In this article we’ll outline the main benefits of Virtual Mobile Infrastructure (VMI) and explore the monetary costs of such services against traditional forms of remote work schemes like mobile device management (MDM) and company-issued devices.
This article functions as a basic, qualitative overview, because needs and fiscal restraints will vary drastically between organizations and even between departments in the same organization. The brief overview of benefits guides readers to other articles we have written that expound on such benefits in more detail.
Financial Costs of Company-Purchased Devices
At first, it may seem there are many options for low-cost hardware and companies, particularly small ones with little cash, can easily supply their employees with smartphones for work. A small company may find it perfectly feasible to procure $50 smartphones for its entire 10-person workforce. However, there are many caveats with these purchases.
Such low prices imply low-end devices. The specifications will be subpar and may only allow for checking email, calling, and running a couple apps at a time. Moreover, at this lower end of hardware, it may be difficult to find certain features, such as dual-SIM or CDMA support (an issue in the United States where CDMA networks are popular). There may only be support for up to 3G connectivity. One may need to purchase a high number of items to get these discounts, too. A small company that needs 10 or 20 items will be locked out of many offers that demand a minimum order of 100 devices.
On the other hand, a company that requires its employees to perform most work functions on the road will probably need high-powered devices, but capable models will cost a few hundred dollars each, even in bulk, simply because the hardware itself is expensive. This much higher cost places the option out-of-reach of companies operating under tight cash conditions, while even large corporations will be hard-pressed to convince the financial planning department and ultimately investors to shell out half a million dollars to equip part of its workforce when significantly cheaper options exist.
Of course, company-supplied devices make it very easy to separate personal and work life – a benefit or drawback depending on whom you ask – and ensure privacy and some security violations are minimal. It may also lend an aura of professionalism and prestige to the firm, which is an intangible but very real benefit that may help bolster the image of the company in the eyes of potential recruits (poached or otherwise). Naturally the main drawback is financing, which is often prohibitively expensive, even for large corporations.
Financial Costs of MDM
To reap the benefits of high penetration rates of high-spec, personally-owned smartphones in the United States, especially among professionals, many companies now consider bring-your-own-device schemes in place of company-issued devices. This requires no capital outlay to purchase high-end phones and allows employees to keep one device for both personal and work needs, eliminating the need to carry two devices everywhere.
When compared to corporate-issued schemes, MDM may be similar in cost to VMI. As MDM was initially easier to implement, earlier to market, and can be installed locally on the employee device, it became rather popular among many smaller, lean companies that wanted to project a modern image.
However, there are several drawbacks to MDM, including privacy and ownership concerns, lack of data control after transmission, and the hardware requirements to run programs locally. That is, if the workforce carries low-end personal smartphones, those phones may not be sufficiently powerful to run office software via the MDM model.
Furthermore, MDM costs tend to scale with workforce size. Since an instance of the MDM software must run on each device, licensing for large numbers of employees can become expensive. It will certainly be less than buying everyone a phone, but there is yet a better solution.
Financial Costs of VMI
For small numbers of licenses, VMI costs similar to MDM. However, the two schemes start to diverge as more devices are added to the scheme. However, this is not because of the number of devices but compute time used. Because MDM is licensed per-device, regardless of usage, significant inefficiency may arise when only a few employees are actually using the MDM software. This leads to wasted license fees.
On the other hand, VMI pricing is based on compute time. When a remote worker must access internal systems, a new container is spun up and paid for, but when the individual no longer needs access, the container can be shut down, ending compute time needs for that individual. Hence arises highly efficient engagement of resources.
In addition to tangible monetary benefits, VMI also eliminates the need for high-end hardware but retains the ability to manipulate and process data at the same level as corporate infrastructure can because of the way VMI works. MDM is limited to mobile-device levels of computing capacity, and more local compute power requires more expensive hardware, a cost employees may be unwilling to absorb. This leads to companies subsidizing personal purchases of high-end devices, an expensive hybrid between the company-issue scheme and MDM.
Beyond VMI’s Monetary Edge
Beyond the financial benefits, VMI trumps MDM in security and privacy by way of its architecture: the window-into-a-machine model means only pixel information, not file information, is transmitted to the remote device. Moreover, because data is never stored locally on the employee’s smartphone, data is always safely backed up via whatever backend infrastructure is in operation. There is no burden of periodic imaging of entire phones – consequently capturing personal data as well – just to create backups.
The window structure also empowers remote workers to perform compute-intensive work without battery drain or top-of-the-line hardware. In fact, because all processing occurs on company servers, it is possible to run heavy computations like simulations via VMI, which would simply be impossible on a mobile device’s CPU and power capabilities.
For a more detailed treatment, see how VMI works and why it is more secure, which are intertwined concepts. You can also see a direct comparison between MDM and VMI, the two cost-leaders in mobile workforce management. Corporate-issued devices still have their place, but in an increasingly networked world where every professional carries a computer in their pockets, it is becoming harder to justify purchasing devices for employees. And even if a company issues devices, employees must accept two devices and the friction caused by a hard physical separation between personal and work platforms.