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Three things to think about before going mobile

For every benefit a user reaps from a mobile device, there's a potential administrative headache behind it. Here are three things for admins to think about before going mobile.

Mobile devices are popping up everywhere. In fact, so prevalent were they at the recent Admin2005 show in Boston that one administrator said, "That's the story of the show. Everyone's got one."

The devices and the business applications for them are evolving at such a rapid rate, that it's now possible to replicate the desktop on a wireless device. But for every advantage, such as greater access to data, that this replication brings to some user, it causes a headache for an administrator. Here are some of the issues that administrators should get straightened out before "going mobile."

Browse or sync to company data. This debate has been going on for more than five years, and although a case can be made for either option, mobility product providers such as iAnywhere see synchronization winning out. "We've really swayed over to the sync architecture," said Martyn Mallick, senior product manager, mobility products, iAnywhere.

Why is sync gaining? Browsing requires a hot connection as well as a "good pipe" that can transfer large files, said Rob Wunderlich, president, NuTechs. Such prolonged, powerful connections can be hard to find. In addition, certain micro-browsers, such as the iNotes web template, are not Domino-compatible. In the sync architecture, on the other hand, mobile users can connect to download what they need to work on, log off to make changes and then connect again to save the changes.

But browsing does have its advantages. At smaller enterprises, mobile devices can come in many shapes and sizes, but since they all come with a micro-browser, sync software isn't necessary for browsing. And, of course, the data is real time. Wunderlich's Web site, www.dominounplugged.com, provides more insight into the sync/browse debate.

Connect to the server or the desktop. This is another key question for administrators. Linking a wireless device to a desktop environment is fine for smaller enterprises that aren't ready for an all-out mobile offering, Mallick said. A larger operation, though, will probably want to connect mobile devices to a database server.

The main advantages to connecting to the server are management and security. "You have a lot more control from an IT perspective," Mallick said. "IT has the ability to set up credentials and requirements you need to access that back-end system." With a server connection, administrators can implement system-wide security controls and use "differential flexibility" to, say, force users to enter a password every time they sync with the server, he said.

However, certain security measures work regardless of the connection. For example, an admin can use third-party software to reset a device to the factory specs if it hasn't been touched in a certain number of days and is presumed missing. "All of the phone numbers, catalogs and customer directories will just get wiped out completely. [Administrators] can have some degree of comfort," Wunderlich said.

Budget for mobile technology. Many enterprises use third-party software to connect the mobile device to the office, and vice versa. IBM's product offering in this realm is WebSphere Everyplace Access. Wunderlich describes it as a "robust, high-end product," and at well over $100,000 per processor, it is an expensive option. But since it sits on the WebSphere portal, it may be worth it if an enterprise is large enough.

At Admin2005, Wayne Smith, certified consulting IT specialist, IBM, demonstrated the Everyplace Client. This connects a mobile device to Domino applications, but, Smith said, "The whole idea of this is to go beyond the desktop experience."

As an example of going beyond the desktop experience, Smith cited the opportunity for administrators to dip into the product's portal and send driving directions to mobile users. That way, Smith said, an admin in the office can point an employee on the road in a strange city to the nearest gas station or hotel.

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