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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Although the BlackBerry remains a favorite of certain corporate IT groups because of its security and email capabilities, it gets less attention from developers and many IT pros because of its relatively small screen size and, until recently, lack of touchscreen support. "They don't keep up to date with the applications" as much as the iOS, Android, or "even Microsoft with Windows Mobile" platforms, says Gettel's Bement. "I wouldn't want one if someone handed it to me."

However, the BlackBerry does boast applications for remote desktop access, server monitoring and management, and remote access to SSH servers, among many other functions.

Heavy-duty mobile apps for IT pros

Remote access is one of the hottest mobile application markets for IT -- little wonder, given what can be done with quick access to a management console or in troubleshooting a user's device.

Cloud services provider CenterBeam uses the native iOS version of Bomgar on the iPad because "it's more secure than other platforms," says Shahin Pirooz, CenterBeam's CTO. His staff also relies on Citrix Receiver to run management applications in Windows 7 on the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Ericom Software's free AccessToGo for iOS and Android is another powerful tool for providing access to Windows applications, physical and virtual desktops, and Windows terminal servers.

Mobile virtualization management is another hotbed, with the various Nagios mobile apps for iOS and Android receiving frequent mentions among IT pros. Many cloud services providers offer their own mobile management apps. The Decaf EC2 Client for Android and iPhone provides updates "about trends and variations in average CPU performance, total disk reads and writes, and total incoming/outgoing network traffic" for Amazon EC2 instances, according to 9apps, the team behind Decaf.

The VMware vSphere Client for iPad allows administrators to monitor the performance of vSphere hosts and virtual machines; to start, stop, and suspend VMs; and to reboot them or put them into maintenance mode. VM Manager is among the many virtualization management options on Android.

Jason John Schwarz, CTO of pest control services provider MSC, says his team uses iVMControl on iPhones and iPads. They have found the app "far better than the native VMware Web interface, a quick way to jump in and troubleshoot our environment."

Android users can manage their Active Directory implementations with ActiveDir Manager, while iOS users have AD Helpdesk for iOS. Network Utility for the iPhone enables network administrators to check connectivity via Ping, TCP/IP Port Scans, GeoIP lookup, and to gather IP address information.

IBM XIV Mobile Dashboard for the iPhone and iPad monitor real-time performance of IBM XIV storage systems, allowing IT admins to monitor IOPS, bandwidth, and latency, among other metrics.

Mobile IT apps: Limitations and opportunities

As the capabilities of smartphones improve, customers are demanding the same capabilities in mobile administration apps as in their desktop counterparts, says Raj Dutt, vice president of technology at hosting and content delivery provider Internap, which provides cloud and physical server provisioning app VoxCloud: "[Customers] don't consider the mobile application to be some second-class citizen. This is no longer just a gimmick thing; people are really using it."

For most administrative functions, a Web portal that has been designed for easy viewing on a mobile device works fine, says Brian Alvey, CEO of Crowd Fusion. Few mobile apps require the finely tuned performance provided by native mobile apps. Still, limitations remain.

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