Can Samsung Deliver Knockout Punch to Blackberry with KNOX and Centrify?

By Doug Miller

KNOX and Centrify may have just given Samsung the springboard to leapfrog BlackBerry in the enterprise space.

Back in August I wrote a piece for AOL Government asking the question: “After BlackBerries, What’s Next For Government Mobile Users?” We were all witnessing the decline of BlackBerries as a favored mobile device for government users and I discussed the alternatives that existed in the marketplace. One of the strong candidates was Samsung with its Samsung for Enterprise or SAFE offerings for smartphones and tablets. The SAFE solution set added some valuable enterprise features, such as better Microsoft Exchange support, on-device encryption, mobile device management and VPN support to the standard Android-based platform for certain Samsung mobile devices. Since writing that piece Samsung has indeed proven itself and according to Gartner, Samsung has grown to be the largest supplier of mobile phones in the world and IDC has Samsung as the #2 tablet maker behind Apple.

But with the recent launch of BlackBerry 10, it appeared that RIM – now called BlackBerry – was getting its mojo back and may make a comeback. One particularly interesting new feature called BlackBerry Balance is the ability to have a dual-personality BlackBerry with a clear separation between business and personal apps, data and identities. With the rise of people bringing their own devices to work (BYOD), it makes complete sense to build this feature set into a mobile platform. The only flaw with this strategy is few consumers are choosing to buy a BlackBerry for personal use so this feature may have less appeal. But score one for BlackBerry for recognizing this need. Would other players in the mobile space get creative and offer something similar? In particular, would Samsung, the new mobile phone market leader, find a way to enhance its SAFE offering and provide even more functionality for enterprises looking to manage their mobile devices?

Well now we have an answer to those questions. Today Samsung and Centrify, a well-established, California-based identity management company, announced at Mobile World Congress a new set of solutions that change the competitive landscape for enterprise mobile devices.

Samsung has announced KNOX, which appears to be a comprehensive mobile solution that lets consumers easily separate their work and personal lives on their mobile devices, while giving enterprises enhanced security at all levels of the Android platform. Samsung claims KNOX will retain full compatibility with Android and the Google ecosystem. Key to KNOX is its container technology that, like Blackberry’s Balance, gives users a single click separation of personal data on the device from corporate data and apps.

But Samsung is not stopping there and appears to be out-enterprising Blackberry by providing additional capabilities that make it even easier to integrate Samsung devices into an existing IT infrastructure than what Blackberry can offer. Samsung is OEMing key technology from Centrify that furthers Samsung’s container technology to make it even more appealing to enterprises. Centrify’s solutions as part of KNOX will enable multi-application single sign-on (SSO) for mobile and web apps inside the KNOX containers and Group Policy-based management of Samsung containers and devices. What’s most significant here is that these capabilities will tie into the market-leading enterprise identity infrastructure technology – Microsoft Active Directory. Some may think this is an odd pairing – mobile devices based on Google’s Android tied into Microsoft’s enterprise technology – but this is in fact exactly the business that Centrify has been in for over eight years. Having started with UNIX and Linux solutions for Active Directory integration, the expansion into Android (which has Linux under the covers) is a natural progression. This deal announced with Samsung is a major milestone for Centrify, and a win-win for both companies.

I spoke with Tom Kemp, Centrify’s CEO, today and I asked him why this was a game changer. He drove home the point that this takes advantage of two well-established technologies: Microsoft Active Directory and Samsung mobile devices. By taking the Microsoft management and identity infrastructure, which most large organization are already using, and integrating that with some of the most desired tablets and smartphones, you get a combined solution that is more secure and easier to manage for businesses but also popular with end users who will like 1-click secure access to business applications. Plus with the addition of the container technology, the user’s personal life is kept separate from their centrally-managed business life, and corporate security, data protection and compliance needs can be better addressed.

Kemp mentioned that Centrify will also be licensing to Samsung its Mobile Authentication Services (MAS) Software Development Kit (SDK) that will become part of the Samsung for Enterprise (SAFE) SDK Framework. This will enable any Android app developer to use this SAFE mobile client SDK within their rich native mobile app to enable “Zero Sign-On” (i.e. 1-click single sign-on) from devices running KNOX to their cloud based applications. Already ISVs such as Box, Catch and Onvelop are part of a growing list of ecosystem partners which are in various stages of enhancing their apps using the SAFE SDK, further driving the appeal of Samsung to enterprises.

This sounds like a pretty compelling combo and will definitely give BlackBerry a run for its money. This is also a clear shot over the bow of other mobile vendors driving home the point that in order to succeed in the BYOD market, you not only need highly desirable mobile devices but you need integrated management solutions to make these devices truly productive and secure in the enterprise.

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