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Mobile apps: The IT pro's new power tools

Robert L. Scheier | March 13, 2012
Heavy-duty mobile IT apps for the iPad, iPhone, and Android devices have many IT departments on the move.

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.

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."


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