution.

MDM cost and benefits for device management

While building your own device management is a big undertaking, buying device infrastructure can be a compelling option. It’s far more affordable on the front end and can ease the burden of deploying and maintaining your fleet — if you find the right solution. You’ll spend more time upfront researching options to find a quality solution that fits your needs, but after that, the upkeep is relatively low and processes become highly repeatable. Here are the relatively few things that you’ll need to consider when buying device management solutions. 

  • Device licenses: The main cost of buying is device licenses. Usually, this is priced per device per month, and the size of your fleet will be the deciding cost factor.
  • IT support: Adding a new platform to your IT stack will mean oversight from your IT team. Someone has to qualify the technology, learn how it works, and ensure it will integrate properly. But the time your IT team has to spend learning and implementing a solution is worth the long-term freedom of outsourcing your device infrastructure over building custom.
  • Cost predictability: MDM cost per device makes it simple to project the cost of expanding, shrinking, or keeping your device fleet at its current footprint. Additional features can be added a la carte as needed and budgeted appropriately.

However, using MDM cost per device as your comparison benchmark can be risky. A cost per device analysis assumes that all MDM solutions offer roughly equivalent functionality and incur roughly similar operating expenses to implement and maintain. Anyone who has used software knows this is simply not true, and with enterprise solutions like MDM, potentially huge challenges may be very hard to spot.

And even assuming MDM tools are alike, prices are not. According to research from Oxford Economics and Samsung, a purchased MDM solution costs between $3.25 and $9 per device, per month. What’s making up that huge difference in pricing? Usability, scalability, and extensibility.

If, for example, your device provisioning requires 40 minutes of setup per device using your MDM solution, you are paying for this — whether in expensive kitting fees or in your ops team’s precious time. If you could reduce that provisioning process down to 10 minutes (or less, as many Esper customers do) and scale that savings across thousands of devices? You can start seeing how “cost per device” doesn’t tell the true story of MDM expense.

Read this post to understand how the limitations of traditional MDM can lead to unexpected costs and bottlenecks.

MDM alternative: Build your own device management

Building and maintaining a custom infrastructure for kiosk, point of sale, and other dedicated devices is a big undertaking. You are essentially creating your own MDM solution. Don’t try to fool yourself here: it’s not easy. It’s costly, time consuming, and requires significant setup on the front end. But once it’s done? You get full control and ownership of your devices. Here are things to consider before deciding to build. 

  • Developers’ time and salary: Building a new product will require fully burdening multiple developers for at least six months minimum. The number of developers and how long they’re unable to work on other projects will depend on various factors such as skill and the fleet size you’re looking to build. Don’t underestimate how long it will take or the resources that will be required. Similarly, don’t hire the bare minimum to get the project off the ground. Depending on one developer could leave you in a bad place if that person decides to leave. 
  • Lost productivity: With your development team committed to building your device fleet, that means they won’t be readily available for other revenue-generating activities. When something goes wrong, this can result in major business disruptions. 
  • Server costs: Servers are required when choosing to build. And you’re guaranteed to pay more when you buy it on your own since you don’t benefit from the same economies of scale true infrastructure providers do.
  • Compliance certifications: Devices in regulated industries, such as finance or healthcare, that handle sensitive customer information won’t get very far without certifications. Certifications will add additional costs, overhead, and time to the build process. (Check out our MDM security checklist here.)
  • Lost revenue from device downtime: Consider all the losses that come into play when a device goes down: lost profit, cost to repair, and operational costs are the bare minimum. 
  • Fallout from poor CX: Customer experiences are the most important factor for a dedicated device fleet, so poor management of fleet assets can be disastrous. When your devices are designed to be the frontline, you can’t afford to mismanage them. 
  • Management overhead: Device fleet management doesn’t stop once you build it — you have to update it, continue innovating, and further invest in a continuous management strategy. Your dedicated devices should be a core component of your business, so you’ll need the bandwidth to treat them as such. 

As you can see, there are several pitfalls to avoid when choosing to build your device fleet — but the flexibility and freedom you get from your own management solution might be worth it to some. For everyone else? Let’s talk about buying. 

Cost to build custom device management (custom MDM)

To put things into perspective, here’s a quick look at how much you’d spend to build device infrastructure for 100, 5,000, and 50,000 devices (instead of buying an MDM solution). Of course, you may think we’re biased since we build infrastructure for a living. But given our experience in this field, these numbers are far from unrealistic. 

ItemNotes100 devices5,000 devices50,000 devices
DevelopersFull-time 1-yr salary for total number of developers you’ll need. Avg cost based on $200K per year salary for a full stack developer.
If your developers aren’t full stack, you’ll need 3-4 minimum to start (front-end, back-end, and SRE). You’ll also need a QE if these developers aren’t also testing the code they’re writing.
$200K$400K $2M
Lost productivityLost revenue from allocating your developers’ time to building your fleet. $300K$600K$2.5M
ServersTotal cost for your entire fleet per year. Avg cost based on AWS pricing.$2.4K$250K$1.2M
CertificationsDevice certifications required based on your industry. Avg cost is based on Infosec, but can be much higher in regulated industries.$50K$50K$50K
Lost revenue from device downtimeRevenue left uncaptured due to device breakage$50K$250K$2.5M
Fallout from poor brand experienceCustomer and/or brand fallout from poor experiences$50K$250K$2.5M
Management overheadProject management and overhead for continuous improvement of device performance.
For 50K devices, not only does the cost increase, development of new features at this scale means a ton of data and requires a completely different platform architecture.
$50K$100K$1M
Device licensesTotal cost of an entire fleet per year. Avg cost based on Esper pricing.$7.2K$360K$3.6M

Buying, however? Considering you won’t have to pay for developers, lost productivity, servers, certifications, lost revenue, fallout from device failure, or management overhead, well, you’ll save quite a bit. The total price for a 100 device fleet is just $7,200 (vs $604,800). A 5,000 device fleet comes in at $360,000 (vs $2,060,000) and a 50,000 device fleet infrastructure will set you back $3.6m (vs. $14.8m). 

While MDM cost per device doesn’t tell the full story — you will incur operating expenses as part of implementation, maintenance, and support for a purchased MDM solution — it does make it obvious that building your own device management is incredibly expensive, and rarely makes sense for all but the most sophisticated and highly scaled enterprises.

Now that you understand the cost of building your own device management, you probably want to know how paid MDM solutions really compare on cost — the costs not on the pricing page. Reach out and we’ll be happy to have a conversation with you about how Esper lowers OpEx and streamlines processes compared to traditional MDM. Book a demo today.

FAQ

What are the benefits of building a device infrastructure? 

It’s more customizable since you’ll have full control of the entire system. 

What are the downsides of building a device infrastructure? 

Cost, time, and upkeep. It’s very expensive to get started, takes significant time investment, and is both costly and time consuming to maintain. 

What are the benefits and drawbacks of buying a device infrastructure? 

The pros are vast: simpler maintenance, more cost effective, and improved flexibility. The primary drawback is finding the service that works best for your needs — it can be quite challenging. 

What do Walmart, Sam’s, Target, and other big retailers use for device management? 

The big guys usually have the time and money to throw at a custom solution — and back when they invested in this system, it was likely necessary. But now, there are other options that offer nearly the same customization and flexibility required by even the largest of companies. Both large and small organizations can benefit from buying now. 

Image source: Andrey Suslov/Shutterstock.com