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Symbol Crashes In

Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) is bursting into the world of mobile management systems today in what could prove the biggest move for the company since it introduced the first wireless LAN switch back in 2002.

The firm’s new Mobility Services Suite (MSS) is intended to provide IT types with detailed information on the status of corporate wireless LAN networks and the mobile devices being used on those networks and elsewhere in the enterprise. For an IT manager, this could mean anything from information about the performance of an 802.11 network to how much battery life a mobile device has left.

To do this, Symbol is introducing a network appliance that can collate information from software "agents" -- literally, little pieces of code that gather information about the system in real time -- that reside on the firm’s wireless LAN switches, access points, and devices (the smallest agent is a DOS client that weighs in at around 30 kilobytes of code).

On top of that, Symbol is pushing MSS as a software platform on which customers and other vendors can develop specific Java-based applications. And the company is trying to co-opt what could be one its largest competitors in this space -- IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) -- by integrating links to Big Blue’s Websphere middleware into MMS and developing connections for other major vendors.

It’s a big step for the company, as Lee Williams, VP and general manager of Symbol’s mobility software division, readily admits. But he argues that Symbol has all the elements in place to enable it to develop a more broad-ranging mobile enterprise management system: An installed base of around a billion access points; a switched architecture that allows it to gather data from across a wireless LAN network; and a reputation for developing “industrial strength” client devices.

But what the firm really needs to do is bolster its software image. At the moment, the name is more synonymous with bar-code scanners than software development platforms. Williams says Symbol is going to try and do this by opening up its MSS source code so that third-party vendors can port their own databases, middleware, and security systems directly to the Symbol code.

Williams is hoping to kickstart such a community in the next couple of weeks at Symbol’s partner conference, where the firm will address its 6,000 worldwide partners.

”We’re hoping to convert as many as a third of those into an ISV [independent software vendor] team,” says Williams. The firm is starting with mobile developers like Wavelink Corp.

But it will need many more developers to jump aboard to really make a success of MSS. A rapidly growing body of dedicated mobile and wireless applications could be the key feature that encourages customers to adopt MSS over more established offerings from the likes of Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) (NYSE: CA), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and Sybase Inc.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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