Afaria's Mobile Feast

Security, more sophisticated synchronization options, improved Blackberry support, and over-the-air backup are some of the things that have users of iAnywhere Solutions Inc. 's Afaria mobile management software curious about the new release from the Sybase Inc. unit.

Eric Halvorsen, MIS manager at the Charles County Sheriff's Office in Maryland, has been using Afaria to help manage the fleet of 200-plus handhelds issued to local officers so they can write up the details of traffic stops at the scene.

The officers download information by docking the PDAs back at the station. Halvorsen says that managing that many devices in the field, however, has proven tricky.

"The maintenance issue was just horrendous," Halvorsen tells Unstrung. Officers often brought him the machines that crashed, locked, or froze for fixing.

So Halvorsen set up a system whereby he could dock machines in his office for 30 minutes and have Afaria refresh and update the entire machine.

Halvorsen is most interested in the security updates in the latest version of the software. "One item of interest to me was the ability to tell if someone has downloaded information to another device that they weren't supposed to," he says. "We're very strict on that."

But Halvorsen has more to deal with than simple software updates. "We're moving to a [fully] mobile system, using laptops, but that's going to take about five years."

While improved support for Blackberry devices is not a huge selling point for Halvorsen, it's a plus for Domenic Micieli, VP of sales and marketing at Woodbridge, Ontario-based reseller and support organization Kilobytes Computers Inc., which uses Afaria inhouse and to offer remote support to around 5,000 customers.

Along with that feature, he also likes the over-the-air backup and more sophisticated synchronization options.

Specifically, the new cut of Afaria is getting smarter about how it connects back to the corporate network, according to Micieli. "If you're in range of a WiFi connection it will detect that and can push down larger files than if you're on a wireless [cellular] link," he says.

It's long way from simple sync docking, but then Afaria is one of the oldest mobile management software platforms available and helped to kickstart the market. Sybase bought XcelleNet, the company that originally developed the software, in April 2004 for $95.2 million. (See Sybase Acquires XcelleNet.) Larger firms like CA Technologies (Nasdaq: CA) and Novell Inc. (Nasdaq: NOVL) have also been slowly updating their desktop management offerings to incorporate mobile management, but typically not as quickly as the niche players.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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