Device management, as a discipline handled by enterprise IT organizations, has been around since the beginning of, well, IT organizations. More recently, the subject of device management as it pertains to IoT devices has become an increasingly important topic. Given that the terminology associated with “old” device management is similar to that associated with “new” device management it is understandable that some observers conclude that this is the same technology being applied to new problems. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

From the early days of IT, people needed a way to manage remote devices. However, there were two aspects of the problem that constrained what the solution needed to do in order to be cost effective and useful for the IT team. The first is scale. In almost all cases the ratio of employees to devices was 1:1 or close to it. This is because devices at hand were primarily things used by employees- desktops, laptops, etc.

The second is the frequency with which devices needed to be remotely “touched.” Since the tasks at hand (onboard, provision, update software, diagnose, decommission) were limited, so to was the frequency of the touches. Often, we’re dealing with frequencies of several times per year, maybe even once or twice a month. Even with mobile device management (MDM), scale and frequency don’t change significantly.

However, with IoT device management things change radically. Scale can grow by orders of magnitude; hundreds of thousands, millions, even tens of millions of devices are not unreasonable in modern IoT deployments. Even more problematic is the increase in the frequency with which cloud-based systems need to touch the device, something Amazon Web Services (AWS) refers to as “jobs.”

Although they vary broadly, many types of IoT devices include human-facing aspects supporting business use cases that call for much more frequent content updates. These content updates, as opposed to software or configuration updates, may include images and video for marketing or training purposes. It’s not inconceivable that this content will need to be updated as frequently as daily.

One final point that distinguishes old device management from new device management is the expectation that the “touches” or “jobs” referred to above are initiated automatically by systems executing some sort of business workflow rather than humans. Maybe even AI looking at weather patterns and altering the promotional content in a way that, it has learned, yields higher sales for vending machines. Who knows?

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