Microsoft administration goes mobile

Expand Beyond's latest remote access software allows admins to use handhelds to keep tabs on Microsoft Active Directory and Exchange servers away from the office. With recent improvements to handhelds and wireless connectivity, one expert says enterprises are finding it easier to use remote management products.

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A new product from remote access vendor Expand Beyond Corp. now makes it possible for IT professionals to access and configure Microsoft Corp.'s Active Directory and Exchange servers from their handhelds.

This new software, Expand Beyond Mobility Suite for Microsoft, is the latest in a line of remote access offerings from the Chicago-based company that enables administrators to view and change settings on Oracle Corp.'s databases, Microsoft's SQL Server, IBM Corp.'s DB2 and IP addressable devices, such as routers and switches.

The product is a mobile platform that does not require any client software. It will work with any wireless network and any device, as long as the device supports a Web browser, said Bryan Nairn, product manager for Expand Beyond.

Mobility Suite employs secure socket layer (SSL) security and uses Microsoft's .NET Framework to integrate with Active Directory, Microsoft's trademark directory service for automating network management of user data, security and distributed resources. Based on a user's identity, an administrator can create a specific access profile, Nairn said.

A Cincinnati, Ohio-based energy company, Cinergy Corp., was drawn to the product because it wanted to give its IT staff more freedom away from the office. Craig Welch used to be the company's only Oracle database administrator, and he was always on call. He had to have his laptop with him at all times, in case he needed to troubleshoot unexpected database problems via modem.

More than once, he found himself caught without his laptop and, as a result, had to talk an associate with less experience through complex commands over the phone. He even began planning his weekends to ensure that he was never more than 15 minutes from home, in case he had to log on and fix problems.

Since Cinergy began using the Expand Beyond product two years ago, Welch says that he has been able to work effectively from just about anywhere.

"There have been several occasions when I've been at a dinner party and I've been able to just excuse myself, get connected and make changes," he said.

Welch said that the remote access product gives him relatively quick access to Cinergy's databases. He only has to turn on his PDA, get connected to the wireless network, launch the Web browser and log in via the software. Once connected, he can begin to make the necessary changes.

On a typical day, Welch said, he can cycle a database when he's at lunch, and not have to worry about running back to the office.

The market for these kinds of wireless management products is just beginning to develop, said Mark Ehr, a senior analyst with Boulder, Colo.-based research firm, Enterprise Management Associates.

Three years ago, handheld devices did not have enough processing power to properly encrypt communications, and wireless networks were not as fast or reliable, Ehr said. Also, the development of corporate Wi-Fi networks and the proliferation of hot spots has helped to provide more remote, high-bandwidth wireless connectivity.

Expand Beyond is not alone in the market. Sonic Mobility, a Calgary, Alberta-based wireless access company, also offers remote management products, and others may soon be on the way, according to Ehr. Both companies have signed partnership agreements with Research in Motion Ltd., the company behind the popular BlackBerry wireless messaging device.

Partnerships like that will help make remote management easier for more enterprises to implement in the future, Ehr said.

The cost of implementing Expand Beyond Mobility Suite for Microsoft is usually close to $25,000, according to the company, is sometimes higher.

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