Microsoft unveils remote mobile management software

Microsoft announces beefed-up remote Windows Mobile management capabilities that allow administrators to remotely secure and manage mobile phones

Microsoft plans to announce beefed-up remote Windows Mobile phone management capabilities with the introduction of System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 on Tuesday.

The software will allow IT administrators to remotely secure and manage mobile phones much the same way they manage PCs and laptops, said John O'Rourke, general manager of Microsoft's mobile communications business.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer planned to make the announcement during the opening speech at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment conference in San Francisco.

IT administrators using Mobile Device Manager will be able to remotely do things such as turn off a phone's camera and prevent the use of unauthorized messaging services. That's important for companies that must comply with regulations requiring them to record information sent from employee devices, O'Rourke said.

Mobile Device Manager integrates with Microsoft's System Center so that administrators with that software can use the existing active directory and group policy feature to disseminate policies. For example, an organization may already have a set of policies for a group that contains field salespeople, so an administrator can choose to set mobile policies for that same group, pushing out changes to all of their Windows Mobile phones at once.

The software also supports secure access to corporate information through VPN connections. That allows phone users to access files that may be behind the corporate firewall, and it also lets them use Web-based applications that reside on the corporate intranet, O'Rourke said. Some companies may have internal Web-based expense reporting forms, for example, and the secure connection means that Windows Mobile phone users can use those forms from their phones.

Mobile Device Manager comprises client and server software. Windows Mobile users will need to update their phones with the software. That process can happen a number of different ways, including requiring users to connect their phones to a PC and install the new software. Microsoft is working with device makers and operators to coordinate the update, similar to the way that they worked together to update devices to Windows Mobile 6.0 from the previous version of the software. AT&T is expected to announce at the conference how it will update devices on its network, O'Rourke said.

Once phone users have the software, they'll need to connect to the corporate network and log on before an administrator can start remotely managing the device. That's a one-time process, similar to one that corporate workers often go through when using a new laptop, he said.

Microsoft expects to release System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 in the first half of next year, O'Rourke said. The server software should be able to support as many as 5,000 users, although it's not complete, so the exact number hasn't been determined, he said.

Windows Mobile 6.0 already offers some remote management capabilities. For example, an IT administrator can remotely wipe a Windows Mobile device in case it's stolen and manage passwords for the device, without Mobile Device Manager.

Some Windows Mobile competitors also have similar remote management capabilities. Nokia's Intellisync device management offering, for example, allows IT administrators to remotely manage a variety of devices, including Symbian, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and Palm phones, as well as laptops and desktops. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server also includes group-based remote administration and management functions. Microsoft's Mobile Device Manager will only manage Windows Mobile Devices.