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Remote systems management apps let IT work on the go

IT pros who use remote systems management apps say they offer more flexibility, letting them perform basic tasks anywhere from the lunchroom to the beach.

End users aren’t the only ones who work remotely on their iPads. IT pros have begun to take advantage of the BYOD trend thanks to remote systems management apps that let them work from anywhere.  

I could be on a beach in Florida and still have complete visibility into our network.

Endre Walls,
Resources for Human Development

“You’ll have to pry my tablet from my cold, dead hands,” said Rob Shaughnessy, chief technology officer (CTO) at Boulder, Colo.-based Circadence Corp., a network optimization vendor. One of Shaughnessy’s employees was able to quickly make important changes to a system through his tablet despite being stuck in a meeting. 

Other IT departments also take advantage of the work-from-anywhere trend. With a new crop of IT remote systems management apps, it’s easier than ever to put out fires and solve problems.

“All of our systems are available on a tablet or smartphone,” said Michael Toole, systems administrator at Huntsville, Ala.-based Northrop Grumman Information Systems’ Air and Missile Defense Workstation. “One of my guys loves working while watching his son’s Little League games.”

Remote systems management on mobile devices

IT pros have used remote desktop capabilities for remote systems management as far back as Windows XP and Windows Server 2000. However, only in the last few years has remote systems management on mobile devices caught on.

For instance, Circadence has supported bring your own device (BYOD) since the iPad launched in 2009. But only in the last six months has the IT department begun to use tablets for remote systems management.

Circadence’s IT team took time to make sure that its IT mobility effort would not compromise the integrity of the infrastructure integrity if a device was ever lost or stolen, he said.

“If IT loses a device, it has the potential to destroy the enterprise,” Shaughnessy said.  

Mobile management apps

Shaughnessy’s team relies on the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab along with a handful of mobile apps such as the PRTG network monitor from Paessler AG, and multiple apps from Solar Winds, Inc. for Circadence’s remote systems management, he said. Toole relies primarily on the iPad and ManageEngine applications.

Most vendors supply mobile remote systems management apps in conjunction with their traditional applications for laptops or desktops, experts said. Native apps provide great performance on a tablet or smartphone, helping to drive mobile device adoption. But virtualization and HTML 5-compliant browsers have also played a large role in this growing trend.

Resources for Human Development, a human services non-profit based in Philadelphia, uses a combination of the iPad, virtual private network and VMware Inc.’s vSphere Client for iPad to manage its virtualized infrastructure, said Endre Walls, the organization’s CTO.

Walls said his IT team can do “pretty much everything” on a tablet that they could do on a desktop, such as migrating machines or shutting down servers.

“I could be on a beach in Florida and still have complete visibility into our network and the ability to troubleshoot problems,” he said.

Of course, there are downsides. Certain job functions are more difficult to accomplish on a tablet because of the smaller screen real estate, diminished computing power and the learning curve that comes with using a touch-based device instead of the more familiar keyboard and mouse. But the positives of mobile infrastructure management outweigh the negatives, Walls said.

VMware WSX

Another remote systems management option comes from VMware, which recently introduced a Workstation feature called WSX, a technology that delivers virtual Windows desktops to Web browsers via HTML 5

Experts are careful to point out that Workstation’s WSX feature is an experimental work in progress and that organizations could run a virtual machine (VM) within a browser through VMware’s AppBlast.

More on remote systems management

Choosing the right remote management system

Remote administration tools and your iPad: Best friends forever

Making Android remote control and IT administration apps work for you

Running a VM through a browser would be a huge advantage for IT pros because the method is device agnostic and requires no additional apps to install, said Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization at Presidio, a Lewisville, Texas-based IT solutions provider.

However, Kaplan cautioned that performance isn’t up to speed yet, and he said there are still potential licensing issues to untangle with Microsoft, similar to the problems with OnLive Inc.’s cloud-hosted desktop service.

Despite the performance drawbacks related to jittery video and the inability to hear sound, running a desktop through a Web browser has proved invaluable for quick tasks such as light document editing or checking various systems, said Tony Molloy, the IT services team leader at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

Let us know what you think about the story; email James Furbush or follow @JamesFurbush on Twitter. Like on Facebook.

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