Palm looks to Pioneer its data synch technology

Palm Inc. plans to use its buyout of Extended Systems to solve one of the biggest stumbling blocks to using handheld computers in the enterprise: copying data between the devices and corporate servers.

Palm has put together a blueprint that, on paper at least, clears up the confusion over how its three data synchronization technologies can meet enterprise customer requirements.

The plan hinges on Extended Systems delivering by year-end a rebuilt release of its client-server software XTNDConnect Server – code-named Pioneer. Palm says Pioneer will move handheld synchronization beyond so-called personal information management, such as calendar and contacts, to the far more complex job of synchronizing different handheld programs with multiple server-based applications.

As part of its plan, Palm will phase out its existing HotSync Server, incorporate key data management features from its WeSync acquisition into upcoming releases of the Palm Desktop and Palm OS, and likely rebrand the XTNDConnect Server.

“XTNDConnect is probably one of the best server-based sync products out there,” said Jack Gold, vice-president of technology research firm Meta Group. “But it’s not a general-purpose data synchronization engine. And that’s what Extended Systems and Palm would like to do, so I can get information from a back-end SAP or Siebel or PeopleSoft application down to my handheld device.”

Enterprise IT groups for decades have built or installed applications that let back-end applications share data, and let databases copy or replicate data, over a network. But none of these systems are designed for small handhelds that connect to the network only occasionally.

At the same time, data synchronization products designed for handhelds are sharply limited. Some connect Palm OS devices to Microsoft Exchange servers. Some also support Pocket PC devices and might add an interface to Lotus Notes. But enterprise customers want to connect employees in the field with corporate data resources such as orders and inventory.

Acquiring Extended Systems is Palm’s latest move to integrate handhelds with a broader range of corporate data.

Previously, enterprise customers used Palm HotSync Server, a reworked version of Aether Systems’ ScoutSync software, which let Palm OS devices share data with Exchange and Notes. Palm will discontinue this product. “We’re migrating from HotSync Server to XTNDConnect server,” says Griff Coleman, Palm’s product manager for enterprise solutions.

In February, Palm finished the buyout of WeSync, a free Web service that lets Palm users create, manage and share group calendar and contact information. Coleman says WeSync created a variety of data management techniques for identifying even small data changes, and then copying these among many other devices. Palm is including these techniques in an upcoming releases of the Palm Desktop application and Palm OS.

The WeSync group calendar application will be rebuilt on top of the XTNDConnect server and then be fitted with connections to group calendars on Exchange and Notes. Group calendars let group members make changes and synchronize those results back to the members’ handhelds.

The technology from those products will be part of XTNDConnect 3.0, or Pioneer, due out by year-end. Pioneer will include a message queuing system for wireless connections.

This software is designed to move data efficiently and reliably between handhelds and the back-end Pioneer server. Also new will be a distributed data management architecture that will track and synchronize data changes on an array of client devices and back-end systems.

Finally, Pioneer is intended to handle many more devices and much higher traffic volumes than now. The company declined to be more specific.

“This [direction] is where Palm needs to go this year, to become less of a hardware company and more focused on software and services, to keep people loyal to their platform,” says Meta Group’s Gold.