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

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Regarding the Dell Kace management app, the lack of a native iPad application "doesn't allow me to use the VNC function," says Gettel's Bement. "It's just [that] the iPad doesn't have VNC installed by default." Bement gets around the problem by switching to Jump Desktop, which he says is "not too big of an annoyance."

CenterBeam's Pirooz would like to see mobile versions make greater use of the Microsoft Active Sync APIs to more easily "push" software to devices. "You can whitelist and blacklist applications," he says, but "there's no concept of pushing a piece of software, and doing an installation, from an administrative perspective, unless the user says yes."

This support would allow mobile admins to perform more of the management functions Microsoft has added over the years, such as enforcing policies or wiping data from mobile devices, he says.

The untethered life of today's mobile IT admin

Although the mad proliferation of mobile IT applications might be seen as tying admins to their mobile devices more than ever, it's actually good news, many say.

"We've had pagers and phones going on 15 years," says Gartner analyst Jeff Brooks. "The new apps mean it won't be so much 'I'm always working' as it will be 'I'm able to get done what I need to get done in a timely manner,'" he says. "If I'm able, before I go to bed ... to roll over, grab my phone, and answer a question for someone, and get that logged properly, that's one less thing [to do] when I wake up tomorrow and get to the office."

Vocus's Kipp agrees that today's mobile administration apps make life "much easier. ... For one, I'm not worried about whether or not an alert is going to go out. It's a worry that's been taken off our plate." Due to the service-oriented nature of Vocus's mission, "We're tied to those devices anyway. This makes sure we get alerts in a reliable fashion. It's a comfort level you can't put a price on in the industry we're working in."

Gettel's Bement also sees little downside to the rise of mobile IT. "It makes my life easier because I don't need to be at my office to do my job," says Bement. "I can use [the built-in] Cisco VPN client on my iPad to connect to my network, and launch whichever application I need, and remote into my PC, remote into the server, and make any changes I need." If he didn't have the mobile access, he would have to drive 40 minutes round trip to work for something as simple as a user locking themselves out of their account. Now, he does the five minutes of actual work from home.

With all the benefits of smartphones, alerts can still get lost in a flood of emails and texts. Onset Technology is one company targeting this glut. The company's OnPage priority messaging technology triggers an alarm on the user's device "until you attend to it," says CEO Judit Sharon. The service is available on iOS and BlackBerry, with Android support coming soon.

Vocus's Kipp has been working with OnPage for more than six months. His 13-member site operations team finds OnPage on the iPhone to be more reliable than the pagers the firm used up until last year. OnPage's two-way communications also provides notification when a message is delivered and read.

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