New tools coming to manage handhelds

Help appears on the way for network executives looking to get a grip on the management of handheld devices.

Mobile Automation Inc. this week is releasing Mobile Automation 2000 (MA 2000), Web-based programs that give managers tools for controlling handhelds, laptops and remote PCs.

At the same time, management vendors such as Computer Associates International Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Tivoli Systems Inc. are readying new or improved products aimed at wireless devices. Microsoft Corp. is also extending its Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) specifications and APIs (formerly called Web-based Enterprise Management) to Windows CE 3.0, its main platform for the mobile market. WMI acts as a set of standards – now being fostered by the Distributed Management Task Force – for sharing management information among hardware components and applications.

Mobile Automation’s product includes a set of server programs that run on Windows NT and 2000, and client programs called agents that are downloaded to handhelds running Windows, Windows CE and Palm Inc.’s Palm OS. The vendor is testing a client for Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry interactive pager.

Using the server software and a Windows client or a Web browser, administrators can, among other things, set up automatic software downloads to handhelds, remotely configure them and automatically collect some information from them about the specifics of the devices and their software.

MA 2000 “sees” the handhelds when they are plugged into the network by putting the device into its cradle, or attaching through a wireless Ethernet card or modem. Agents can set up interactions with server programs, letting MA 2000 change configurations or update software without actions by the end user.

One beta tester is Unigraphics Solutions Inc., a St. Louis maker of high-end CAD/CAM software. The company is using MA 2000 to manage about 1,600 desktops. There are also about 250 handhelds throughout the global company, and these will be covered later by the MA 2000 umbrella, says Brian McEvoy, senior director for global business desktops.

As with desktops, McEvoy will want to inventory handhelds, push out mandatory software upgrades to them, and distribute optional software to groups or individuals. MA 2000 is simpler and needs less programming than two other management products Unigraphics evaluated, he says.

MA 2000 stores data about the clients in a relational database. The data is easy to query and combine with data from corporate asset management applications and other data sources, McEvoy says. Also included is an interface that lets MA 2000 collect data from Lightweight Directory Access Protocol servers, and correlate this data with its own.

MA 2000 is available now for US$4,995 per server, US$45 per Windows CE device and US$19 per Palm OS device.

The market for mobile management is teeming with activity, drawing newcomers such as Mobile Automation and spurring new offerings from major players such as CA and Tivoli, as well as innovative rivals such as Aprisma Management Technologies.

CA recently integrated two management programs into its Unicenter TNG platform, one for software distribution, the other for inventorying software; they were separate applications.

In April, Unicenter incorporated support for Microsoft Windows CE 3.0, the operating system for an array of new handhelds from computer manufacturers.

CA will unveil additional software for managing wireless nets and devices during the next two months, says Allen Andersen, vice-president of enterprise management. Andersen says areas being targeted include strengthening wireless security and automating more management tasks, such as configuring handhelds with applications and authorizing access to network applications and data.

In June, Tivoli rolled out Personalized Services Manager (PSM), primarily designed to give service providers and carriers tools to provision, configure and track voice and data services for wireless users, including users of cell phones that have Web browsers based on the Wireless Application Protocol.

PSM will be integrated into an upcoming set of technologies that will more fully automate the way service providers set up, activate and oversee wireless accounts, says Robert Davis, senior vice president of Tivoli’s service provider business group.