Mobile and Wireless Remote Administration, Part 1

Happy New Year! I wish all the best to you and yours for 2002. And as always, remember that if you have a question or want me to cover something specific in Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, let me know.

In this edition of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, I begin looking at solutions for mobile and wireless administration of servers. Remote administration includes performance monitoring, making configuration changes, restarting services, and cycling entire servers.

To implement remote-administration capability, you can use one of two popular methods—an embedded application or a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-based microbrowser interface. Sonic Mobility's sonicadmin (see the first URL at the end of this column), an example of an embedded application, runs locally on Pocket PCs (you can expect a version for Research In Motion—RIM—devices soon). Kesem Technology's Serverphone (see the second URL at the end of this column) runs on a server, where any WAP-enabled device (e.g., Pocket PC, RIM device, Palm device, Internet-enabled phone) can access it. Embedded and WAP applications each have pros and cons.

Embedded applications tend to have rich UIs, offer high security levels, and let users continue working despite unreliable connections. However, these applications require a client installation on each wireless device, and application updates are complicated. But because IT administrators are typically the only users of a mobile and wireless administration product, the complexity of updates isn't a problem because administrators—not other users—would perform such updates. Embedded applications also offer more connectivity options for Pocket PCs, such as Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD), General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), 802.11, and eventually other third-generation (3G) packet data services.

WAP applications are browser based. Thus, any device that has a WAP microbrowser can use WAP applications. You don't need to install applications on individual devices; you simply update applications on the server. As a result, updated applications are available to the user the next time he or she connects to the server. A WAP application's UI typically isn't as rich as an embedded application's UI, and a WAP application will work only in the presence of a wireless connection. An advantage of using a WAP phone for server administration is that you can receive alerts; if a server crashes, your system can send you a Short Message Service (SMS) alert notifying you of the problem.

Mobile and wireless remote-administration products typically include the following features:

  • Monitoring of the server and individual services
  • Hard and soft rebooting of servers or cold booting of a server
  • Ability to start, stop, restart, and query different services and programs
  • Ability to perform network administration, including controlling users, groups, permissions, and print queues
  • Ability to remotely run scripts and batch files
  • Ability to control peripheral devices

Security is obviously a big concern with remote-administration products, so the highest encryption levels are desirable to protect administrator passwords. Sonicadmin features 256-bit encryption, and WAP-enabled devices typically have 40-bit encryption. Low encryption rates in WAP are acceptable when you use an account alias and store the administrator passwords on the server; thus, sensitive information never passes through a wireless connection. Sonicadmin and Serverphone let you monitor and administer Windows 2000 and Windows NT servers, as well as UNIX and Linux servers. Also, the products don't require you to install any applications or agents on the target servers that you want to remotely administer.

In the next regular edition of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE on January 31, I'll take a closer look at how sonicadmin and Serverphone work and how you can take advantage of these types of applications.

Until next time,
Steve Milroy, [email protected]

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