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Deployment, installation techniques round out mobile toolbox

Want to know more about mobile program development, integration and deployment? Read Tim Scannell's column now.




Highlights:
  • Mobile Automation, Inc. introduces its Mobile Lifecycle Management Suite, a set of software modules that is designed to manage all facets of mobile systems installation and control.
  • Features of the software suite include a Mobile Discovery Manager, Mobile Systems Manager, Mobile Support Manager, Mobile Migration Manager, and Mobile Security Manager.
  • The Mobile Support Manager lets administrators view real-time deployment job statistics from this Web interface, so it almost acts as an administrator's executive information systems (EIS). Mobile Support Manager simplifies help-desk.
  • The Mobile Migration Manager completely re-image an entire mobile system from a company's Help Desk. For example, the software can be used to upgrade all of the mobile
  • Extended Systems also upgraded its XTNDConnect Server is a mobile data management and synchronization software, unveiling Version 3.5 of the product.
  • Deployment features of the software include the ability to pre-configure standard settings such as IP address, server name and default profile and then download to these settings to mobile devices.
  • The XTNDConnect Server 3.5 software can also be deployed without third-party intervention.

*****

By Tim Scannell

Halloween is just around the corner, which as everyone knows is the season for carved pumpkins, black cats and witches – all of which send chills up and down your spine on a chilly and dark night. If you are an IT manager, however, these chills can occur throughout the year, and are most likely brought about by conjuring up images of mobile program development, integration and deployment. This last action can be the most frightening since it is a part of that initial phase, when the thrill of mobile systems is still there and the cold wash of reality somewhere off in the distance.

Many of the IT managers and directors we talk to point to this segment of the mobile and wireless process as the most nerve wracking since the administrators who may have originally funded the projects are still breathing down your neck and the users of mobile systems are banging them against walls and desks in an effort to retrieve email and sync their personal information managers. This is why we take particular note of new technologies that make the deployment process a bit less intimidating and less of a burden on the already overly taxed IT department.

For example, IBM Corp. late last year unveiled a series of wireless notebooks that could be formatted and set up even before they were unpacked from the shipping create. IT administrators could actually rouse the wireless systems as they sat safe and snug in bubble wrap and foam peanuts, and install the necessary applications for a particular department or group of users. The crate could then be shipped to its final destination, or trucked upstairs to group of users, and then be immediately useful and productive as they came out of the box. This saved IT types a lot of work, since they previously would have to unpack and set up each system for individual users throughout a corporation. Multiply that by thousands and you can see why vacation time is but a fantasy for some overworked souls. Just this week, Mobile Automation, Inc. took the deployment task a few steps further by introducing a series of related products that together offer 'cradle to grave' mobile management capabilities which include a heavy dose of deployment and also focus on overall management, support, security and retirement (their word, not mine since it is no longer in my vocabulary given the current state of my 401K program). Called the Mobile Lifecycle Management Suite, the set of software modules is actually an extension of the company's MA2000 software introduced back in 1999. These modules include the following:

  • Mobile Discovery Manager. A set of tools and routines that unobtrusively sniffs and collects information from all of the mobile systems that are deployed, by tracking hardware and software and maintaining these records within a single database. The software can then group and organize the information by such criteria as usage levels, software licenses, user profiles and so on.
  • Mobile Systems Manager. This is actually the MA2000 software, which has been 'modularized' to play nice with its fellow modules within the new management suite. It basically allows fast and easy software deployments and global systems changes on a variety of notebooks, handheld systems and other mobile devices. IT administrators can also manage all of these mobile systems from a single interface (a talent that a few other companies in this space have adopted and introduced as upgrades to their present products), and can even remotely troubleshoot mobile deployments from any location. This company claims this module also offers a 'self healing' capability, although this sounds a little to New Age and Oprah to us. Usually, such capabilities are very basic, and serve more as a set of guidelines for IT troubleshooters to follow in the event of a problem. Nothing, in our opinion, replaces experience, which is why the IT person down the street gets more money than you do for roughly the same job!
  • Mobile Support Manager. This module includes Web-based help-desk support services for both PC's and handheld devices – which is not really a breakthrough since everyone is starting to recognize that the Web is the ideal conduit for all types of information. Mobile Automation tells us, though, that you can view real-time deployment job statistics from this Web interface, so it almost acts as an administrator's executive information systems (EIS). Mobile Support Manager simplifies help-desk operations.
  • Mobile Migration Manager. While the naming of this utility may stir up images of notebooks and handhelds flying south for the winter, it is actually an important piece of the while suite since it allows administrators to issue global software updates across their mobile spectrum. While most other mobile management alternatives can easily handle updates and tweaks of individual software applications, this claimed to be the first that can completely re-image an entire mobile system from a company's Help Desk. For example, the software can be used to upgrade all of the mobile notebooks in your arsenal to the latest version of Windows XP, without having the user lift a finger.
  • Mobile Security Manager. What is a suite without security? If you notice, most every hardware and software company on the planet throws in the security card when introducing new products and technologies. Hey, it's a whole new world and security will be one of the top feature buzz words for some time. In this case, the security routines do offer a few neat tricks, like letting users apply Center for Internet Security (CIS) scoring levels and vulnerability ratings. These are handy when conducting update 'triage' across hundreds or thousands of systems. The system can also be used to spotlight frequent security problems and breaches – and as everyone in this industry knows, it is better not be caught with your breaches up (instead of down) when it comes to security.

We have written about Extended Systems, Inc. before in earlier MMBs, talking about the solid synchronization capabilities of the company's software and tools. Last week, Extended released further information on the planned upgrade of its XTNDConnect Server 3.5 mobile data synchronization software that includes a number of new security features (see, we told you security will be on the tip of everyone's tongue!), improved device management capabilities, and advanced deployment tools.

For those of you who don't know, Extended Systems' XTNDConnect Server is a mobile data management and synchronization software system that allows IT departments to securely integrate and manage mobile devices and applications. The software is designed dot work with most every mobile device on the planet (Palm, Pocket PC, RIM, Symbian, etc.), and is compatible with the widely-accepted SyncML synchronization standard. It also works with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus servers, as well as OLE DB, ODBC, and a variety of custom databases.

The software's deployment tools are a bit self-serving, but nonetheless important to IT types since it does away with the need to sign up for third-party desktop software support for installing the XTNDConnect Server software. This eliminates the added time and expense of dealing with outside vendors, when it is now just as easy to deploy the software yourself.

The deployment features on the new server version also include the ability to pre-configure standard settings such as IP address, server name and default profile and then download to these settings to mobile devices. A Profile Push feature also allows administrators to set system and user profiles based on how the mobile devices will connect to the central information resource (cradle or wireless), and offers the ability to send alerts and other messages to individual users or groups of users on the mobile network. Other features in the updated XTNDConnect Server 3.5 software (which is due to start shipping later this month) include support for enterprise-standard security products and models (both inside and outside a building); a reverse proxy technology, which intercepts all traffic and performs the necessary security and packet validation checks on connections from mobile devices; and of course password protection on the client that offers a basic level of security.

Our prediction: More players in the so-called mobile management segment will focus on initial deployments and installations – especially as they seek to differentiate themselves from companies that are now routinely injecting basic mobile management abilities into their mobile applications. We think that base-level management will evolve to become a standard and accepted tool that is buried within the infrastructures of most mobile apps, which will blur the line that bow exists between these apps and independent mobile management utilities and technologies.

To survive, players in this field should investigate ways to enhance that 'cradle to grave' experience of the mobile users and IT administrator. Those that fail to do this will find themselves quickly approaching their own funeral in terms of survivability – which is a Halloween scenario few would like to face.

About the author: Tim Scannell is the founder and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. He is also the Editorial Director and a member of the management team of Modezilla.com (www.modezilla.com), a mobile and wireless venture focusing on worldwide trends and developments in wireless and highly-mobile systems. Scannell has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor in the computer industry, working on such publications as Computerworld, PC Products, Mini-Micro Systems, Systems Integration and most recently Computer Reseller News. You can reach him at: tjscan@shorelineresearch.com


This was last published in March 2003

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