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Remote Control

Mobile devices have become a bit of a mixed blessing for IT managers -- allowing unprecedented freedom and productivity, but raising a host of management issues most are unused to handling.

To relieve some of that burden, developers are increasingly offering over-the-air management solutions that allow IT managers to do things like remotely lock down (or wipe clean) an employees's device if it is stolen, or update multiple devices with new software or virus patches.

For instance, London-based Synchronica plc today released an over-the-air (OTA) mobile management package that gives enterprises central control over their employees' Windows handhelds and smartphones.

Being able to do this from a central console clearly brings cost benefits.

While enterprise users will face an array of mobile device management issues over the next couple of years, most aren't yet really aware of the hidden costs of device management.

"Not that many companies realize that this is an issue yet... They just want to get the devices out into the hands of users," comments analyst Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group .

As mobile devices continue to proliferate in the workplace, though, such avoidance will bring unacceptable costs -- and risks. "Eventually this will become part of a company's overall network management planning," Mathias adds.

Synchronica is part of a small but select band of companies developing management tools for the various mobile operating systems out there.

Sybase's iAnywhere Solutions Inc. unit bought one of the best-known startups in the market, XcelleNet, for $95.2 million in April 2004. (See Wireless Bytes.) Smartphone makers such as Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) also include some OTA features in their software offerings, as do mobile email suppliers like Good Technology Inc. and Visto Corp.

For its part, Synchronica -- formerly known as the DAT Group -- says that that its MobileManager 1.0 "lifecycle mobile device management application" [ed. note: Blergh!] will help to reduce the costs of of running Windows Mobile devices .

Windows devices generally cost more than their Palm-powered rivals. The Palm Treo 650, for example, runs about $400, compared to $450 for the new Windows-powered Treo 700.

The overall cost of managing and maintaining the sophisticated Windows handhelds over their lifespan can also grow. "Windows devices tend to be a little more complex," says Jack Gold, analyst at J.Gold Associates. "Certainly there is a higher maintenance cost."

But the cost of managing the devices might not be the only factor holding back enterprises looking at deploying more mobile devices. The dizzying speed with which new wireless handhelds hit the market could also be a deterrent.

"It's almost impossible to keep up with these things," says Mathias, himself a "power user," as vendors call sophisticated handheld consumers. "And when you get one, it's already outdated."

There's no sign of the device makers slowing down, though, with new gadgets that offer cool features like the ability to roam between cellular and WiFi networks hitting the market. And managing them from the IT desk is only going to grow more complicated.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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