A growing number of corporations make significant investments in products to enable their help desk and IT personnel to maintain and manage enterprise resources such as servers, desktops, laptops, applications and networks. These management products ensure that enterprise resources consistently function correctly and are available for updates as necessary, and they ensure that the help desk can effectively troubleshoot, diagnose and repair machines remotely. Features such as asset hardware/software reporting, automated provisioning of updates, and interactive tools such as "remote control" are typical features for managing these resources.
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Making the connection
The advent of sophisticated mobile devices such as Windows Mobile Smartphone and Pocket PC handhelds has added a new element to the enterprise and a unique set of management requirements. These devices can enable mobile workers to remotely access email and mission-critical line-of-business applications such as CRM, ERP and field service applications, but their available memory, computing horsepower and battery life are constrained by the form factors required for handheld operation. Unlike desktops and servers on corporate networks, these devices are often remotely linked to the enterprise by a variety of wired and wireless connections. These remote connections may not always be available and may be slow as a result of limited bandwidth or network congestion. The distributed nature of these devices, combined with their mission-critical use, makes the enterprise requirements for their management even greater.
In the past, software companies have dealt with these management challenges with proprietary, standalone products. These products utilize client software on the mobile device that is designed to communicate only with their own enterprise console and server. Often not uniquely designed around the constraints of mobile devices, the client software negatively affects the performance of the device for the mobile user by consuming significant amounts of the device's memory, computing and power resources. Moreover, because these products are also designed to support less-sophisticated mobile device platforms, their management feature set for Windows Mobile devices is constrained to the capabilities of the least-sophisticated mobile device platform -- eliminating critical features such as live, interactive remote control.
The open standards solution
Today, rather than investing in standalone, proprietary mobile device management products, leading companies are looking to leverage their significant investments in enterprise management products to manage their Windows Mobile Smartphone and Pocket PC devices as well. Although some of these leading enterprise management software providers have recently made incremental enhancements to their products' support of Windows Mobile devices, the feature set needed to comprehensively meet enterprise management requirements for these devices is still largely unavailable.
The good news is that many of the leading enterprise management software providers have included open standards-based communications interfaces with their management consoles and servers (such as support for XML SOAP Web Services) so that other third-party software companies can integrate their own value-added functionality directly into these products.
Tools for the job
Executed correctly, a third-party on-device management agent can directly leverage the inherent enterprise security, scalability and reliability of the enterprise management product. The on-device agent communicates directly with the enterprise management product's server, database and console through these open standards-based communication protocols, so that IS and help desk personnel can comprehensively manage their entire enterprise, including remote Windows Mobile devices, from a "single pane of glass." In this approach, it is critical that the third-party on-device agent be optimized for operation across low-bandwidth or congested network connections.
Management features enabled by a third-party on-device agent can include fully automated provisioning and installation of updates over any wired or wireless connection; live interactive access to remote devices, including remote control; live access to on-device processes, the device registry, file system, network adapters and other on-device functions; and detailed asset hardware/software/health reporting directly into the enterprise management product's database. In addition, if the third-party on-device agent has been specifically designed for management of Windows Mobile devices, the agent can maximize the available management capabilities by leveraging specific Windows Mobile operating system features that aren't available on other mobile platforms, thereby enabling the agent to offer an extremely rich set of management features without affecting device performance for the mobile user.
The use of third-party on-device management agents for extending the value of existing enterprise resources for mobile device management is continuing to grow and accelerate among corporations everywhere. Over the past year alone, many leading companies and government organizations have deployed these solutions to manage thousands -- or even tens of thousands -- of Windows Mobile devices in their respective enterprises with exceptional results, leading to increased ROI and improved productivity of field workers and the help desk.
About the author: David Yeaple is a technical evangelist for Odyssey Software Inc., a leading provider of mobile device management solutions for Windows Mobile devices. Odyssey Software's Athena product is used for comprehensive management of Windows Mobile Smartphone and Pocket PC devices, and Windows CE devices, in conjunction with enterprise management products such as Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003. David holds a BSEE from Rochester Institute of Technology and an MBA from Oregon State University. He has been with Odyssey Software for over seven years and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.