Managing a mobile mess

Managing a mobile mess

With mobility on the rise, so too are IT administrator bugbears. Yet, the mobile mess should be seen as a channel opportunity.

Sybase’s ‘Afaria’ management tool provides a comprehensive suite of policy management modules that run across Win32 laptops, Windows Mobile devices, Symbian handhelds and BlackBerry devices. Apple’s iPhone will be available early next year.

These modules include centralised, automated backup of devices, enforced connection settings, inventory and licensing management, the enforcing of security policies, patching and provisioning of new software and remote control functionality for support and security tasks.

The cost of the solution isn’t trivial – Afaria costs around $40,000 per server and $100 per client.

“If you only have Windows Mobile devices, you can use System Management Server, but that won’t help you if you also have Symbian-based devices,” Sybase’s Maroney said. “If you only have Symbian-based devices you can use Telesync, but it won’t help you with Windows Mobile, and so on. If you have two device types, Afaria makes sense.”

The choices for IT administrators will widen further now VMware is including smaller mobile devices in its vClient initiative.

VMware South Pacific vice-president, Paul Harapin, said all the device choice, security, support, performance and cost bugbears associated with supporting multiple devices could be solved if a thin-client approach is taken to mobile computing.

“Today, we tend to provision a device to people – you build a laptop, give it to the employee. If the employee loses that device, you’re screwed,” he said. “With vClient, you provide services to individuals regardless of the device they have.”

Harapin predicted a future where fleet management no longer involved provisioning employees with new devices.

“Instead, you as an employee are given a stipend, let’s say $1000 a year, to go toward whatever device you want. And as an administrator, you make services available to employees rather than devices,” he said.

Should a contractor with their own laptop come to work for the organisation, they can be provided a service that expires the afternoon their contract expires. “You can lock down and disable DVD drives, USB ports,” Harapin said.

“You can restrict the vClient to only connect to the corporate network. You can enforce policies that only let you connect after you update patches.

“It makes sense that the device should end up being irrelevant to the services you want to provide across the network.”

The end game

The end game, RSA’s Pullen said, is to ensure that the right checks and balances are in place in policy and technology terms, but that these shouldn’t act as “a handbrake” to the business. “You want to get the benefits of mobility,” Sybase’s Maroney said. “Rather than stifle users, you want to allow for the different styles of working patterns that make people productive.”

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