MDM stands for Mobile Device Management. But it’s not just about mobile phones — MDM has become a blanket term for all different kinds of device management. For some, it could mean managing employee devices on a company network. For others, it could mean managing dedicated devices across a fleet. 

What is mobile device management? What is MDM software?

In the modern sense, mobile device management is generally one part software and one part hardware. The software is used to manage the hardware — you can’t have one without the other in scenarios with managed devices. Mobile device management software utilizes security policies to protect crucial data and other content, as well as protect devices from malicious software (malware), ransomware, or other attacks. This is mobile device management as a service, which uses a cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) model as opposed to the more outdated on-premises model.

For example, companies that allow employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) for use on the corporate network use MDM software to protect critical data on those devices, such as private corporate applications requiring a secure connection. Similarly, companies that offer their employees smartphones, tablets, or laptops often use MDM to secure and manage these crucial assets. 

MDM services commonly support a variety of operating systems, including Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, and (in some cases) Linux. There are also OS-specific solutions that may integrate more tightly into the platform in which they’re designed to work. The first MDM offerings were specifically for mobile devices (i.e., not desktop computers), as you’ll see when we break down the types of MDM technologies. 

MDM feature comparison

MDM was initially designed for device security and protecting sensitive data. As more features were introduced, specialized device management software solutions began to emerge. As a result, you’ll often hear other acronyms thrown around, like MAM, EMM, and UEM. Here’s what each of those terms means. 

MDM vs MAM vs EMM vs UEM

MDMMAMEMMUEM
Smartphone management
Device tracking  and geofencing
Application management
Remote troubleshooting ✅*✅*✅*
Data security
Remote configurations and updates
Computer management
Advanced Telemetry and diagnostics 
App delivery automation ✅*✅*
Remote configuration and deployment✅*✅*✅*
Device grouping
* – only basic functionality is supported

What is MAM?

Where MDM means Mobile Device Management and protects data on digital devices, MAM means Mobile Application Management and secures, updates, and monitors applications on those devices. You can think of MAM as an extension of MDM. MAM allows companies to control device applications, deploy new apps across the corporate network, and remove apps. A MAM solution can also prevent corporate data from being copied to non-approved applications. 

What is EMM?

EMM stands for Enterprise Mobility Management (sometimes also referred to as Enterprise Mobile Device Management). As MDM solutions included more features designed for enterprise users, EMM was born as a new subcategory EMM reaches beyond the scope of traditional MDM by offering more robust content management, including identity verification and applications management. It’s easiest to think of EMM as a combination of MDM and MAM. 

What is UEM?

Finally, we have UEM, or Unified Endpoint Management, which was the answer to MDM’s original smartphone-only design. Where MDM was originally only for mobile phones, UEM is also used for computer device management, with support for Windows, macOS, and Linux desktop management under the same umbrella. Think of UEM as MDM extended to the full world of connected computing devices.

So, what is MDM now?

As you’ve researched MDM solutions, you’ve likely noticed an overlap between MDM, MAM, EMM, and UEM. As you can see, there’s a good reason for that: Each is simply an evolution of the basic MDM concept. While these are distinct terms for technical purposes, MDM is commonly used to refer to all of them. 

Since MDM is still used as a blanket term to describe all device management solutions, we’re going to move forward with the understanding that MDM could describe MAM, EMM, and UEM — and even all three at the same time. 

What features should an MDM service have? 

At this point, you probably have a pretty good understanding of what you can do with an MDM platform. While MDM technologies will vary in complexity, there’s still a general set of features you can expect to find across most solutions. 

  • Device tracking: Keeping track of company assets is important, especially when those assets contain critical information. Geolocation is a core part of an MDM solution, and some also offer geofencing (a feature that can send alerts, lock down devices, or even reset them if they leave a specific geographical area). 
  • Remote configuration and compliance policies: Setting specific security policies and device configurations are cornerstone features of MDM software. Organizations should not only be able to apply these configurations when setting up devices, but they should also be able to modify and update these settings remotely. 
  • Application and content management: In order to protect important company information, application control is important. That might mean setting a safelist for app installs, a blocklist of apps that users can’t install, the ability to remotely remove applications in case of a data breach, or any combination of the above. The same applies to content management — files and whatnot. 
  • Data security: With certain policies, MDM software can enforce VPN connections, hard drive encryption, require secure passwords, or even disable certain login methods (like PIN, for example). 
  • Remote diagnostics and basic health monitoring: For off-site devices, remote diagnostics are crucial. Many MDM companies offer remote maintenance tools to update software, troubleshoot problems, reboot devices, and more. 

This is not an exhaustive list of everything you can do with MDM but rather a list of the most basic functions you should look for in an MDM solution. 

Source: Andrey Suslov/Shutterstock.com

What can’t you do with MDM software? 

While knowing what you can do with an MDM solution is a good starting point, knowing what you can’t do with most MDMs is probably even more crucial. 

  • Advanced troubleshooting and debugging: Most MDM platforms offer basic troubleshooting and health monitoring, but they lack advanced troubleshooting, telemetry, and debugging. You’ll need someone onsite for anything more than the most basic diagnostics. 
  • Granular app version control: If you need multiple versions of the same applications running across a variety of devices, you’re out of luck with most MDMs. For example, suppose you have older devices that aren’t compatible with a newer version of an application. In that case, you can’t simply keep the older app on those devices while upgrading the others to a more recent version. 
  • Dynamic grouping and custom configurations: Not all corporate devices are the same or used in the same way, but most MDMs don’t allow you to categorize devices in ways that make sense. This makes it hard to manage a variety of devices for different purposes. 
  • Remote deployment: With many MDMs, you have to prepare the device before deploying it to the remote location, which can dramatically slow the deployment process. 

Like the things you can do with an MDM, this list isn’t exhaustive. It’s just a general look at most MDMs and where they tend to fall short. But if you’re looking for everything listed above (and a lot more), you’re in the right place. 

MDM for small business: A special case?

Small businesses have specific needs that may seem to be different from larger businesses. In many cases, that’s true — but probably not with MDM. The goal of an MDM solution for small business should be to provide more than what you need right now. It should grow and scale with you, even enabling you to grow faster because of the ease of scalability. 

That’s why the best MDMs for small businesses offer a versatile, scalable solution for your kiosks, POS systems, digital signage, and more.

Why Esper is more than just an MDM

While it’s easy to describe what we do as MDM (given the ever-evolving definition of the term), it’s also not entirely accurate. We do more than a traditional MDM, as our platform was designed from the ground up to do things MDMs usually don’t. 

  • APIs and SDK: Sure, we have a console with a friendly and easy-to-use interface, but we also offer access to APIs that allow you to do even more. For example, if you need pipelines with more than three stages, you can do that with our APIs — limitless pipelines, in fact. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 
  • Automation: A core part of DevOps platforms is automation, which normally stops with software rollouts. That didn’t make much sense to us, so we invented DevOps for devices. Automation is a cornerstone of device deployment with Esper — from remote deployment to automated app rollouts, we can do it. 
  • Full device software stack: When you need to do more than just push a few apps or files to devices, you need a full stack solution. We offer full control, including remote access, geofencing, app version control, and much more. 
  • Integration with developer tools: We rely on the power of Android for many reasons, but the robust and ubiquitous developer tools is one of the big ones. Whether you’re looking to build specific features in your custom AOSP operating system or just want to use ADB remotely (and securely!), we can do it. 
  • Remote configuration and deployment: No one wants to fly halfway across the country just to configure new devices, and configuring at HQ and shipping to the deployment location isn’t much better. That’s why we offer fully remote deployment and configuration of dedicated devices. You’ll never have to leave home again (OK, maybe not never). 
  • Secure remote diagnostic and debugging tools: When things go wrong, you’ll be able to manage exceptions with our diagnostic and debugging tools — all remote and completely secure.
  • Advanced telemetry: If you want to know what’s going on with any device in your fleet, you can with our telemetry tools. 
  • Granular grouping: Making blanket changes to your device fleet doesn’t make sense without proper testing, which is why we offer powerful device grouping. You can start with a test group, then push into larger groups by device type, location, operating system version, and more. Grouping is completely customizable, and you can have as many groups as you need. 

When it comes to device fleets, DevOps for devices is the answer. And we’re the experts. If you want to supercharge your Android fleet, give us a try today — no cost or commitment.

If you're looking for help with any of the following, Esper can help:

FAQ

What’s the difference between MDM and MAM? 

When it comes to MDM vs MAM, the difference comes down to management features. MDM is “Mobile Device Management” and is designed to protect corporate devices. MAM is “Mobile Application Management” and emphasizes security, updates, and application monitoring on enrolled devices. 

What’s the difference between MDM and EMM? 

Where MDM is about managing devices, EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) is a subcategory of MDM that offers more robust content management. It’s a combination of MDM and MAM. 

What’s the difference between MDM and UEM?

Unified Endpoint Management, or UEM, moves beyond MDM’s mobile-first approach to also include computers. 

What’s the difference between MDM and RMM? 

RMM stands for Remote Monitoring and Management and is specialized for device health and status monitoring, issue detection, and remote fixes. Many RMMs also include MDM functionality alongside more intricate monitoring tools. 

What can you do with an MDM solution? 

While MDM started as a way for companies to manage employee-owned devices, it has expanded to include much more robust features like device tracking, remote configuration, application management, data security, and remote diagnostics. MDM is now a blanket term that covers MAM, EMM, and UEM. 

What can’t you do with an MDM solution? 

MDM options generally don’t include advanced troubleshooting or debugging features, granular app version control, dynamic device grouping, remote deployment, and other advanced features found in more robust solutions. 

What types of devices are managed through device management?

Device management encompasses a range of hardware, from smartphones and tablets to computers, kiosks, point of sale systems, and more.

What is an MDM app?

An MDM app is a smartphone agent that allows an MDM service to connect with and control a device. On Android, the MDM app leverages the device policy controller to allow remote management of devices.