Experts split over mobile industry’s manageability path

The mobile computing industry needs to learn from the lessons of the desktop world as it brings more manageability and total cost of ownership features to devices, according to hardware manufacturers.

The launch late last year of PocketPC 2002 and the flood of mobile applications is quickly

moving devices from a collection of unconnected organizers to untethered machines that hold important enterprise data. Yet the standards in the desktop space have not yet migrated to devices like Compaq’s iPaq, for example.

This lack of harmonization represents a significant challenge for organizations that want to effectively manage their IT assets, says K.C. Choi, director of Compaq Computer Corp.‘s Advanced Technologies group. “”When you start rolling out an app like Siebel or Oracle, there’s a need for a subset of the enterprise management that you have on the desktop,”” he says.

Choi says he would like to see a mobile version of the desktop management interface (DMI), which was developed by the Desktop Management Task Force several years ago. The technology is designed to let central administrators keep an inventory of the software on each system in an enterprise while monitoring it for any glitches. Dell, IBM and most other major PC vendors adopted the DMI standard by the mid-1990s.

Others see little to admire in the desktop world, where the standards have proliferated to the point where they gathering too much information. “”They don’t know where the hardware stops and the software begins,”” says James Foltz, director of enterprise services at Siemens AG. “”We’re giving people lots of different points about the same things. You don’t need 400 managed elements on a desktop. We need to decide what those four or five things are and just standardize on that.””

A good place to start, says Gartner Inc. vice-president Martin Reynolds, is security. “”We need to build in authentication, both in the device and in the network,”” he says. “”We simply don’t have the trust to allow IT managers to manage that.””

Reynolds recommends vendors build certificates into the hardware, as IBM does. A separate processor, for example, could be included in handhelds to look after security and power consumption. “”Microsoft and Palm will put it into their platform, but the hardware manufacturers could just put it in a layer above the OS.””

Choi agrees that add-on processors could offer baseline manageability. He also said the emergence of a wireless desktop is coinciding with the emergence of standards like Bluetooth and 802.11a in personal area networks. “”You’ve got TCO in terms of being able to quickly modify an environment,”” he says. “”It takes away the cabling nightmares. It also has a place in the consumer space where they want internetworking in the house without installing a new category 5 cable.””

The difference between wireless in the enterprise and at home, Reynolds says, is home users are exposed to all kinds of viruses and IT managers need to be able to remotely control and manage wireless desktops to keep the worms out. “”We estimate that 70 per cent of all wireless networks have no security whatsoever,”” he says. “”When I drive through Silicon Valley, I can get into all kinds of networks. You wouldn’t believe it. Enterprise spending on security is relatively pathetic.””

That may be because security, like TCO, is being coupled with return on investment (ROI) as a key area of focus for cash-strapped companies. This kind of climate makes it difficult to satisfy some customers, Folks says. “”They want the ROI the next day after they set everything up,”” he says, warning that in some cases enterprises have not completed what they set out to do. “”Everybody thinks they can do asset management, for example. They barely do asset tracking.””


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