Popular makers of MDM software include Absolute Software, AirWatch, BoxTone, MobileIron, and Zenprise. In addition, some mobile technology companies have partnered with MDM providers to bundle these companies’ software with their own service plans.

For example, schools have the option of getting MDM capabilities with their mobile service plans from AT&T. The telecommunications giant has teamed up with various third-party MDM providers to offer mobile device management for tablets and smart phones using AT&T’s over-the-air network.

For schools, the advantage of taking this approach would be convenience, Carman said, as AT&T would handle the contracting and billing for the third-party MDM software license and would include these costs in its monthly service plan fees.

Another company, Odyssey Software of Rochester, N.Y., offers an MDM program called Athena. It’s an add-on program for users of Microsoft Systems Center that is designed to complement that software’s Configuration Manager, which helps IT staff manage laptop and desktop computers within a Windows environment.

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Athena takes the same Configuration Manager platform and console that Microsoft customers already are familiar with and extends its capabilities, so schools can use it to manage mobile devices as well—including iOS mobile devices from Apple, said Odyssey’s senior sales engineer, Doug Field.

MDM software in action

The Chicago Public Schools uses Absolute Software to manage hundreds of iPads, as well as some 10,000 Macintosh computers throughout the district.

The company’s Absolute Manage product began as a cross-platform program for managing Windows and Mac desktop and laptop computers, but with the proliferation of mobile devices and operating systems, the software now enables users to manage devices running iOS and Google’s Android mobile platform as well.

“The iPad is still a relatively new product, and we already have over 1,000 throughout the district,” said Talha Basit, client software and systems manager for the Chicago Public Schools, in a case study. “The fact that we will be able to manage these devices using the system we are already familiar with is really an unexpected and most welcome surprise.”

McAllen ISD uses MDM software from AirWatch to manage its thousands of iPad devices. Besides Apple’s iOS, AirWatch enables schools to manage devices running on Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, webOS, and other platforms, too.