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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Overcoming mobile security jitters

As a "trusted user," an admin can, of course, become a threat vector if someone attacks corporate systems via their mobile device. A number of vendors offer ways to separate the work and personal "personalities" of mobile devices, either hiding or hardening the "work" personality to make it more resistant to attacks.

Open Kernel Labs uses virtualization to create separate operating systems on Android, Windows Mobile, and Symbian operating systems, and it recently announced a partnership with LG Electronics to produce "defense-grade" mobile devices using its OKL4 Microvisor. The first such devices are expected to reach the market this fall, with carriers charging a premium of anywhere from $20 to $400 for the added security, says Carl Nerup, vice president of business development at Open Kernel Labs.

Telefónica Digital and EMC VMware are expected to offer Telefónica Dual Persona service later this year. The service will allow IT departments to securely create and manage a "corporate mobile workspace" to run administrative applications on Android devices over the air. The Samsung Galaxy SII will be the first handset to support the service, according to the companies, with Samsung expected "to offer service compatibility with all of its devices in the coming months."

Gettel's Bement says he can create similar "profiles" using the Dell Kace software, but he's never seen a need for it. He believes mobile devices are no more inherently prone to hacks than PCs, and he must enter three passwords to access his iPad, VPN, and then his management applications. He can also remotely wipe data from his mobile devices if they are lost or stolen.

The mobile future

While many admins are happy to log in via a Web interface or even a Windows emulator running on a tablet, Gartner's Brooks looks forward to applications that can use mobile features such as location awareness and cameras to provide new features.

For example, an admin could snap a picture of the error message on the screen and compare it to a known library of error messages, or use a photo of the bar code on a server or PC to access its last known configuration and service history. A location-aware mobile device might alert a technician already working on the fifth floor of a building about a new trouble ticket on the fourth floor, reducing travel times for the tech and wait times for the user.

Another possibility, he says, is mobility-enabled techs providing "white-glove service" to executives and other important customers, using their mobile devices to quickly check databases of known errors to speed service.

"The evolution of mobile technology will result in close integration between the IT service desk and the desktop support team, forming a unique support function," Brooks predicted in a recent report. This, he wrote, "will result in a focus on providing superior support to end-users, rather than a preoccupation with the classification of support roles."

Until then, resetting a user's password from the couch without scrambling for their laptop might be progress enough for the average administrator.

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