Mobile devices present integration challenges

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  • May June 1999 IT Pro 11

    Mobile Devices PresentIntegration ChallengesGreg Goth

    Todays mobile work-force is using mobiletools for communica-tion and computing. Tostay connected and keep upwith their workflow while on theroad,many workers have turnedto smart phones, personal digi-tal assistants (PDAs),notebookcomputers, and other portabledevices that provide networkand Internet connectivity.

    While on the road, thesemobile workers may want accessto enterprise applications anddatabases.And when they circleback to home base, they willlikely want to upload informa-tion from their portable devicesinto their primary workstationsor onto the company network.

    These activities raise criticalaccess and security concerns.And integration is a particularproblem because the portabledevices operate on a variety ofplatforms and use a variety ofcommunications protocols.

    Industry observers say theissue is important because thenumber of mobile workers isabout to explode. By 2003, esti-mates the Gartner Group, a

    market research firm, 70million US workers (upfrom 25 million this year)and more than 40 millionin Europe (up from 15 mil-lion this year) will performall or part of their jobsfrom remote locations.

    This presents a particu-lar challenge becauseworkers frequently buytheir own mobile devices,which are considerably lessexpensive than PCs. Thismeans that for the firsttime, IT departments mayno longer control the typesof hardware and softwarebeing used on the systemsthey must manage.

    Adapting technologicaland organizational prior-ities to the new era of ubiqui-tous computing is, therefore,uncharted territory. Most ofmy clients just dont know whatto do, said Gartner Groupanalyst Ken Dulaney.

    A lot of people have beencaught flatfooted, noted Gart-ner Group analyst Cherry-RoseAnderson, who said the por-table revolution is happening

    too quickly for many businessesto develop effective integrationstrategies.

    COMPUTING BECOMESMORE MOBILE

    Most corporations will haveto face the integration problemeventually because the mobilemarket is growing rapidly. Infact, the market is expected togrow from less than five millionunits in 1997 to 15 million unitsby 2001, according to Inter-national Data Corp. (IDC), amarket research firm.

    Handheld devices such as3Coms PalmPilot series andIBMs WorkPad have beenaround for a while. Now, how-ever, they are becoming muchmore functional and can bemore easily connected to net-works and the Internet.

    For example, the addition ofkeyboards to PDAs lets users

    Get Ready to Go Remote

    IT and businessneeds must guidepolicies for managingremote users.

    To help IT managers successfully integrate remote-access devicesinto their enterprise systems, Gartner Group analyst Cherry-RoseAnderson offers a few pointers: Examine current business practices and computing needs and evolve

    them in a structured way to a remote computing model. Match user needs and work styles to the most appropriate devices,

    applications, and access solutions, given the organizations abilityto purchase and support them.

    Select a minimum number of remote-access solutions that meetsthe widest range of user needs.

  • 12 IT Pro May June 1999

    T R E N D S

    create and modify text documents,spreadsheets, e-mail, and other doc-ument types. Handheld PCs (HPCs),such as Hewlett-Packards Jornada820 and NECs MobilePro 800, offermore functionality than PDAs butare lighter than notebook computers.

    More recently, device makers haveadded TCP/IP support, which essen-tially links users to the Internet via e-mail, limited Web browsing,and otherIP-based applications.

    Improvements in wireless technol-ogy for accessing networks and theInternet will also encourage theincreased use of mobile devices.Dulaney said wireless transmissionrates should increase over the nextfour years, from 9.6 to 14.4 Kbps bythe end of this year and to 64 Kbpsby 2003.

    CHALLENGES OF USINGMOBILE DEVICES

    As the use and functionality ofmobile devices increase, IT organiza-

    tions face several serious challengesin developing strategies for integrat-ing and managing them, and for max-imizing their effectiveness.

    For example, IT organizations aredealing with various types and prod-uct lines of mobile devices, which fre-quently run on different platformsand use different applications, net-work access technologies, and so on.There are so many varieties ofPDAs, and none are standard issue.Trying to give them the support theyneed is really tough, said WendellYoung, computer resource centermanager at TRWs satellite manufac-turing division.

    Platform and applicationcompatibility

    Mobile devices use a variety ofoperating systems, including thePalmOS and Windows CE. Anddevices can access networks or theInternet via various types of wirelessor wireline connections.

    Furthermore, many organizationshave applications for general use thatare not designed for mobile devices.Dulaney estimated that mobile userscould suffer a productivity loss of upto 30 percent when using such appli-cations.

    The WinCE-based handheld PCsoffer slimmed-down versions ofWord, Excel, PowerPoint, and otherWindows applications,which are com-patible with their full-fledged coun-terparts but work better on the HPCslimited form factor.

    Because these applications offerlimited functionality, however, theymay just frustrate users who want tocreate or modify complex documentswhile on the road. But the GartnerGroups Dulaney said that such usersshould probably use a full notebookcomputer and added that companiesshould seek and deploy the lightestpossible notebooks that meet theircost and performance needs.

    Remote connection speedsTodays typical slow remote net-

    work connections can further erodeproductivity. While some telecom-muters who work mainly from onelocation may be able to communicatewith the company network via ISDN,a cable modem, or a DSL (digital sub-scriber line) connection, travelersoften must settle for a 56-Kbps wireddial-up connection or an even slowerwireless connection.

    However,Young said,Trying to getbandwidth and reliability at a reason-able cost is a trade-off. Many mobileusers dont need to deal with data-heavy transmissions, so they dontneed expensive high-bandwidth con-nections, he said. Therefore, his em-ployers have decided to let remoteworkers continue to access the networkvia 56-Kbps analog modems, he said.

    Data synchronization and security

    Another challenge for organiza-tions is synchronizing data betweenusers mobile devices and their PCsand corporate networks.For example,

    0

    50

    60

    70

    1997

    40

    30

    20

    10

    Source: Gartner Group

    1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003

    Use

    rs (

    mill

    ion

    s)

    United StatesEuropeRest of world

    Remote-ready jobs Sales and service Supply bid/order Executive travel Banking/broker Help desk Marketing

    Medical Programming Shipping/delivery Law enforcement Customer relations Media/news reporting

    Remote-access needs will grow dramaticallyacross business sectors.

  • May June 1999 IT Pro 13

    some synchronization applicationsrequire human intervention, whichcosts time and money, to resolve dataconflicts in transmissions betweenmobile devices and desktop units.

    And while the devices, access meth-ods, and synchronization tools thatenable mobile computing continue togrow in both number, functionality,and complexity, no standards haveemerged to address issues of compat-ibility and interoperability.

    Uploading data from personallyowned devices into corporate net-works and downloading sensitive cor-porate data into these devices presentsecurity risks as well. The GartnerGroups Dulaney recalled how aserver at a large pharmaceutical com-pany crashed after a worker uploadedone bad file off a PalmPilot. He notedthat some companies have tried toban the devices altogether, or lockdown serial ports to keep users fromconnecting their devices to the cor-porate network.But this is not a real-istic approach, he said.

    FINDING (OR BUILDING)SOLUTIONS

    The problem of managing mobiledevices on a wide scale is looming,especially as more workers use morekinds of devices. Young said TRWworkers are eager to plug their ownPDAs into their desktops, but he isuncomfortable with the idea of per-mitting this on a wide scale without aformal business plan to serve as aguide. Such a plan, he said, wouldneed to spell out policies not only fordevice types that the company willsupport but also access policies, syn-chronization, and security issues.

    Planning is thus a key to coping withthe introduction of mobile devices intoa corporate system.For example,manyproblems, particularly compatibilityissues, arise from the piecemeal adop-tion of remote and mobile technologyby businesses and their workforce.

    StandardizationA key to successfully integrating

    remote-access devices into the enter-

    prise is developing simple and well-defined user requirements.You haveto do your homework within the orga-nization, said IDC analyst DianaHwang.

    Businesses and employees mustdetermine what kind of remote accessis critical, which devices are best forwhich users, and which business func-tions need remote-access support tooptimize productivity. Once youdetermine what the business needsand what the users need, Hwangsaid,you can look at vendors and seewhat best meets those needs.

    For example, when a companysremote- access use approaches 5,000hours a month, the Gartner GroupsAnderson recommends using a man-aged service provider (MSP) ratherthan niche providers for each accesstype (paging, cell phone, wireless,Internet,and so on).Anderson pointedout that using an MSP simplifies the

    management of remote-access needsand also lets a company negotiate pric-ing for specified levels of service, sup-port, application hosting, and security.

    Keith Glennan, director of inte-gration and engineering for Logicon,a Northrop Grumman subsidiarythat sells IT systems and services, hasinitiated some standardization inremote applications. For example,the company uses only Windows 95or Windows 98 on notebooks andsmaller computers. And Logiconloads the same calendar applicationon all employee PDAs, which are notissued by the company.

    However,standardization can be eas-ier said than done.Workers often pur-chase the mobile devices they want tobuy. TRWs Young said he has ap-proached management a few times tostandardize on device types that the ITshop will support, but the problem isnot yet on senior executives priority

    Technology requirements Scalability Upgradability Reliability Suitability Configurability Flexibility Manageability

    Define application/networking requirements

    Establishmobile

    computingpolicy

    Establishexternalaccesspolicy

    Implement/train/

    support

    Businessprocess

    Identifyusers

    Calculatepayback/return on

    investment

    Assesslegal

    obligations

    Source: Gartner Group

    Build remote-access planning into business processes.

  • T R E N D S

    lists. For now,Youngs department canonly recommend that employees pur-chase a PDA and connectivity softwarethat the IT workers are familiar with.

    Thin-client and Web-based applications

    Some companies now give remoteworkers access to their networks andapplications through the Web. Theworker needs only an Internet con-nection, an ISP, and a browser. Sincethe data and applications reside onservers accessed via the Web, thecompany no longer needs to maintainmodem banks for dial-up access.Also,data and applications can be main-tained and updated centrally, whichgives IT departments greater control.

    TRW uses Web-based applicationsas much as possible for remote users,who primarily need access to e-mailand calendar functions,Young said.

    For remote computing, LogiconsGlennan said, his company uses thin-client and Web-based applications that

    operate on standard network andInternet protocols. Because the appli-cations and data are not distributed toeach device but are simply accessedthrough the thin-client interface orWeb browser, this approach also min-imizes bandwidth demands.

    The Gartner Groups Dulaneypointed out that because workersmust be connected to be productive,thin-client applications offer moresecurity but less mobility. The con-sideration that takes precedence, headded, is really a religious decision:A bank will likely favor security,whilea news organization will probablywant more mobility.

    To efficiently use thin clients,said theGartner Groups Anderson, adminis-

    trators should use such technologies ascompression to speed up data trans-fers. They could also create scripts orbatch files to automatically uploadsoftware,update documents,and verifysystem information on the devices.

    Synchronization toolsWhen mobile workers use their

    devices to create and process infor-mation, IT departments must providea way to synchronize data betweensmart phones, PDAs, other remotedevices, desktops, and servers. Somedevices have a dock that permits adirect connection for data upload anddownload. Others use a serial cable.However, these may only permitexchange of such basic information ascontact information and calendaritems. Users may have trouble com-paring and transferring more complexfiles such as text or spreadsheet doc-uments between machines, especiallyacross applications and platforms.

    Vendors have released a number of

    Good IT planning andpolicies can ensure

    productivity.

    The Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge will harness what programmersshould know.

    Model accreditation criteria will help collegesplan their curricula.

    The Code of Ethics and Professional Practicehelps engineers make the right choices.

    Thats the promise of the Software Engineering Coordinating Committee.

    The Software EngineeringCoordinating Committee

    Leading the next generation of software engineers.http://computer.org/tab/swecc

    Advancing software engineering as a profession.

    Advancing software engineering as a profession.

  • May June 1999 IT Pro 15

    products, among them Puma Tech-nologys IntelliSync and Synchro-logics SyncKit, to ease this burden.Organizations can retain some controlby standardizing on one synchroniza-tion application,Dulaney said,but thiscan prove frustrating given the rela-tive immaturity of synchronizationtechnology. Theres been no enter-prise-scale testing of a lot of these per-sonal applications, he explained.

    IDCs Hwang concurred. Thetechnologys still fairly new. Theresno one product that does everything.Whats needed is an application tosynchronize files, data, and personalinformation among the wide range ofdevice types and applications.

    In fact, with new functions beingrapidly added to these devices,the mar-ket for synchronization tools is splin-tering. Many devices come with theirown synchronization tools, which mayconnect with some corporate applica-tions (such as Windows and LotusNotes applications) but not others

    (such as personal information man-agers).This leaves both IT departmentsand remote workers grappling withmultiple synchronization applicationsand possible incompatibilities.

    A serious compatibility problem insome date synchronization applica-tions involves data conflict resolution.Many of these applications workunder the last in wins rule: Theserver accepts the last file update asthe correct one. However, this candestroy previous file versions thatusers wish to retain.

    C learly, IT organizations face for-midable obstacles to integratingmobile devices seamlessly withdesktops, servers, and back-officeapplications and databases.However,once a company implements an inte-gration strategy, it can reap the poten-tially significant benefits of increasedworker mobility.

    Gartner Group statistics show thatthe total cost of ownership for the

    technology needed by an employee towork off-site 80 percent of the time is$12,000 a yearcompared to $7,800for the technology needed by an in-house worker. However, the remoteaccess could pay for itself if it permitsan employee to put in as little as one tothree extra hours of work per week.Remote workers typically work anextra three to five hours per week.

    To make the virtual workplace asproductive as possible,Dulaney said ITmanagers should set standards fordevice use and data transfer, under-stand the technology involved, and,instead of trying to guard everything,set up PDA firewalls at strategic pointssuch as servers and desktops.Remote-access devices are already here, headded, but IT can move upstream tothe software and data issues, wherethey can still exert some control.

    To comment on this article, contactAnne Lear, IT Professionals staff edi-tor for news, at alear@computer.org.

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