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On The Floor at Interop: Day 1

Mobile security initiatives, device management and much more highlight some of the buzz from day one at Interop 2007.

Interop New York 2007 is in full swing at the Javits Convention Center in New York, and there's been a healthy buzz of people. This year's show floor integrates both VoiceCon and Mobile Business Expo as well as OutsourceWorld; it's been fun to see companies from all sides of the IT industry at the same place. On Tuesday I hosted a conference panel on mobile e-mail; Brian Havener from Motorola Good, David Heit from RIM, Denis Sullivan from Nokia Enterprise Solutions and Senthil Krishnapillai from Sybase iAnywhere joined me for a great discussion on what is happening in the industry and the latest best practices. Thanks to everyone who came to the panel and to the experts for participating.
One of the overarching discussion points was the necessity for device management and proper security, ideas that we at Network Computing and InformationWeek have stressed for some time. Case in point: Across the country, at the CTIA Wireless IT show, Microsoft showcased its System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, which brings the enhanced policy enforcement and management features for Windows Mobile deployment that we've longed for from Microsoft for several years. I briefed with Microsoft on this subject last week,and while the company can be lauded for finally putting out a proper mobile device management platform, there are several catches. On the plus side, Microsoft is building on OMA DM, a standards-based approach to mobile device management that has been used by carriers for some time and is built into a wide variety of phones. The downside here is that Microsoft is adding its own extensions to OMA DM to get all the features it wants; while Redmond says it plans to publish these extensions so that other, non-Windows Mobile devices can be managed, it's still a Windows Mobile-centric approach. Furthermore, users will need to upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.1, which is as yet unreleased. It's still unclear when this update to Windows Mobile will come out, what the upgrade path will be and what devices will be supported. When asked how their companies plan to compete with Microsoft in the future, David Heit said that in order to get full functionality from Microsoft, you always have to upgrade to the latest product. He noted that, as an example, to get the best mobile e-mail features you have to run Exchange 2007 and Windows Mobile 6, whereas vendors like RIM support Exchange all the way back to version 5.5. It looks like Systems Center Mobile Device Manager continues to prove David's point.
Sprint made news here in the area of mobile security. The company has partnered with Alcatel-Lucent to release SprintSecure Laptop Guardian, which combines a variety of security features into a Sprint 3G connection card. The company demonstrated the system to me here at Interop / Mobile Business Expo. The card essentially takes over the TCP/IP stack and forces all connections, whether they be Wi-Fi, 3G or Ethernet, to go through a central VPN server. The card contains a hardened OS and a battery (which explains its bulky size) that enable administrators to send commands to a laptop even when it's turned off. For instance, say an admin pushed a patch out to a laptop; if the system was powered off, the patch would be received by the Laptop Guardian card, which periodically connects independently to the network to check for updates, and stored in the card's flash memory. When the laptop boots up next, the patch is applied automatically. Administrators can also relinquish encryption keys to on-card protected storage, remotely lock the device and perform other tasks, again regardless of whether the laptop is on or off. Devices can also be tracked, either with GPS or assisted GPS, which uses cell towers to track location; this is particularly useful if the device is lost or stolen.
Of course the question is, what happens if a user takes the card out of the PC? Alcatel-Lucent has thought of this as well: The card essentially acts as an ignition switch for the PC; you can't run it if the card is removed. Whenever the card is pulled, the PC automatically locks after a couple of minutes. Alcatel-Lucent said Sprint is the first carrier it has partnered with, but suggested that other carrier deals are in the works. Overall I'm pleased to see more commitment toward enterprise users from carriers, particularly given their past consumer-centric focus.
In other news, Fluke Networks briefed select press and partners (including yours truly) on its new Visual Performance Manager software, which provides a holistic view into both application and network performance monitoring. With Visual Performance Manager, organizations can gather, monitor and analyze data from a variety of sources, including network hardware (through technologies like NetFlow), dedicated hardware monitors, as well as other data points. With latency-intolerant applications like VoIP and video increasingly becoming mission-critical to an enterprise's operations, I can definitely see how having a holistic view of into both network and application performance management is important. Having the tools to troubleshoot issues (and finger point when necessary) is important to any organization. That said, I was a little disappointed that no wireless monitoring capabilities are included in this product, particularly given Wi-Fi's increasing stature within enterprises. Fluke, in the beginning of its presentation, acknowledge that wireless monitoring is something IT administrators find important, so I'll admit I had my hopes up. Hopefully future revisions allow administrators to view not only their LAN and WAN performance, but also WLAN stats as well.
Stay tuned for more announcements and analysis from this year's Interop

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