Mobile apps: The IT pro's new power tools

Heavy-duty mobile IT apps for the iPad, iPhone, and Android devices have many IT departments on the move

Think the mobile revolution is all about word games and social networking apps? Think again. Heavy-duty apps for IT pros have arrived on mobile platforms and they're quickly changing the face of IT systems management.

Want remote desktop access from your Android? Need to initiate a terminal session from your iPad or build a virtual machine from your BlackBerry? Thanks to a rising tide of applications that provide (at a minimum) meaningful access to the Web interfaces of your favorite administrative and troubleshooting programs, you can do all this and more.

[ Updated for iOS 5, Android 4, BlackBerry OS 7, and Windows Phone 7.5: Learn how to manage mobile devices in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Although full-featured applications that match the true power and ease of use of their PC or Mac counterparts remain harder to find, smartphones and tablets with bigger screens and more power have many IT departments eyeing the long-term possibilities of an increasingly mobile IT work force.

Couple this with the desire to tap into native mobile capabilities such as location awareness and built-in cameras for mobile IT apps, and you can see why analyst firm Gartner has predicted that by 2017, 50 percent of Level 1 service desk analysts in large organizations will use mobile technologies to deliver service. That market will make today's mobile admin marketplace look puny -- and unlock new mobile capabilities for admins.

iOS and the iPad: IT's mobile platforms of choice

The iPhone and iPad remain the de facto mobile standards for most IT admins, thanks in large part to the breadth and maturity of IT-related iOS applications. Android smartphones and tablets come in a strong second among the IT set, with BlackBerry, the once vaunted king of business smartphones, a distant and some say fading third.

In fact, the large screen size and a robust IT application ecosystem have some IT pros even preferring the iPad over laptops and desktop machines. Loren Bement, director of network services for Gettel Automotive Group, says that, with the help of an external keyboard, his iPad has become his standard work device. "I don't even carry a laptop or go to a desktop for 90 percent of my work," he says.

Android also boasts an array of meaningful IT apps. Dell Kace's mobile app for managing physical servers and endpoints, for example, is best used on devices with screens of 4 inches or larger, such as iPads or Android smartphones and tablets, says Ken Drachnik, director of product marketing at Dell Kace.

Code 42 Software's CrashPlan and CrashPlan Pro mobile apps for storage backup work "equally well on tablet devices, laptops, and desktops," and are available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices, says Code 42 CEO Matthew Dornquast. Even so, Dornquast sees the iPad as the "de facto mobile device" for which Code 42's apps were designed, noting that the iPhone with its limited screen size "wouldn't be your first choice" for full IT app support.

Yet the iPhone still has its proponents. Michael Kipp, principal engineer for the site operations group at Vocus, a SaaS vendor, says he is "quite satisfied ... [that] I can do almost anything I can do from my desktop" from the iPhone using remote desktop. "The screen is a little small, but it never hindered me," although he did admit that "an iPad is all the better."

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