XcelleNet Gets In Sync With Ehand

Mobile management company XcelleNet Inc. has taken the opportunistic step of buying up erstwhile partner Ehand AB in order to beef up the synchronization capabilities in its mobile software.

The Stockholm-based Ehand is known for its device-to-server synchronization technology. The two firms originally started working together last October to incorporate that technology into XcelleNet's Afaria mobile management software. XcelleNet has not revealed how much it paid to acquire Ehand.

Ronni Colville, research director at Gartner/Dataquest's database and systems group, sees the move as the opportunistic acquisition of a partner that might have been bought by a rival (or potential rival) had XcelleNet not stepped up. "It was better for them to buy Ehand," she says.

It doesn't hurt that the acquisition gives XcelleNet some credibility in one of the areas where the firm has been seen as weak. "I would say that synchronization was not their strong point," comments Colville.

Coinciding with the acquisition, XcelleNet today announced the general release of Afaria Sync Manager software. The software allows Palm and Pocket PC handheld computer users to synchronize data, either wirelessly or via a desktop cradle, with groupware programs such as Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange server or Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes program. Palm users can also synchronize with Oracle, Sybase, and SQL Server databases via standard interfaces.

XcelleNet says that the software supports wireless connections over global system for mobile communications (GSM), general packet radio system (GPRS), code division multiple access (CDMA), cellular digital packet data (CDPD) networks, as well as other wireless technology.

As Unstrung has reported before, the mobile management market, once a niche area, has recently begun to attract the interest of larger players like Novell Inc. and Computer Associates International.

Colville reckons that XcelleNet's acquisition will help the company keep its position as one of the mobile management leaders and does not rule out further M&A activity. "I could see XcelleNet continuing down this path," she says.

Who might be running down the same path? Colville says Novell could become much more visible in the market as they add more mobile technology to their systems management software. "They could do this with Zenworks," she says. The next revision of Zenworks, code-named "Prometheus," is due in June, according to Colville.

Colville doubts that CA will make much of an impact on the market, simply because they have too many other projects on the boil. Meanwhile, she thinks IBM's Tivoli is unlikely to sell much into the mobile, except to loyal IBM Corp. customers.

The one glaring omission from that list of mobile management contenders is Microsoft. "They're conspicuously absent, aren't they?" Colville asked rhetorically.

There may be several reasons for this. One is that mobile management has fallen between the cracks in Redmond, because it is handled neither by the Windows CE folk nor the management systems team. The other is that Microsoft is waiting for a device standard to emerge in the mobile enterprise market. Currently, vendors have to support Palm, Pocket PC handhelds, RIM pagers, and various WAP phones. Presumably, Microsoft would like to see Pocket PC devices become a de facto corporate standard.

So Microsoft might be late to the party, but Colville does not count them out. Only Microsoft "has sufficient girth" to be late and still become dominant in a market.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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