Gotcha! Making Wireless Communication of Data Work

By Sean Gallagher Print this article Print

You need to be sensitive to changing bandwidth in order to manage costs.


? You need to be sensitive to changing bandwidth

In order to manage costs, the mobile application you deploy should be capable of working with a variety of wireless networks, from a WiFi local area network, with its low cost but limited range, to the cell phone companies' Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) networks, which are expensive yet far reaching.

Your device should be able to do a quick wireless check of the surrounding area and, according to rules you program into your mobile application software, pick the mode of communications that best fits your immediate needs.

For example, a handheld communications device used by a beverage delivery driver might be set up with both a WiFi adapter and a CDPD modem. In a warehouse, the handheld may choose the WiFi network to synchronize data with the local server. An internal WiFi network is basically free after the initial setup charges, but its purpose is short-range communications.

When a driver is out on the road, the handheld may need to tap into the CDPD network to transmit and receive data. Cellular data networks, like CDPD, generally have a $30 to $40 flat-rate monthly fee for a set number of data transmissions. Exceeding your quota can get expensive—your monthly bill could quickly double—so managing when and how data is transmitted is important to keeping a lid on wireless costs.

"[Your applications] need to be able to sense the available bandwidth, and you need some set of rules about which connection to pick," says Joe Owen, chief technology officer of mobile computing management vendor Xcellenet.

? Mobile applications need management— in the field

Once you've deployed a wireless system, it's a battle to keep it running.

Software often needs to be updated, and data needs to be backed up, just as with desktop and laptop computers. But managing wireless handhelds, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and even laptop computers in the field is extremely difficult.

"As you get further away from the core of enterprise systems, the less effective most system management schemes become," says Rob Veitch, director of business development for iAnywhere Solutions. This is because devices like laptops and handheld computers are less frequently connected directly to corporate networks with their existing management tools.

While there are some tools for handling laptops, there's little in the way of management software available for wireless handheld devices.

"At most companies, PDAs and handheld computers are essentially unmanaged, or managed only once—when they're issued," Veitch says. "You can try to get an inventory of what's on your local area network. But randomly connected devices? That's a whole new problem."

The few tools that are available and up to the task of backing up, updating, and configuring remote wireless devices include Xcellenet's Afaria, Novell's ZenWorks 6, and iAnywhere's Manage Anywhere Studio. They all employ a small client software package that connects back to a management server, controls the download of new software components, and performs backups. ZenWorks and iAnywhere also can hook back via a Web browser connection to pull down updates. Microsoft's management support for its own mobile operating systems, including Windows CE, is pending.

? The only way to really secure data on mobile devices is to make it self-destruct

Most handheld devices have little or no security on them, because the additional software or hardware required could make them too expensive to deploy on a large scale. Plus, users often disable what security exists in order to get to information they need faster, Owen says. That means that if devices are lost or stolen, they may expose a great deal of corporate information. Xcellenet's AFARIA software offers a feature that can "zap" the data remotely on a lost Research In Motion Blackberry e-mail pager. Xcellenet is expanding the feature to other platforms later this year. And Novell will release a similar feature for Palm OS, Pocket PC, Windows CE, and Blackberry this fall.

This article was originally published on 2003-05-01
Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.
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