Mobilizing the enterprise

Extended Systems, iAnywhere, and Intellisync keep users connected to the enterprise

The applications and infrastructure necessary to build a managed mobile enterprise have rapidly matured. Two such products — Extended Systems OneBridge Mobile Solutions Platform and Intellisync’s Mobile Suite — intrinsically push corporate e-mail and PIM (personal information manager) information to virtually any wired or wireless handheld device. And that’s where many enterprises kick off their mobile strategy.

But systems management, another strength of both these well-designed sets, is where companies will want to start. These products’ capability of standardizing setup, taking inventory, and securing devices can lower expenses.

iAnywhere Solutions M-Business Anywhere concentrates on channeling corporate intranet information to mobile workers. In fact, it’s the easiest and most cost-effective platform for development because forms and pages presented on handhelds are Web-based. As such, you can reclaim much of your existing Web app work. However, M-Business Anywhere doesn’t provide built-in e-mail and PIM synchronization, and its systems management is modest.

In the latter stages of a mobile rollout, executives must focus on integration with existing enterprise applications. Here, each product takes a different approach. M-Business Anywhere integrates with the company’s SQL Anywhere Studio for large-scale deployments of mobile database applications. OneBridge allows fast integration with SFA and CRM systems. Intellisync’s toolkit makes it relatively easy to embed synchronization capabilities in existing apps.

OneBridgeMobile Solutions Platform

At the hub of OneBridge Mobile Solutions Platform is its Sync Server, which connects users to Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange servers and database servers. Through a small client application, mobile devices can then be synced with the enterprise back end over practically any connection.

Setting up the OneBridge Sync Server is neither difficult nor time-consuming. Site wizards help you configure the various adapters that link to groupware and database servers.

From an IT manager perspective, OneBridge adequately streamlined the daily work required to support mobile workers. Its central administration console enabled me to manage settings for Palms, Pocket PCs, and smartphones. For example, I created groups that determined which data was synchronized for each user or device. Moreover, OneBridge Mobile Groupware includes strong device management, both in terms of asset tracking and security. This solution inventories the software and hardware on each device and allows you to create backup and restore points and to establish power-on passwords to prevent unauthorized device use.

The client deployment wizard proved to be an excellent starting point for a trouble-free end-user experience. Because administrators are able to preconfigure settings such as server name, there are fewer steps for users to perform — and thus less chance of error.

Likewise from an end-user perspective, OneBridge proved effective in everyday use. Live Connect immediately pushed Outlook e-mail messages to a wireless T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition without the need to initiate synchronization.

To dig deeper, I added the OneBridge Mobile Data Suite, which allowed me to connect my wireless Treo 600 to a SQL Server 2000 database. Configuring the database adapter was easy because it uses standard ADO (ActiveX Data Objects) connection methods. The mobile apps that interact with the database, however, must be custom-made.

Connectivity to CRM and ERP systems is more out-of-the-box. Using the OneBridge Integration Server’s data driver, I attached to a Siebel system wirelessly. Once set up, a Web-based GUI tool helps IT staff customize the way mobile devices interact with back-end applications.

If you’ve graduated to the Integration Server, the final piece of this solution is OneBridge Presentation Server. Put simply, Presentation Server allows you to render application data to almost any mobile-device Web browser using standards such as XML.

Although it wasn’t possible to test fully, OneBridge appears to scale well. The product distributes synchronization processes and data access and employs asynchronous communication. Furthermore, it does not require temporary data storage, which reduces its burden on server resources and contributes to its speed.

M-Business Anywhere

SQL Anywhere Studio’s small footprint and handheld-optimized synchronization have made it the predominant choice for SQL programmers who must mobilize data-driven apps. About a year ago, iAnywhere acquired AvantGo, giving the company a complementary mobile Web content synchronization engine and development platform, now called M-Business Anywhere. iAnywhere also offers Pylon Anywhere for providing remote access to Notes and Exchange, plus several vertical mobile packages.

Because of this a la carte approach, iAnywhere isn’t  centrally managed, but it does support a wide range of devices and runs on multiple server OSes.

I tested M-Business Anywhere Application Edition by first synchronizing basic Web sites to both palmOne and Pocket PC handhelds. Next, I successfully deployed a more complex SQL database application that included XML Web services, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and DHTML. Initially configuring M-Business Anywhere Server isn’t difficult, but it does require manually editing certain files such as those for a proxy server. From here on, a central Web-based administration console allowed me to add users and perform other routine tasks.

M-Business Anywhere is founded on content channels. As the admin, I created group channels to synchronize specific Web sites to different types of users, and intuitive forms reduced the process to a few simple steps. Users can also self-register personal channels, such as news or weather. Finally, I created public channels that contained general intranet material for users to add to their devices.

As with the other products, M-Business Server is accessible via LANs and various wireless networks. The client software, which is easily operated, had no problem automatically updating channels when users synced their devices locally and through the T-Mobile GPRS digital wireless network.

M-Business Anywhere is especially attractive in that minimal change is required on the development side and there is little in the way of necessary end-user training. The client browser accurately rendered my existing Web pages that were coded using HTML and JavaScript. Developers can write one Web application and have it run across many mobile and desktop platforms.

To build a more sophisticated application, I turned to the AvantGo Client Extension API, referred to as PODS (Portable Object Delivery System). PODS and the XML Database Conduit enabled me to obtain XML-formatted information from my SQL database, deliver it to handhelds, and have users update database records at the next synchronization. Configuring the database channel on the M-Business Anywhere server is really no different from any Web channel, making administration easy. Moreover, coding the application requires only  a basic knowledge of JavaScript.

Although M-Business Anywhere 5.5 doesn’t match other solutions in terms of systems management, it should help reduce costs. Built-in reports show synchronization times and frequency, thereby helping IT staff optimize the type of data delivered. And this version collects device information, which is useful for asset management.

IntellisyncMobile Suite

With Intellisync’s Mobile Suite, mobile and remote users can access enterprise apps, e-mail and PIM data, and file and Web content. In addition, Mobile Suite allows IT staff to manage mobile devices remotely. To use this solution, you install the core gateway software plus any of the four main plug-in modules: Email Accelerator, Data Sync, File Sync, or Systems Management. Enterprises in need of synchronized server data should install all four.

Deploying my test environment was quick and easy. The well-designed administration console allowed me to manage user profiles, configure clients, install software, and perform handheld backups and restores. I was able to synchronize users and groups easily with a Windows NT domain; LDAP sources, such as ActivePlanet, are also supported. Users can easily install the very small client software from an intranet link.

Systems Management automatically collects detailed asset information, which should enable IT to minimize users’ downtime. Device backup is especially handy if you need to restore damaged equipment. Furthermore, a graphical editor and built-in install actions streamline custom-software distribution.

Email Accelerator worked flawlessly. On the administration end, I had no trouble specifying authentication rules and other customization features for each user. Synchronizing Exchange messages and PIM data to my Treo 600 happened with one-button simplicity and was very fast.

I also liked the range of e-mail viewing and synchronization options available. For instance, I could preview headers and  download only the messages I wanted.

Intellisync Data Sync provides the link to enterprise databases or database apps running on the handheld. IT departments will still need to code forms and other parts of the application, but Intellisync makes the job easier. The graphical rules builder and field mapping tools allowed me to sync an Oracle back-end database with SQL CE on a Pocket PC in just a few hours. Furthermore, Intellisync performs all the complex data management, such as resolving conflicts if several users attempt to access a database simultaneously. The only omission was a lack of out-of-the-box support for ERP and CRM systems.

Intellisync also provides a model way to manage and personalize electronic document distribution. File Sync’s GUI wizard allowed me to define user groups to receive certain types of files residing on my LAN server.  On the server side, Intellisync notices when files have changed and prepackages them for upcoming synchronization sessions.

All three solutions prove that enterprises can create a secure, managed mobile infrastructure. Intellisync’s integrated modules, extensive device support, and overall usability give it an advantage. OneBridge  offers first-rate device management along with multiple ways for developers to deliver enterprise data. Users of the AvantGo mobile Internet service will appreciate M-Business Anywhere’s  scalability and elegant Web model.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (20.0%)
Integration (20.0%)
Flexibility (20.0%)
Scalability (10.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
iAnywhere Solutions M-Business Anywhere 5.5 9.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 8.3
Extended Systems OneBridge Mobile Solutions Platform 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.5
Intellisync Mobile Suite 5.5 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 8.9