by May 14, 2007 0 comments

Gone are the days when your organization’s employees had fixed working hours and office resources (IT and other) were required only inside the office and during the day. Times are changing and organizations are developing a 24×7 work culture. Employees no longer work from 9 to 5. They can work at any time and from anywhere, and therefore, need the right set of IT resources to help them. This obviously adds a new set of challenges for the IT department, which till now was comfortable with the traditional network infrastructure and its well-established management processes. All this is happening, thanks to the mobility revolution. It’s definitely happening, and no organization or individual can afford to ignore it. Sooner or later, you’ll have to embrace it, so might as well prepare for it now. If leveraged correctly, mobility can be a boon for any organization, otherwise, it could become a bane.For instance, laptops and smartphones are definitely beneficial for every organization, but they also bring with them lots of security issues. Likewise, if you introduce a new application for smartphones such as a sales force automation package for your sales team, then it could be really useful, but will also have limitations. Will you give everyone a standard smartphone to run the application? If not, then how will you ensure that it works on all the different smartphones possessed by your sales team? In this article, we’re going to look at the key trends that are shaping up the mobility space.

The enablers
There are several factors responsible for the boom in mobility. One of course, are the falling prices of laptops. Next is WiFi, which is there on just about every laptop. Third are smartphones, which are more powerful than some of the PCs of yesteryears. Fourth of course is connectivity. Today, you could be anywhere in the world and still remain connected. For instance, if I am a datacenter administrator, I deserve a holiday to unwind. But while holidaying, if my corporate NAS or Web server crashes, then I should be able to rectify the problem from my hotel room which is at the other end of the globe. At the same time I should be able to receive calls made to my office extension, on either my hotel phone or on my cell phone, so that I can efficiently co-ordinate with my team at my office and manage the problem. Receiving e-mails and accessing the internet from anywhere is of course the other major thing which I would like to do.

Mobile infrastructure management
This is one of the latest applications that enables mobility and can turn into a killer app in the near future. The trend of deploying such systems is growing rapidly and we have different models of such deployments. But before going further let’s understand what Mobile Infrastructure Management is by taking the example of the data center administrator going on a holiday. In the old days, if this happened, then one would deploy a full time engineer for the datacenter, who will continuously monitor it and inform you in case of a problem. But this is prone to human errors. So what are the alternatives? There are quite a few products through which you can generate alerts based on pre-defined thresholds and get those alerts delivered to your cell phones or PDAs as an SMS or pushe-mail.

That’s not all. Once you receive those alerts, you can use a PDA and go ahead and manage the remote device by restarting processes, restart machines or run some commands or scripts remotely. If that is not enough, you can even run remote desktop or vnc like tools on your PDA and get full access to your faulty server. This not only makes the alerting mechanism very efficient but also gives you the option to solve the problem before hand. 

An intelligent use of a smartphone with
HipCheck to monitor and stop processes on your server

There are quite a few ways through which you can get such a setup ready. For instance, you can use multiple components and build your own devices or go to some solution provider and get the setup ready for you. If you take the first path then you can use tools such as Nagios, HP OpenView or Tivoli to get a mobile alert mechanism ready (here by using a mobile alert mechanism we mean getting alerts on your mobile devices in the form of either SMSes or push e-mail). And then use RDP or VNC technologies on top of some compression technologies to access your devices remotely.

But if you don’t want to bear the pain of integrating such devices by yourself then go for products such as HipCheck from SCO. With HipCheck all you have to do is install a client on your server and you are on. You can define thresholds for different system routines and whenever the threshold is crossed, you get an alert in form of an SMS. And immediately you can log in to the faulty server using a smart phone and do quite a few administrative tasks to solve the problems. We have checked the performance of the HipCheck agent on a GPRS connection and it was pretty good and usable. Such kind of a service will cost you somewhere around $12 to $18 per server per month depending on the type of volume you want to purchase.

Mobile Casts
This is also a new way of getting in touch with a large mobile task force. Imagine you want to send text or a voice based message to say 50 different people in your sales team scattered across the globe. Traditionally, you would type in an SMS or record a voice message and broadcast it to all people. In case of a text message, it’s fine but broadcasting a voice or a picture message would be costly in terms of mobile tariff, and the sending would also be difficult because you have to add all the 50 users’ phone numbers one by one.

Now we have Mobile Casts which help us out of this difficulty. It is just like any other mass casting mechanism such as a web or a pod cast. But the difference is that here you do casting for mobile phones. In this case you have an ISP who stores an online copy of all your enterprise (and home) users and their mail ids and phone numbers. You can even create groups for all those contacts.

Now, if you want to send a voice message to your sales team, just take out your Windows smart phone or go to the website, type in the message and record the voice, and send it across. Once you have done this, the message will get stored on the ISPs website and a link of the message will be generated and sent across to all the 50 sales executives around the world. All of them receive the link as an SMS or mail (depending on what they have chosen as their preferred communication medium). Now they can either use a phone with Net access or even use a PC to go to the link and listen to the message. SCO is offering this service in India, and calls it Me Inc. You can find out more details about it from

Voice roaming
Voice mobility or Follow Me is a fairly new concept but is picking up rapidly. The enabler for Voice Roaming is VoIP. As now voice (mostly telephonic calls) is also transferred over IP, we can route or re-route calls from one place to another. As a result you can pick up a call which is coming to your office desk sitting in a hotel in Goa. This whole process is transparent from the caller’s view.

Direct push
E-mail is natively based on pull technology. For instance if you receive a mail, it resides on your server unless and until you explicitly download it to your client and view the mail using a web browser. This defeats the need of real time messaging. As a result today a voice call or an SMS is given more priority when we talk of instance acknowledgement. Blackberry has changed all that by introducing Push technology in the Indian market. Here, your server pushes the mail to your client devices (mostly a Smartphone or a handheld device) whenever it receives the mail.

But now Blackberry also faces competition. Microsoft has come up with a product called MSFP or Messaging and Security Feature Pack, for MS Exchange Servers. With this you can get the same Push Mail functionality without the need of any third part service provider. At the same time you can feel more secure and have more control over the server.

Mobile security
Your sales executive comes back from a sales call and complaints to the helpdesk that he’s not able to access the Internet from his laptop. He suspects it to be a virus. Before your helpdesk can do or say anything, he’s plugged his laptop into your corporate network. Before you know it, your entire network is infected with this virus. This is the scary part of mobility, and something everyone’s toiling with today. Moreover, this will only grow further because now it won’t just be laptops, but also other mobile devices that would be accessing your corporate network. These devices will also be prone to security attacks, which is why most security companies are focusing on developing security software for mobile devices.

The amount of risk on mobile devices can be judged by the fact that according to a survey done last year, there were around 350 viruses available for Symbian phones, which can spread over an Internet connection or a WiFi network. Some of them are even capable of stealing important information. Companies such as Symantec, F-Secure and Bull guard have antivirus solutions for mobile devices.

The latest in mobility threats are phishing attacks on mobile devices using SMS. So while mobility has a lot of benefits, its security issues need some serious considration by orgnanizations. Take mobile thefts for instance. There’s been a steady rise in this as well. So how do you ensure that your organization doesn’t get affected if an employee’s laptop or smartphone gets stolen? Have you backed up the data from those devices? If not, was it residing in encrypted form on the devices to render it useful for the person who stole it? All these questions need to be answered when enabling a mobile workforce.

Network accelerators
The speed of mobile Internet is inherently pretty slow. For instance a GPRS connection doesn’t give more than 10Kbps of speed. In case of CDMA or Edge the things are slightly better but still in most of the cases it can’t keep pace with the type of applications that we have talked about using over mobile networks.

For instance running RDP over DSL can feel like a breeze but if you are going to do so over GPRS you might feel like throwing your phone away. To solve such issues we have network accelerators. These generally use different technologies like Caching, Compression etc to enhance the connectivity experience over low bandwidth networks.

Essentially they are used for connecting a head office with branch offices and WAN links. But nowadays network accelerators have also been used as gateways for mobile workforce, so that they can access VPN, intranet, corporate mails, etc over low bandwidth mobile connections.

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