Feature Article

January 18, 2013

Startup MobileSpan Announces New 'Plug-In' BYOD Collaboration for the Enterprise, Raises $2.3M

Mountain View, CA-based MobileSpan is a startup founded in 2011 that brings together a small team of former Google and Sun engineers who bring with them deep Windows enterprise experiences. This MobileSpan team has been working to deliver a Fortune 100-grade drop-in, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solution that looks to easily enable a company's workforce to work securely from anywhere, on any device, while remaining fully integrated with existing company management systems and fully compliant with corporate data governance standards.

The company has raised $2.3 million to date from True Ventures, Greylock Partners and K9 Ventures.

Last year, MobileSpan was selected as one of the inaugural companies in the Alchemist Accelerator, an accelerator program focused exclusively on startups whose revenue comes from enterprises, not consumers.

Yesterday at Alchemist Accelerator Demo Day, the company formally launched MobileSpan for BYOD, which realizes the platform the MobileSpan team has been working on.

MobileSpan for BYOD can be viewed as a next generation remote access platform for mobile personal devices in the enterprise. What makes it "next generation" exactly? MobileSpan claims to be the first platform to seamlessly plug into existing corporate systems and extend the reach of enterprise document repositories and Web applications in BYOD environments. MobileSpan for BYOD addresses both the enterprise and the individual by arming employees with the power of corporate information on their personal devices without the threat of lost or mishandled data or the high cost of managing devices.

Think of it as a mobile application management (MAM) framework without the usual complexity associated with either MAM or mobile device management (MDM).

The BYOD trend is now a solidly entrenched way of life for most enterprises and small businesses. Both MAM and MDM vendors (such as MobileIron and AirWatch, among many others) have been aggressively moving to own this enterprise market - in most cases evolving their MDM platforms to embrace MAM. These companies all claim enterprise deployment simplicity as a virtue, but MobileSpan aims to deliver reality on this "simplicity of deployment" front rather than marketing hype that may otherwise mask a fairly complex collection of MDM/MAM environments.

What MobileSpan Does

The key features and services of MobileSpan are not much different than those we hear of whenever we speak to other companies that compete here, especially the MAM/MDM players. MobileSpan seeks to add a true measure of simplicity to deployment, though as is always the case that simplicity hides the significant platform complexity behind delivering the services.

These services are as follows:

  • Deliver any Enterprise Content to any Screen: Provide the workforce with a single, consistent workspace across all devices, with access to all corporate document repositories and Web applications. The MobileSpan Workspace app allows users to reach into the enterprise using regular domain credentials. No VPN is needed, which is a substantial issue for many enterprises.
  • One Touch Access to SharePoint: MobileSpan delivers the same SharePoint experience users are familiar with. Employees are automatically signed in to SharePoint using existing domain credentials. The MobileSpan Workspace app further enhances this experience by providing a device-friendly way to browse document libraries.
  • Securely take Enterprise Content with you anywhere: Select individual documents as well as entire folders on file servers and SharePoint and add to offline briefcase. Changes are automatically synchronized to mobile devices. The same offline briefcase is available on all of a user's devices.
  • Mobility in an Instant: Rapidly mobilize enterprise content without moving it. Documents and Web applications are intelligently served from where they are today without the need for any additional infrastructure or management. After a 60-second install of the MobileSpan Gateway, the business is instantly ready to deliver content securely to any edge device - whether corporate controlled or otherwise.
  • Stay Secure, Never Lose Control: MobileSpan lets you "unmanage" the device and keep control of the content, enabling true drop-in BYOD. Enterprise control flows through to the content at the edge. MobileSpan does this by enveloping content in a secure boundary in transit using SSL, and at rest in an AES-256 bit encrypted sandbox. It allows any business to use existing domain authentication and access control mechanisms while adding a revocable 2048-bit certificate as a second authentication factor. Detailed auditing and access logs also allow companies to stay compliant - a key issue with BYOD.
  • Secure Your Data, Even Offline: Content can never leave the app on the device. It cannot be emailed out via a personal account, or uploaded to a cloud service. Content is protected from offline mobile backups and reverse engineering. When a device is revoked all cached enterprise content is wiped securely without affecting any personal content on it.

It does indeed sound like the list of key MAM and MDM services all enterprises must implement to deliver truly secure BYOD environments.

How it Works

The MobileSpan solution, as the graphic below shows, consists of a central server application (MobileSpan Gateway) that sits on the enterprise intranet and a client mobile application (MobileSpan Workspace) that resides on end-user devices. Together, these two components extend the corporate perimeter onto any approved remote devices. Employees, partners, and customers can remotely access sensitive data and intranet Web applications securely, all within the context of all existing enterprise infrastructure, policies, and protection.

As noted above, the key components here are the MobileSpan Gateway and MobileSpan Workspace. Specifically, they offer the following services:

  • MobileSpan Gateway: MobileSpan Gateway is a Windows application which runs on a server inside a company's existing perimeter. It acts as a transparent document proxy. The Gateway server maintains no state and is a true lights out appliance. Once installed, Gateway server uses auto-updates to get latest features and bug fixes. MobileSpan Gateway accomplishes the following key tasks: Authenticate users and facilitate single sign on; act as a transparent proxy for documents and corporate Web applications; and connect to corporate content stores and monitor documents for updates.
  • MobileSpan Workspace: MobileSpan Workspace is an application that runs on end-user devices. It allows users to log on remotely to their corporate work environment and to use admin provisioned applications and documents. It provides a safe, sandboxed extension of the corporate perimeter and a consistent user experience across all approved devices.

As we've noted throughout, the core features of MobileSpan are not out of the ordinary - all of the vendors that compete in the space lay claim to similar capabilities. The key differentiator is the ease and speed of deployment and the attendant reductions in cost to the enterprise to do so. Making it truly easy is an enormously difficult problem to solve. Has MobileSpan really done so?

The Odds for Success are Good

Nils Bunger, MobileSpan's CEO, noted that, "Bring-your-own-device is sometimes seen as a threat to enterprise IT. But if done right, BYOD is an opportunity for IT to move away from owning and managing hundreds or thousands of devices, towards providing a service to workers using any device. We are extending existing enterprise systems and practices to personal devices while maintaining full lifecycle data protection."

That is certainly true. We look forward to tracking down several MobileSpan customers and exploring their use of the platform. What the enterprises have to say will be the real proof that MobileSpan is on the right track and can deliver what it promises.

We will note that the fact MobileSpan was selected by The Alchemist Accelerator is not a trivial honor, but rather underscores that MobileSpan can be considered a serious enterprise player that is moving toward developing mobile solutions that solve real enterprise problems. The Alchemist Accelerator is a heavyweight venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that, as we noted earlier, monetize from enterprise markets and not from consumers.

Backers of the Alchemist Accelerator include Cisco Systems, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kholsa Ventures, US Venture Partners, and others. Created out of a three-year entrepreneurship education outreach started in the Harvard Club of San Francisco, the organization reaches 10,000 technical students and alumni of Ivy League-caliber universities, and seeds the top 30 enterprise-monetizing startups per year for a six-month program focused on customer development, fundraising, and mentorship.

Edited by Braden Becker

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